Casual dining venues thrive when they are designed with their own signature style.
By Diana Mirel, Contributing Editor
With club demographics shifting and consumer tastes changing, casual dining is now an essential part of every property’s culinary mix. At the same time, however, members’ and guests’ expectations have not changed; they are still looking for the style and impeccable service that goes hand-inhand with club and resort life.
SUMMING IT UP
- Casual dining has become an increasingly popular way to offer something to everyone.
- Creating a design theme can help give a casual dining area a personality and style to match what members and guests expect from clubs and resorts.
- Adults can be provided with fun casual dining while still catering to families.
Not surprisingly, then, as casual dining options continue to flourish at clubs and resort properties, the approach to effectively designing these spaces has been anything but casual, to make sure everything is done to give these areas a distinctive style all their own.
In designing their casual dining venues, properties are doing much more than just relaxing dress codes and removing the fine china. They are approaching these spaces with the same design vision as other, more formal spaces on the property. Casual dining options with thoughtful design themes, personalized décor, and fine furnishings and accents help properties cater to the tastes of existing members and guests, while also attracting the next generation of clubgoers.
“Because we had only one dining space for all segments of our membership to share, it prevented us from serving any of them as well as we should.”
The Tap Room Bar & Grille at Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield, N.J., highlights the tradition and history of the 115-year-old clubhouse, while welcoming members and guests into a friendly, casual setting. The Tap Room is a mainstay for a la carte breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch and a growing happy hour.
“We are all about service with a smile and a warm and inviting atmosphere,” says Charles Fahy, PGA, Director of Operations. “The casual aspect of the club and staff is what brings everyone back time and time again.”
To bring this inviting, traditional design motif to life, the Tap Room (see photos, pg. 20) boasts ship-deck flooring that dates back to 1897, when the clubhouse was built. Dark-wood paneling and high ceilings further set off the nostalgic tone of the space. The walls are lined with photos of golf greats and legendary athletes, such as Arnold Palmer, Joe Louis, Mickey Mantle and Sam Snead. A large bay window overlooks the lush fairways and the vibrant Atlantic City skyline.
Opposite the bay window, in the center of the restaurant, sits the focal point of the Tap Room: the bar. Glass and mirrors run up the back side of the dark-wood bar, which is surrounded by eight wood barstools with leather seats.
“The Tap Room bar is the place to be,” says Fahy. “The bar has an older feel that makes you feel welcome. You can tell a lot of stories have been told at that bar, a lot of memories have been made there, and that it’s hosted a lot of historic events.”
The dining space is set up with wood tables and crisp white linens, creating a type of old-school country club comfort. The Tap Room utilizes a combination of chandeliers, candlelight and old-world lanterns to fill the space with warm lighting and boost the congenial vibe.
To keep customers engaged and enthusiastic, Fahy says the staff likes to create fun events in the Tap Room, such as complimentary wine tasting during “Wine Down Fridays.”
Recently, the Tap Room relaxed servers’ and bartenders’ attire to create an even more laid-back atmosphere. Where servers used to wear black pants with white dress shirts, ties and black vests, they now wear black pants and black button-down shirts, without a tie or vest. “We want locals to feel right at home when they partake of our chef’s culinary delights and all of our bar specialties,” says Fahy.
Something for Everyone
Prior to the clubhouse renovation at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club, dining options included a formal dining room and the Trophy Room, a casual venue. Built in the early 1990s, the Trophy Room was a cozy dining room and bar. However, when formal dining grew less popular among members, the entire dining service moved to the Trophy Room.
At the same time, the club’s demographics began to shift dramatically. In the past five years, Tulsa Country Club has become a young, family-oriented club with an average age of 47, with many families with young children.
“Because we had only one dining space for all segments of our membership to share, it prevented us from serving any of them as well as we should,” explains Jason Fiscus, General Manager/COO. “For example, it would not have been unusual to have a large group of boisterous golfers drinking at the bar after their round, a family with children dining just a few feet away, and a member in business attire entertaining clients at the next table. We needed [different] spaces where each group could feel comfortable.”
To address this issue, the club renovated the Trophy Room and its adjacent areas to create two separate dining spaces: the Trophy Room, a cocktail lounge with adult-only dining, and the Skyline Grill, a family-friendly, casual dining option.
The Trophy Room (see photos, opposite page) is a contemporary, comfortable lounge set up with a combination of dining tables and soft seating. Wooden dining tables and red leather chairs with stud details are set up around the perimeter. The center of the space has conversation settings with overstuffed, upholstered armchairs, green leather banquettes and high-backed, patterned armchairs, along with wooden coffee tables.
The Trophy Room’s color palette is comprised of appealing earth tones of red, green, brown and cream. Rich wood features and details are also used to set the mood in the space. For example, the wood ceiling creates a warm, inviting tone throughout the space, while the oversized wooden bar and hutch further cement the cozy atmosphere. Red leather bar stools surrounding the bar offer a splash of color.
The Trophy Room’s breezy attitude is further enhanced by combining ambient light provided by chandeliers and can lighting with the natural illumination that flows through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Meanwhile, the Skyline Grill is set up as a more traditional dining room, with round and square dining tables and slat-backed dining chairs, along with several banquettes. With a color scheme of soft green, tan and brown, the Skyline Grill relies heavily on strong wood details, such as the wood ceiling and wooden furnishings. The Skyline Grill also has an adjoining outdoor dining patio.
“Both venues offer the same creative menus that feature high-quality versions of casual club favorites such as burgers, salads and sandwiches, as well as upscale, contemporary appetizers and entrees,” says Fiscus. “In both cases, the expectations for the quality of food and service are very high, but the comfortable surroundings and relaxed dress codes are more in tune with our current members’ lifestyles.”
A Casual Escape
Having a lively casual dining venue was a top priority for the new golf clubhouse at Parkland (Fla.) Golf and Country Club, a Toll Golf property.
“Casual dining is important at all clubs,” says Michael Maloney, PGA, General Manager. “As the model of clubs continues to evolve from formal and traditional country club settings to family-friendly settings, it is important to have space available that all can enjoy.”
Ninety-One, a restaurant named for Greg Norman’s total of pro tour victories, has an open floor plan and Tuscan-inspired décor (see photos, pg. 20 and above) that provides members and guests with a casual dining experience in a scenic setting. The space is laid out with the casual bar area flowing into a more traditional dining room with wooden tables and chairs, banquettes and family-friendly booths.
The dining space also features a chef’s table, Society Ninety-One, that is positioned in front of the open kitchen. An adjacent covered patio offers outdoor dining with views of the golf course and picturesque landscaping.
“Having a bar area, booths, TVs and an outside space give Ninety-One a casual effect, while the chef’s table, furnishings and great artwork give it a sense of elegance,” says Maloney.
The Tuscan design theme is achieved through both evident and subtle design touches. The artwork throughout the room instantly transports diners to the Italian countryside. A mural depicting the Tuscan region was painted between the stone arches at the entrance of the dining room, while additional scenic artwork and contemporary paintings, framed in clean, simple floater frames, complete this vision.
Meanwhile, the Tuscan style is further defined by the color scheme of warm earth tones of burnt sienna, ochre and rich Mediterranean blues. Decorative elements found in the region were utilized to evoke a warm, relaxed and inviting ambiance.
For example, Ninety-One is decked out with Italian ceramics imported from the Tuscan region, along with pottery and other complementary accessories. Further, custom glass mosaic tiles, which represent Italy’s history in manufacturing decorative glass, are used for the tile inlay behind the bar, below the kitchen display counter, and as insets in the vanity counters in the ladies’ and men’s restrooms.
Wall sconces flank the banquette and booth seating, to create a more intimate feel. Hand-forged iron chandeliers hang overhead, and pendants were installed at the straight run of booths. Most of the furnishings in the restaurant are wooden, complemented by textured fabrics such as embroidery, leather and leatherette.
Space-planning techniques were used to lay out the area so it would not only be comfortable for diners, but functional from an operational standpoint. Service paths are at least four feet wide, and tables and chairs are positioned to provide at least three feet of clear paths between tables.