Whether it’s with unique serving platters, “poufs” of cloth to simulate clouds, or gravity-defying displays, club and resort properties are expanding their array of tabletop tools and techniques to create signature atmospheres in their restaurant and event venues.
Floor-to-ceiling windows make golf course views a stunning backdrop for creative tabletop designs at Fairway One, which opened last August as the latest addition to the dozen-plus restaurant and event venues at California’s Pebble Beach Resorts. The new room, from its soaring peaked ceiling to the wood molding, is done in off-whites and other natural tones—a palette reflected in the event venue’s linens and china.
“The neutral tones give us a blank slate for creating unique tabletop designs,” explains Barry Peterson, the three-resort property’s Director of Catering and Conference Services.
|SUMMING IT UP
• Think “beyond and above” when planning room décor and tabletop displays.
And the Pebble Beach team does just that, blending the natural and the whimsical to showcase not only the unique beauty of the new Fairway One room, but also the food that’s served in it. To highlight the resort’s farm-to-table cuisine, centerpieces often feature seasonal fruits, vegetables and branches of wood from birch and manzanita trees, all of which are indigenous to the area. On the whimsical side, Asian-themed buffet dinners might have some courses served in Chinese restaurant-style takeout boxes.
Peterson and his staff are not even limited by the traditional parameters of the tabletop itself. For “Taste of Pebble Beach,” one of the resort’s’ major annual events, the centerpiece was a “tabletop” made of two cutting boards balanced between the back ends of two golf carts.
And centerpieces in the Fairway One venue are often suspended from the peaked ceiling’s rafters.
“The rafters lend themselves to more décor and lighting options that can be suspended or projected from them,” Peterson explains. “For an upcoming ‘Dinner of Illusions’ event, we plan to suspend centerpieces on monofilaments, so they appear to be floating in the air.”
Peterson says he is also “toying” with the idea of creating a new kind of action station, by including an ingredient as part of the mise en place for one of the courses in a hanging centerpiece. Perhaps, he suggests, it could be a hanging basket of different lettuces, which the station’s chef could access by climbing on a step stool.
Centers of Attention
Living, ingredient-focused centerpieces are also a focal point of the buffet table décor at The Haven Country Club in Boylston, Mass. For Mother’s Day and Easter, says Courtney Callahan, the club’s Dining and Events Manager, the club brought in between 15 and 20 flats of living greens, such as herbs and petite lettuces, to display on the table, and then snipped the plants as needed as guests filled their plates.
For other events, notes Executive Chef Richard Kunsch, mini-parfaits were nestled in some of the greens, and living mushroom logs, ready for plucking, were part of the centerpiece.
At 3800, the signature restaurant of the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa in Florida, not all living centerpieces are meant to be eaten. To enhance the room’s dramatic ocean views, notes Food and Beverage Manager Alejandro Cardona, bowls with live fish are sometimes displayed on every table.
Making a buffet table more interesting often calls for building levels of tiers and a variety of textures. At The Haven CC, Callahan creates “clouds” of fabric, often using organza, in different colors and patterns on top of the tablecloth, to give the effect that the food is “floating.” The clouds can give pops of color to the presentation, and/or tie into the colors of fresh-flower arrangements.
“The ‘clouds’ can also hide any food spillage that may occur as guests go through the buffet,” Callahan points out.
No food presentation on the buffet at The Haven ever lies flat on the table, Callahan adds; everything is raised at least one level up.
Reaching New Heights
Denise O’Connor, Executive Chef of Knollwood Country Club in West Bloomfield, Mich. (“Well-Equipped for Success,” C&RB, July 2017), also prefers eye-appealing elevation to buffet clutter. On her tables, food-friendly faux granite and slate slabs are perched on lucite cubes to achieve varying heights.
From the Bottom Up
Twice a year, every item on the menus of the seven restaurants at Pebble Beach Resorts in California—whether familiar favorites or new innovations—is scrutinized from product to presentation during a “qual” (short for quality assessment). And what the food is served on gets just as much attention as the dish itself.
“Even items that have been on the menu a long time get the same level of evaluation as new ones, to see if, by using different dinnerware, we could enhance its presentation or better complement the restaurant’s décor,” Peterson adds.
Catering is only one of the departments involved in the “quals.” Input is also solicited from others throughout the resort, including food-and-beverage managers, chefs from the various restaurants, the marketing department, and restaurant diners themselves.
“Our marketing people know a lot about what’s new and trending, both nationally and internationally, in food and beverage, so their input is invaluable,” Peterson says. “We like to get a good cross-section of people, including our guests, to bring different sets of eyes to the project.”
With Pebble Beach Resorts getting set to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019, Peterson notes, “We want to ensure that we remain relevant, vibrant and provide new experiences for our guests for the next 100 years.”
Whenever possible, O’Connor and The Haven CC’s Kunsch try to use serving items that complement or even enhance the food. Kunsch, for example, displays ahi tuna on Himalayan salt blocks. And O’Connor often features a station at which salmon is grilled and presented on hickory wood boards.
“Hickory keeps the fish hot, it smells wonderful, and it doesn’t burn as quickly as cedar,” she explains.
Found, recycled, and borrowed items can also help to inspire fun and festive tabletop décor. From right outside her kitchen, O’Connor says, there is always an abundance of “woodsy things” to snip or gather on or around Knollwood’s golf course, like summer hydrangeas or pussy willows by the pond, or logs, branches and palm leaves found elsewhere on the property.
“These items look great on the table, and they save us a lot of money on décor,” she notes.
Another inexpensive, yet glamorous way that O’Connor uses to showcase her food is with large, empty art frames, especially ornately textured ones, which she paints white.
For their tablescapes at The Haven CC, Callahan and Kunsch collect wine and produce crates from purveyors and haunt flea markets for unusual finds to incorporate into their displays, such as different-sized teacups, funky little plates, old-fashioned hat boxes, and rhinestone or mirrored gems.
At the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island, Cardona also uses reclaimed wood on buffet stations and for his bread and cheese displays. “We’re trying to avoid throwing things away as much as possible,” he notes.
Getting Everyone Involved
At The Haven CC and Knollwood CC, front- and back-of-the-house personnel are encouraged to offer feedback on everything from napkin folds to the plates food is served on. Staff members also can bring decorative items from their personal collections to help jazz up displays.
“Being involved at this level creates a sense of camaraderie, pride and ownership in what we’re doing,” Kunsch notes.
O’Connor is particularly proud of the thermal, hammered stainless-steel serving pieces she has been collecting over the years. Instead of a regular ice chest to hold ice cream for a sundae bar, her sleek model holds three gallons. Her collection also includes sauce boats and French fry holders, and she is planning to purchase other containers to hold salad-bar fixings. “They add a fresh, contemporary touch to the table,” she points out.
Having the right glassware for trendy cocktails can also say a lot about a venue’s commitment to remaining up to date, O’Connor adds. “Glassware can be fun and beautiful, and doesn’t require a big investment,” she explains. “I hate it when a Moscow Mule comes in a tall Collins glass.”
Linens and Light
Linens—or the absence of them—on tables can also be helpful in creating overall ambience and changing the mood as needed for different occasions. At Pebble Beach Resorts’ Pèppoli restaurant, Peterson says, no tablecloths are used during the day, to create a more informal, relaxed setting. In the evening, he “elevates” the restaurant’s ambiance, while maintaining its warmth, by setting out light, “buttery-toned” cloths and napkins that complement the room’s sun-washed, Tuscan-countryside hues.
Getting Plugged In
Whether it’s to take a snapshot of their food, make posts on Facebook or Instagram, or use their phones and devices for calls, e-mails and texts, younger members and guests want to be plugged in all the time while dining.
However, letting patrons plug into wall outlets can create unsightly and potentially hazardous trip-and-fall situations. At the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa in Florida, charging stations have been installed at every table. And at the bar, one long communal table has eight charging stations that are also WiFi hot spots.
“Charging stations don’t have to take away from the ambiance of the dining room or special event,” explains Alejandro Cardona, the resort’s Food and Beverage Manager. “In fact, [providing them] can give our guests a more comfortable experience.”
At the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island, Cardona prefers to show off his tables’ handsome wood finish all the time. “We have used tablecloths in the past, and still have them for guests who want them for private events,” he says. “But now we have beautiful tables—and because we don’t have to wash linens so often, we are more environmentally friendly.”
On O’Connor’s buffets at Knollwood CC, white linens take on a colorful personality with the addition of tulle, burlap napkins, and accent linens. For a golf event, she bought yards of linens with golf balls and clubs printed on them, and a kid’s golf bag with clubs, along with a sprinkling of tees and golf balls throughout the scene, completed the décor.
Lighting—whether tea lights or fairy lights on the buffet, candles on the tables, uplighting or pin lighting—is key to not only setting a mood, but also making sure that food looks its best.
At 5:30 p.m. each day, Cardona changes the bright daytime illumination in the dining room at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island’s 3800 restaurant to the soft light of candles at each table. “It creates a comfy environment,” he says.
When it comes to getting the most bang for the buck, lighting can totally change the atmosphere in a room, O’Connor feels. “Renting some uplighting doesn’t cost a truckload of money and is money well-spent,” she says. “Everything looks better with the right lighting.”