How Clubs Are Reinventing Snack Bars

By | September 5th, 2017

With fresh, fast and casual fare, snack bars are becoming one of the hottest dining spots at the club.

When someone asks Ben Lorenzen what he does for a living, he smiles and says, “I run a small restaurant.” In truth, Lorenzen is the Creative Director and Director of Aquatics & Fitness at Champions Run (Omaha, Neb.)—and in the summer months, he oversees the club’s pool café, which averages around $150,000 per season.

“[Our pool cafe and outdoor pizza oven] concepts have basically merged to become a dining destination for members,” says Ben Lorenzen (pictured), Creative Director and Director of Aquatics & Fitness at Champions Run.

“For a small pool café, we do an incredible amount of business,” he says.

The reason for so much activity—especially on weekends, when sales can peak at $10,000 in a day—is pretty straightforward: The caliber of food coming out of the kitchen far exceeds that of a typical snack shack serving hot dogs and bags of chips. Champions Run’s pool café has more than two dozen fresh selections and a handful of signature pool items, plus candy, ice cream, smoothies and a full bar. And all of these items are ordered at a walk-up counter.

“Not far from the café is an outdoor pizza oven that also services the pool,” says Lorenzen (see photo, opposite page). “The two concepts have basically merged to become a dining destination for members.”

Learning to Say No

This wasn’t always the case, though. Previously, members at Champions Run could order from any menu anywhere on the club property—and that meant the pool café staff would have to journey nearly a quarter of a mile, round trip, to pick up and deliver some orders. It was not only inefficient, it hindered the staff’s ability to provide the best possible service.

“A few years ago, we decided to eliminate the option to order from the dining-room menu while at the pool,” says Lorenzen. “We were nervous. We’re a ‘Yes’ club, so we didn’t know how members would react.

“As part of the policy change, we decided to elevate the menu at the pool, so we created new and signature menu items,” he adds. “We also developed ways to improve ourselves and our service, through things like adding a digital menu board that we could edit on the fly.”

Much to the staff’s relief, members were hugely understanding and appreciated the club’s efforts to improve the café’s ability to serve high-quality, fresh food. Service was better and faster, and the new signature items were a hit.

“In the summer of 2016, after we implemented the new policy, we did $150,000 in sales,” says Lorenzen. “That’s a 50% increase from 2013.”

Another important component to the pool café’s success has been the support received from Executive Chef Rob Stadt, who has been with Champions Run for a little more than a year.

“[Chef Stadt] comes down to the café daily, if not more often, to make sure we have everything we need,” says Lorenzen. “Having his support has helped us in so many ways, from introducing new menu items, to making sure the food is prepared and presented correctly, to making sure we have enough mise to get through the day. He wants us to be successful and because of his support, we are.”

Everyday Themes

Similarly, at Wilson (N.C.) Country Club (WCC), Executive Chef William Tew goes above and beyond to make sure the club’s snack bar concept is successful.

“It’s pretty much a full-service kitchen with a menu geared towards a fast-casual approach,” says Tew, who has been with WCC for four and a half years. “There is seating inside and out, with tables around the pool and a recreation room.”

Before the start of the 2017 season, WCC upgraded a few pieces of kitchen equipment—and this small change has already had a huge impact.

“Having the right equipment in such a small space has made a big difference in both service and in the kinds of menu items we’re capable of serving,” says Tew. “We installed a low-boy under our flattop grill and incorporated a double-door, under-counter freezer, too. The additional cooler space has allowed us to expand our product mix, and the under-counter freezer can double as a prep table.”

WCC’s snack bar is now on track to do more than $80,000 in sales over the next four months, with a menu that features fast-casual fare including quesadillas, salads, burgers and wraps.

“We also do daily themes to keep things fresh and give the members a reason to come out and dine with us,” says Tew. “At the moment, we have Taco Tuesday, Wine Down Wednesday, Beer-n-Burger Thursday, and Pizza by the Pool Friday.”

Making Room

The biggest snack bar challenge for both WCC and Champions Run is space, as there’s never enough.

“Being a self-sustaining, full-service kitchen in a small footprint isn’t easy,” says WCC’s Tew. “Also, our snack bar is not attached to the main clubhouse. So if there isn’t room to store products or ingredients, the staff has to run back and forth from the main kitchen, which can cause problems when there’s a line out the door.”

WCC works to overcome this hurdle by using a dedicated flatbed golf cart to run products back and forth for its snack bar. The new equipment that Tew added for this year has also helped substantially.

At Champions Run, Lorenzen makes sure his small staff is cross-trained, well supported and excited about their role in the success of the pool café, which helps them navigate the tight quarters efficiently and effectively.

“We’ll have contests where the staff is encouraged to come up with a drink or smoothie recipe,” he says. “The goal is to try to sell more of theirs than anyone else’s.”

The most recent winning beverage, “Shark Attack,” is basically a non-alcoholic piña colada slushie topped with a plastic toy shark filled with grenadine. When the shark is squeezed, the drink turns red.

“It might seem silly at first, but our youngest members go crazy for this slushie,” says Lorenzo. “Plus, it gets my staff excited and keeps them inspired through what can be a very busy and challenging daily grind.”

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