Casual dining spots are on the menu for club properties looking to offer relaxed eating options that supplement fine dining.
When it comes to dining out, clubs and resorts are hanging up their proverbial jackets and ties and forgoing shirtsleeves in favor of a less-formal approach.
As more members look for alternative spots to grab a quick bite on a weeknight or entertain guests over drinks during a Saturday evening on the town, traditional dining rooms are making room for more casual eateries that make it possible for facilities to broaden their dining options while maximizing their overall brands.
|Summing It Up
• Growing memberships, especially those with younger families, warrant more casual-style eateries to give parents options on weeknights, in addition to weekends.
• Dining facilities with easy outdoor access can give guests a change of pace, even within the same venue.
• Casual bar designs that don’t skimp on seating let patrons enjoy pre-dinner drinks before shifting to dinner.
Separate but Equal
Creating distinct dining spaces for different members’ needs was at the top of the agenda for Birmingham (Mich.) Country Club’s latest round of facility updates. After the successful 2008 renovation of its formal dining room into a casual-dining English pub, the club eventually realized that mixing empty nesters with young families needed to be re-thought.
Upon commissioning a member survey in advance of a master renovation in 2012, General Manager/COO Joe Basso, MCM, CCE, learned that “both segments wanted to be able to relax in an atmosphere that was conducive to their vision for a night out at the club.”
Following approval, the first phase of the club’s $2.8 million renovation got underway, kicking off in August 2015 with a restored golf course and followed by revamped dining facilities in January 2016. The newly minted facility re-opened its golf course and clubhouse over Memorial Day weekend.
Basso characterizes the changes to the new dining space as “very dramatic.” The Maguire restaurant, an 800-sq. ft. space named for long-time golf professional Ray Maguire, is anchored by an island bar that seats 22 guests and features a chandelier with nearly 2,000 crystals. Bar-height tables surround the island on three sides, bolstered by lower-height tables that look out onto the patio and practice green. An adjoining dining room with similar décor seats 24 patrons at dining-height tables.
“The extensive millwork, wood paneling, hardwood floors and NanaWall access to the outdoor patio gives this room a contemporary, adult feel, compared to the casual, now family-friendly Founders pub,” explains Basso. “It also allows free flow between the Maguire and our outdoor dining on the patio.”
To further enhance the character of these respective spaces, the Maguire’s dining staff includes two bartenders who serve the bar-height tables around the perimeter, while other service team members are assigned to the standard dining-height tables. Staff uniforms are venue-specific, and fit within the theme and décor of each dining area.
While the Maguire restaurant remains distinct from the club’s pub, the two facilities complement each other and balance out the club’s offerings, Basso says. “We didn’t want them to necessarily mirror each other, and we determined that the pub, with its separate entrance, was a better fit for family dining than the Maguire would be in the center of the clubhouse,” he says. “The way the rooms are used provides distinctions all their own.”
With six separate dining facilities—poolside al fresco and pub dining for families, patio and Maguire dining for adults, upscale dining in the Club Room and a casual bar/dining area in the grill after golf—Birmingham Country Club has now extended its identity.
“We branded the club some time ago as offering all things to all people,” Basso says. “We are now able to offer family and adult dining, both centric and separate, that our members desperately called for.”
Keeping Up with Member Needs
Continued growth naturally prompts clubs to expand their properties as necessary. For the Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz., a burgeoning membership warranted an expansion of both the Meadow and Canyon clubhouses, with the Meadow now sporting a more “open and versatile” casual dining space measuring 1,037 sq. ft., says General Manager Bill Griffon.
The project took off in September 2015 and after contending with a construction delay, both facilities opened to members in time for Memorial Day weekend 2016.
“The renovation wasn’t a complete redesign of the area, but a seamless addition,” says Griffon. “The character of the Meadow remains, and although the space is large, there is still an intimate feel.”
Awash in a country-casual color palette of brown, gray, red, copper and green that complements the Northern Arizona environment, chairs in contrasting patterns provide comfortable seating. Dining-room walls are fashioned from wood siding, with rock pillars and a fireplace framed with rocks that add to the natural feel. Two moveable buffet units foster a flexible design for creative layouts, and also allow for seamless a la carte service. High-top tables that can accommodate up to 16 people can be placed together for large parties.
“The Meadow overlooks the beautiful ninth hole, so the tables near the front of the dining room are always in demand,” notes Griffon. “During the summer, we open up the front doors and move a few tables outside, so members can embrace the beauty that Forest Highlands offers.”
For those looking to join friends for drinks, the expanded 757-sq. ft. bar is an ideal watering hole. The copper bar top is the main focal point, with a square design that lends itself well to the seating arranged all around it. While the lounge area adjacent to the dining room was not part of the renovation, the addition of a new large-screen television enhances the social setting. “This is a popular area for watching golf or big sporting events,” says Griffon.
To gear up for opening day, employees were trained through group sessions in April, to ensure a smooth start. “The staff this season worked tirelessly to make sure the clubhouse was ready to open,” Griffon notes. “We didn’t separate the staff during training until we started talking about specific details associated with the clubhouse that they would have. This allows for the same level of service, no matter what dining outlet members visit.”
Thanks to the new casual Meadow dining room, Forest Highlands has been able to satisfy its membership with greater amenities and ample space.
“Younger family usage has grown, so [continuously] updated facilities are appealing to current and prospective members,” Griffon notes. “Increasing the dining room was a huge improvement to what the facility was before.”
Embracing the Water View
Creating a distinct dining venue for its riverfront club has been an ongoing endeavor for the Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, Fla. What started out as a golf club in 2001 grew into a 10-acre “river club” two years later. By the end of 2014, the club had become so popular, there were 200 spots on its waiting list and the demand for additional space (including dining) became a given.
“We purchased what we felt was the best piece of property in Vero Beach, [which] just happened to be on the river facing east,” explains Kevin Given, co-owner and General Manager. Within 15 months, Quail Valley at the Pointe was open for business, including a two-level signature restaurant.
On the first floor is Ruby’s on the River, which features a combination of booths, banquettes and hardwood tables that can accommodate up to 150 guests. Moss-green carpeting is complemented by wood panels and trim made from a combination of maple wood with New York fieldstone rock. This look is balanced out by a stone exterior inspired by North Carolina mountains. An outdoor, octagon-shaped casual dining area overlooking the Indian River helps to take advantage of the 270-degree waterfront views.
“It’s a wonderful viewing venue, to see all boating and water-recreation activities,” says Given.
Upstairs is Humphrey’s, a casual bar that Given describes as having “a nautical theme that blends in with the water as our backyard.” A large tropical fish tank serves as the bar’s backdrop, with two 60-inch televisions buttressing it on either side, giving patrons a front-row seat to televised sporting events. Views of the river from wrap-around glass windows also compete for patrons’ attention. Indoor and outdoor seating offers room for up to 64 guests, making it a casual eatery for modest-sized groups.
“We do not take reservations, but it’s great for members and small parties to drop in,” Given notes.
Even though the menus at both spots are the same and staff is shared, the atmospheres are different, Given says. With a now-completed roster of dining options, the club offers a variety of choices for all of its members.
“We already had two existing clubs: the golf club has a Shinnecock [Long Island, N.Y.] look, and the river club looks like a Rhode Island coastal beach house,” Given explains. “Our thinking was to have three distinctive looks under one club umbrella.”