Ideas for Finding new and profitable twists for food and beverage operations

By | April 1st, 2007

Nifty Fifty: Club bars and good Scotch whisky have always gone well together, and the Carnegie Abbey Club in Portsmouth, R.I., has taken this natural fit many steps further, through its “50 Club.” Members of the club are entitled to sample as many as three of the Scotches in the club’s collection of 50 single-malt brands at any one sitting; once they’ve sampled all fifty, they earn an engraved glass.

“It’s a great feature and talking point,” says General Manager Stephen Downes. “Once the club started, members liked coming in to keep trying the different [brands] and learning more about them.”

The club’s popularity has generated over $4,000 in additional bar revenue annually, Downes reports, and inspired a series of popular events on the property, including an annual Robert Burns poetry reading night, bagpiper performances, and a night dedicated to delivering memorable toasts. The 50 Club is “chaired” by bartender Steve Healy, a resident expert dubbed “Malt Disney” by Golf Digest (see photo).

Back in the Day: When Sous Chef Tony Stewart was nearing his 30th anniversary with Baltimore’s Woodholme Country Club, General Manager Mitchell Platt, Assistant General Manager Arnie Katz and Dining Room Manager Bennett Boerner decided to celebrate the event with the entire membership by offering a week-long “retro” menu. Not only did the menu feature food items that had graced Woodholme’s carte du jour in years long past, the prices were rolled back to less-inflated times, too.

The specials ran the week between the Jewish holidays—normally a slow period for the club. “Members came out in record numbers,” says Platt, leading to a 200 to 300 percent increase in member traffic compared to similar periods in previous years. “Our members loved the nostalgic menu items, and enjoyed honoring a long-term employee.”

Match Made in Heaven: In the highly competitive Philadelphia wedding market, the management at Paxon Hollow Country Club in suburban Broomall figured that for local brides- and grooms-to-be, looking would lead to booking at the facility’s reception hall. To introduce couples to its ambience and amenities, Paxon Hollow has begun hosting twice-yearly (one in late summer, the other in late winter) Wedding Expos in conjunction with a professional bridal showcase planning company. The club provides the space, seating and hors d’oeuvres, and the planning firm invites companies (many of which are the club’s preferred vendors) to exhibit at the event.

The Expos can attract anywhere between 100 and 350 guests, reports General Manager Nicholas Michetti, and the payback extends beyond just getting a few more brides to say “yes.”

“It only takes two reception bookings to make these Expos worthwhile for us,” Michetti said. “Aside from the event day itself, we’re front-and-center of a great deal of pre-show advertising in all of the local wedding magazines, newspapers and on the radio, creating even more widespread awareness of Paxon Hollow and generating additional quality leads.”

On Top of Their Games: To help relieve wait-staff drudgery, and at the same time prompt more suggestive selling and ensure top-quality service, the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., developed a series of games built around its dining room activity.

For example, “Dining Room Jeopardy” gave staff a chance to win free wine, gift certificates or time off by providing the right questions to answers, such as: “The proper side to stand when taking the food order (What is left?)” and “A?traditional cocktail made from muddled oranges, maraschino cherries, sugar, bitters and rye (What is an old-fashioned?).”

And “Dining Room Bingo” cards were created with blocks that staff members could X out according to what dishes they sold: soup of the day, special of day, crème brûlée, spinach salad, etc.

“These are tools that help to captivate [the wait staff] and get them excited before a busy shift,” says Dining Room Manager Jennifer Mitchell. “They are also great ways to encourage a little [intra-staff] competition and train everyone on service standards and the club’s history and our [F&B?offerings] in a little more interesting way.”

After putting these programs into place, Mitchell adds, member ratings of the wait staff soared to a 94 percent grade for excellence and professionalism, and 95 percent for service that exceeded expectations.

Blue(blood)-Plate Specials: Clubs certainly need to be conscious of the competition when setting F&B?prices, but the experience of the Los Angeles Country Club (LACC)—with its wine dinner programs—serves as a valuable reminder that in club settings, the level of competition is something more than a grand-slam breakfast at Denny’s or a beef-and-beer at Sparky’s Taproom.

“How much are your members willing to pay for a wine dinner?” asks Clubhouse Manager Bruce Pruitt, before relating that programs at LACC—ranging from $100 to $235 per person, with filet, lobster, lamb and squab as featured entrées—have all sold out. “High-end wine dinners do have a place!” Pruitt assures his colleagues in the club business.

Positive Reactions: The National Institute of Health estimates that six to eight percent of children and two percent of adults have food allergies of one type or another. To protect the health of their members, some facilities go to extra lengths to educate their wait staffs on food safety and menu preparations.

The F&B staff at Farmington Country Club, located in Charlottesville, Va., created a reference manual that contains all of the menu items served at the Farmington Grill, along with a list of common food allergies associated with each dish. Management requires that servers be aware of dishes containing common allergens—such as peanuts, onions, shellfish and eggs—and are frequently tested on their knowledge.

"If a member has a food allergy, the server can quickly reference the manual, to determine which foods they should not eat," says Edmund Mielck, General Manager of the Farmington Grill. "The food allergen manual is an inexpensive way to ensure safety and provide personalized service to members."

Taking it one step further, Forest E. Bell II, Executive Chef at Congressional Country Club (C&RB, Oct. 2006), says his club takes food safety to the next level by keeping a master list of all of the food allergies among the 3,000 club members and their families not only on file, but also stored within Congr
essional's point-of-sale system. When members order something they may be allergic to, the server will catch it immediately and suggest a substitution or alternative menu item.

Kitchen Confidential: At Brookside Country Club in Canton, Ohio, members and their guests have the opportunity to join Chef Kenneth J. Bucholtz and the entire culinary team for dinner in the club's kitchen or their own home. It's a "rare opportunity to experience the true workings of an Executive Chef-led kitchen," states the club's Web site. Chef's tables may be an interesting way for diners to spend an evening, but there are also distinct advantages for the chef, notes Michael Redmond, Assistant General Manager of Food and Beverage at The Metropolitan Club of the City of Washington. "Have the Board sit in the kitchen," he says. "You'll find it will be easier to get the $20,000 convection oven you want." Justification for capital expenses for equipment and kitchen renovations becomes effortless when the membership sees first-hand how cramped the kitchen can get on a busy weekend night.

Too Many Cooks: According to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), cooking classes now lead the list of popular extracurricular activities for children between the ages of 4 and 16. According to Stephen Hengst, a spokesperson for the Institute, kids' courses fill "extremely fast" as soon as they're announced.

A cooking class is only the beginning, though. Many clubs and resorts offer culinary summer camps, cooking birthday parties and private cooking lessons. In the summer, The Vineyard Club in Geyserville, Calif., in conjunction with Relish Cooking School, offers a summer cooking camp for kids. Kids learn kitchen and food safety, proper kitchen behavior, basic measuring and prep skills, and fun recipes as they work together to create the day's menu in the club's spacious kitchen. At the end of each class, students eat the food they create by the scenic Vineyard Club lake.

Just in Case:
There are many benefits to be gained from showcasing the culinary talent at a club or resort through awards displayed in a trophy case in the dining room, suggests Michael Redmond, Assistant General Manager of Food and Beverage at The Metropolitan Club of the City of Washington. In his remarks at the 2007 CMAA conference in Anaheim, Calif., Redmond noted that culinary competitions can "build better cooks" by nurturing the creativity of individual chefs, encouraging their participation in a team setting, and providing an opportunity to hone individual skills, techniques, and style. Further, displaying the trophies and awards that result from these competitions will not only give members and guests something to talk about, but also offer the rest of the culinary team something to aspire to. "You can challenge the team to ‘get in the case'," Redmond says.

Less is More: When Frenchman's Reserve in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., introduced the "Petite Plate Night Social" on Wednesdays, the club experienced a 278 percent increase in combined food and beverage revenue, significantly outpacing a la carte service. For $19.95 per person, customers can sample eight to 12 "taster portions" of Executive Chef Cris Carter's creations, such as Duck Confit with Crispy Leeks, Lobster Pancakes with Truffle Butter and Chives and Grilled Polenta with Gorgonzola Mousse. Each food item comes with a suggested wine pairing, which is not included in the price.

Wrap It Up To Go: This past year, the Country Club of Virginia offered a complimentary gift-wrapping service between November 23 and December 22 for its members who dined at the club for lunch. The member could check up to three gifts at a time with the coat room attendant, and by the time their meal was finished, the packages were wrapped and ready to give away. According to Yvan Lampron, Executive Director of Clubhouse Operations, "dining participation increased, and members were able to enjoy a stress-free visit to the club."

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