Off the Back Burner

By | March 11th, 2014
Keller Golf Course, Maplewood, Minn.

Keller Golf Course, Maplewood, Minn.

As clubs bolster their dining venues, behind-the-scenes updates to the kitchen should follow suit.

There’s an old saying by an unknown author that “Housework is something you do that nobody notices until you don’t do it.” In the same way, you might not notice a club’s kitchen until it’s not working properly.

Few club properties can undergo expansions of their dining outlets without considering the growth’s reverberating effects on the kitchen. Adding banquet space while ramping up a la carte options can leave kitchen staff and wait staff tripping over each other if issues of organization are left unaddressed.


  • Keeping kitchen staff involved in the renovation process ensures that operations will run smoothly once all updates are complete.
  • Designating spaces for cooking, prepping, and expediting with proper equipment can help minimize collisions and congestion.
  • Kitchen renovations should take into account the different needs of banquet service and member dining

As “selling point” dining amenities are updated and expanded to entice new members and please current ones, back-of-house facilities should also keep up with the pace of improvement, to enhance efficiencies and keep food-and-beverage operations running smoothly.

Starting from Scratch
When it became clear to officials in Ramsey County, Minn., that the 80-plus-year-old clubhouse at the Keller Golf Course in Maplewood, Minn., could no longer stay functional, they decided to close the property in October 2012 and rebuild from the bottom up. A substantial portion of that rebuild was the kitchen.

“The size of the kitchen couldn’t support large-scale events,” says Allison Winters, Communications Coordinator for the county’s Parks & Recreation Department. “The catering company had to prepare food off-site and bring it and keep it warm.”

The cornerstone and fireplace of the building were kept and re-installed, but all old equipment was auctioned off. While the new building is larger (currently measuring 18,864 sq. ft., compared to 7,600 sq. ft. previously), the county worked to keep the same look, particularly on the exterior. “We wanted a modern facility, but also to hold onto the history,” Winters adds.

Executive Chef Scott Tobin, Keller Golf Course, Maplewood, Minn.

Executive Chef Scott Tobin, Keller Golf Course, Maplewood, Minn.

Part of that history was a kitchen that was “more like a snack bar,” says Scott Tobin, Corporate Executive Chef for Lancer Catering, which handles food-and-beverage service at the golf course. Before the renovation, Tobin says, the kitchen consisted of a deep fryer, a small oven, a six-burner stove, and a grill.

Working with the county, Tobin played a significant role in the development of the new kitchen. “We wanted to bring Lancer Catering in as much as possible throughout the design process,” Winters notes. “We’re not experts, so we wanted their feedback throughout the project, to be sure we got an expert opinion.”

With a full banquet facility and new bar/lounge area to serve, Tobin had a clear list of “musts”: separate spaces for the banquet and dining outlets; plenty of refrigeration and freezer space; energy-efficient equipment; and good work-flow patterns, so cooks and chefs don’t cross paths with the service staff.

The banquet portion of the kitchen is built for large groups, containing more convection ovens to hold sheet pans for finishing plates after grilling and sautéing, as well as a steamer and a station for batches of soups and sauces. The lounge section of the kitchen is set up for quick service, with a char-broiler, griddle, deep fryers, cold rails for storing condiments and building cold sandwiches, and a small dessert station.

Safety Under Pressure

Creating a secure environment in the kitchen can help minimize accidents, particularly as the rush of dinner service makes speed imperative. To keep your kitchen staff safe, consider the following suggestions:

  • Remove or limit distractions; ensure that workers can concentrate on exactly where they are going.
  • Look for obstructions that may be protruding, especially ones that are below the knee and hard to see, and remove them.
  • If there are steps, place warning cones before the steps or mark them with red tape.
  • Avoid vivid floor or carpet patterns; these can cause sight confusion.
  • Make sure the pathway is well-lit and glare-free.
  • Evaluate cleaning procedures; often unexpected pathways do not receive proper cleaning attention.
  • If the pathway is a hard surface floor, use alternative cleaning systems that do not require the use of mops and buckets; mopping floors tends to spread grease and soils that can make floors slippery.
  • If spills tend to occur on the pathway, use mats to cover the walkway; if the kitchen is busy, this will likely be the safest option until the floor can be cleaned.

Source: Kaivac, Inc.

Overall, the new kitchen is “very bright” with no dark spots, the flooring is a quarry tile, and all equipment is brand new, Tobin says.

Though Tobin notes that “from a chef’s standpoint, you always want a bigger walk-in cooler,” the one small challenge from the renovation is that the storage area is downstairs, with limited storage upstairs. As a result, Tobin plans to add more stainless-steel wall shelving to keep things tucked in.

Solid Foundation
In 2013, Salisbury Country Club in Midlothian, Va., kicked off a $2.5 million renovation project that has included an infrastructure and equipment update for its 1,750-sq. ft. kitchen.

The primary issue the club sought to address was how its HVAC system was putting stress on refrigeration equipment, says Executive Chef Jim Ertel. “It wasn’t a bad kitchen, just old,” Ertel explains. “It was just time to update the infrastructure.”

Other updates, including electrical work, drainage, and a few key organizational changes were integral to the project as well, Ertel says. A separate room was created for a new dishwashing machine that is expected to yield energy and chemical savings while also establishing “ergonomic flow to prevent breakage,” he notes. Incandescent bulbs in the kitchen were also replaced with LED lighting.

With five separate dining outlets to service, the Salisbury kitchen staff stepped back and considered how to re-organize the space without making structural changes. Now, Ertel says, the kitchen has a more clearly defined banquet cold prep area, which “helps with flow” and minimizes traffic congestion.

Jim Ertel, Executive Chef, Salisbury Country Club

Jim Ertel, Executive Chef, Salisbury Country Club

“Basically it was just a project that was driven by food safety and sanitation, loss prevention, eliminating breakage, and creating a space for service,” he says.

To create a neutral space between cooking and service, the project also added a custom stainless-steel service station that holds china, has built-in soup and bread warmers, and a garnishing station for the expediters that “cleans things up and provides better storage to prevent breakage,” Ertel says.

“There is a spot for everything—everything is more organized and where it should be,” he notes. “Nothing is an afterthought.”

Room for Growth
With food-and-beverage service going out to three dining outlets and three banquet facilities, plus plans for a new sports bar and outdoor al fresco dining, the recently expanded kitchen at the N.C. State University Club in Raleigh, N.C., has been worth the investment.

Doug Rollins, Executive Chef, N.C. State University Club

Doug Rollins, Executive Chef, N.C. State University Club

In banquets last year, the club served approximately 35,000 people, totaling just under $700,000 in catering revenues, in addition to just under $600,000 in dining room food-and-beverage sales.

“We would not be able to handle this volume adequately without the new kitchen facility and the diligent effort of our outstanding culinary staff,” says General Manager Jim Aspley, CCM, CCE.

Before the club’s two-phase, $7.5 million renovation began in 2010, the kitchen hadn’t been updated since a partial renovation in the early 1980s, though flooring, storage and refrigeration were not addressed then. The 1,000-sq. ft. space was “severely inadequate for the volume of banquet business we were producing,” Executive Chef Doug Rollins explains.

“Finding a way to enhance member dining while still producing large banquet volume was the main priority with the design of the new kitchen,” Rollins says. With one conventional oven and two half-size convection ovens both located on the main line, as well as a char-broiler, six-burner stove, 80-pound gas fryer, single steamer and a small space for prep, it was clear the club had to go big.

Built from the ground up, the updated 2,220-sq. ft. kitchen incorporates a large walk-in fridge and freezer, as well as new refrigeration and a freezer on the cook’s line to maximize storage space for member a la carte and buffet service, Rollins says. The renovation added a back line, small pantry for cold prep, a space for baking, a large prep table with drop-down heat lamps, a slew of new equipment, and a small Dutch-door cabinet that gives staff the ability to move hot foods poolside and to outdoor events.

A portion of the old kitchen has since been used as dining space, Rollins says, leaving space to install a large server’s pantry with entrances from the kitchen into the dining facilities.

N.C. State University Club, Raleigh, N.C. (after)

N.C. State University Club, Raleigh, N.C. (after)

“It can be challenging when we have all three banquet rooms and overflow booked while servicing a la carte dining to 100-plus covers, but with how we’ve segmented the kitchen and the necessary equipment now in place, these periods flow nearly seamlessly,” Rollins says.

As part of the renovation’s second phase, the club is addressing the snack bar, which is similarly undersized and underequipped at 500 sq. ft., Rollins says. During pool season, staff have to move two refrigerators from the main kitchen into the snack bar to add storage.

“With the new pool grille kitchen being about 1,200-1,400 sq. ft., we intend to create a more on-trend menu with housemade pizzas to-order and by the slice, salads, wraps and sandwiches, as well as traditional snack shop items such as candy and ice cream novelties,” Rollins adds.

The pool grille kitchen will also be new construction, and will include a conveyor pizza oven, char-broiler, and pick-up merchandise displays. The main kitchen will still be used to stock the pool kitchen, Rollins says.

“The current snack bar is so small that the three staff members working in it constantly have to get out of each other’s way,” Aspley says. “The new snack bar will allow us to have two cooks and two or three counter attendants to process orders. It will also have two order windows (one for quick pickup and one for ordering menu items), and a large window in the center for picking up prepared food items.”

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