As a self-confessed foodie, I am constantly thinking about meals and menus, and Dollywood is where I do most of my dining daydreaming. There are so many culinary delights across all of Dollywood’s properties that you’ll always be discovering new treats and dishes, and with menus changing with the festivals, you’re getting the best of each season. As I tucked into another loaf of cinnamon bread during my last visit, my Dollywood Insider brain started to wonder who else daydreams about Dollywood dishes? So, with a notebook full of questions and a grumbling tummy, I sat down to chat with one of the dreamers behind all the wonderful food and beverages we get to enjoy at Dollywood.
Dollywood is famous the world over for its food – from park staples such as fried green tomatoes and cinnamon bread, to seasonal classics like pumpkin spiced funnel cakes and creme brulees. I have always been curious as to how menus and dishes are developed and why some items remain available year-round while some come and go with the festivals. To find out more, I checked in with Dollywood’s Culinary Team. Specifically, I spoke with their Revenue Senior Operations Business Manager, Lynette Hill, who guided me through the planning process. “In August we make decisions about the following year’s season, and also by location (theme park, water park or resort) and consider what has been and what may be best-sellers in those areas. We review items by location, and we’re always considering food trends.” It is fascinating to me that in the height of humid August, the Culinary Team is dreaming up menu items for Smoky Mountain Christmas a year and a half out. With so many food and beverage locations, it makes sense to plan ahead!
It’s worth pointing out the strong culinary presence in Dollywood’s festivals. While the park is peppered with performers and theming, the Culinary Team is carefully planning and perfecting flavor profiles and menu presentation. Each festival element is taken into consideration when developing dishes, and the team does an exceptional job at blending familiar foods such as nachos and cannoli with the flavors, spices, sauces and styles of the correlating seasons.
Dollywood has a lot of talent involved in the innovation process and in bringing fresh dining experiences to its park and resort guests. Dollywood’s Culinary Director Aaron Banks is an Executive Chef himself, as is Shane Bruns the Director of Food and Beverage Experiences at the resort. They both lean on skilled teams including executive chefs, sous chefs and junior chefs.
But how does the team know what experiences and dishes to put where? Lynette explains, “We take a look at the penetration of menu items. We look at the number of specific food items sold divided by the number of guests over the season, as well as how cost-effective it is to produce the dish.” So, when you’re devouring some fish and chips in Market Square, it’s likely because thousands of other Dollywood guests enjoy it just as much as you!
Aside from the beautiful butterflies, her songs and her spirit, Dolly herself has left her mark on the restaurants at Dollywood, too! One of the park’s most popular dining spots is the famous Aunt Granny’s Restaurant. A nod to the nickname given to Dolly by her many nieces and nephews, did you know that this all-you-can-eat restaurant was named by USA Today as one of the top-10 best theme park restaurants in the country? With its down-home country style lunches and dinners, Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans also is extremely popular. Home to the famous meatloaf stacker, there are dozens of Southern-inspired dishes to choose from, and with a warm welcome and hearty helpings, you know that Dolly’s vision of families making memories is behind every bite.