On Tuesdays and Thursdays at Belle Meade Country Club, Nashville, Tenn., less is now proving to be much, much more.
Wednesdays draw in members with a delicious pasta bar. Similarly, Fridays and Saturdays are—and have always been—popular a la carte dining nights. This left Tuesdays and Thursdays with lower profit margins and less foot traffic than other days of the week. But that changed, in a big way, after Executive Chef John York developed the “Gourmet To Go” program.
THE GOAL: To boost F&B sales on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Belle Meade CC offers packaged, ready-to-serve prix fixe meals
THE PLAN: Members call the
reservation line to reserve their “Gourmet To Go” meal before 3 p.m., scheduling a pick-up time for later that evening. Salaried F&B staff prepares the packages during the lull between lunch and dinner service. Just before the packages are to be picked up, the meals are fired, assembled and taken to the pickup counter, where other takeaway and to-go orders are collected.
THE PAYOFF: In addition to
increased member satisfaction, the “Gourmet To Go” program
generates between $60,000-$70,000 in additional F&B revenue each year.
Belle Meade sells roughly 40 “Gourmet To Go” packages each night they’re available—and many more when fried chicken is featured.
“We’ve offered takeaway and to-go to members for years,” says Darwin Guenther, Assistant Manager. “But ‘Gourmet To Go’ is different. The menu is determined a month in advance and features one option each night, usually comfort-style food. It changes each time, but the price is always $20 for a simple meal for two.” (Other fixed prices for larger quantities range from $35 for four to $69 for a family of eight.)
The “Gourmet To Go” (GTG) menu is released at the beginning of the month and promoted in the club’s newsletter and through dedicated F&B e-blasts. (For the dishes featured in May, see the online version of this article at clubandresortbusiness.com.) A key to the program’s success is that the meal featured as the GTG special is not available in the dining room. “This helps to add an air of exclusivity to the program,” says Guenther.
Before 3 p.m., members call a reservation line to order their GTG meal (orders will be taken until 4, if not already sold out). When orders are placed, members also schedule a pickup time, in half-hour increments between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“By 3 p.m., we know exactly how many packages we need to prep and assemble,” says Guenther. “We have two salaried chefs who work on those in the banquet kitchen during the lull between lunch and dinner service. Then we have one service staff member assemble and run packages as needed.”
Each package contains a protein dish like meatloaf and two side items like salad and macaroni and cheese. Components are packaged in microwavable, biodegradable containers and placed in a reusable canvas bag with the club’s logo on it.
“Empty-nesters seem to use ‘Gourmet To Go’ the most,” says Guenther. “They’re looking for high-quality food at a good value, without the fuss of cooking or cleaning.”
GTG meals generally run about a 30% food cost, and the club has not had any issues with tax implications for this or its regular to-go program. “We are very careful to stay under the line for non-traditional income,” says Guenther.
The program has given the club’s F&B line for Tuesdays and Thursdays a much-needed boost, generating between $60,000-$70,000 in additional revenue each year.
Belle Meade now sells roughly 40 GTG packages each night they’re available—except when one dish is featured. “You can always tell when we’re featuring fried chicken on the ‘Gourmet To Go’ menu,” Guenther says. “A la carte dining is always slower that night, because everyone ordered the chicken to eat at home.”
A Better Brew
By Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor
A “Colombian uprising” kicked off last year when The Columbia Club in Indianapolis opened its Columbian Café espresso bar.
“There’s a popular chain coffee shop a short 120 feet from our front door,” explains Jim Rentschler, General Manager/COO. “Every day, I would see members walk into the club with one of those drinks in their hand. I thought to myself, ‘What a great potential revenue stream.’ ”
That soon spawned an idea to turn a hallway with casual seating on the mezzanine level of the city club’s 10-story building into a 1,235-sq. ft. coffee bar that would sell espresso, coffee and smoothie beverages, as well as fresh-baked pastries, at a competitive price, to drive those revenues across the street and into the club.
Rentschler created a business plan with costs and sales goals outlined. A member donated $15,000—in exchange for free coffee for life—to fund the startup costs. Once the Board approved the bar, construction began.
A member’s donation of $15,000 (in exchange for coffee for life) was all the seed money needed to brew up The Columbia Club’s successful response to a nearby chain coffee shop.
“We decided to put the café on the second floor, so it wouldn’t interrupt the feel of our grand lobby,” says Rentschler. (The Columbia Club’s building, a prominent architectural landmark on Monument Circle in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, dates to 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)
“However,” Rentschler adds, “from some of the seating in the coffee bar, you can look over and see the lobby, so it’s very nice and open.”
The club purchased a used, portable espresso bar for $4,000 from a man in St. Louis whose mall espresso bar, ironically, was put out of business by a newly opened nearby coffee shop. The club’s coffee vendor helped connect the two, and the club had the bar cleaned and serviced immediately after purchase.
Meanwhile, the club’s maintenance department laid down marble flooring in the mezzanine space that fit in with the style of the rest of the clubhouse, as well as a granite countertop by the back windows overlooking the fountain. A sink was plumbed, and furniture was arranged. The service area measures 285 sq. ft., while the seating area is 950 sq. ft.
“We used mostly existing furniture from around the clubhouse and installed charging stations,” Rentschler says, “so the coffee bar was more than just a place to get a drink.”
The build-out cost was just under $8,250, while printing and marketing materials, to let members and hotel guests know about the new amenity, added up to roughly $2,000. The point-of-sale system was another $750. All told, says Rentschler, “We were able to stay just below the $15,000 mark.”
The Columbian Café opened on September 4, 2012, and Rentschler reports that it’s been getting busier every month. “What’s been most surprising is that members are ordering drinks from the café during lunch and dinner,” he says. “And since it’s only about 50 feet from the dining room, we can easily accommodate those requests.”
THE GOAL: With a popular coffee shop 120 feet from its front door, The Columbia Club decided to open its own espresso bar on the mezzanine level of its clubhouse.
THE PLAN: The club purchased a used, portable espresso bar and turned an otherwise empty hallway space into a 1,235-sq. ft. coffee shop complete with comfortable seating and charging stations, and a menu of coffee, espresso, smoothies, and fresh-baked pastries.
THE PAYOFF: In
addition to member satisfaction, the club has created an entirely new revenue stream. The Columbia Club can now also offer upscale coffee
beverages to members during breakfast and lunch as well as sell the coffee cart as
an upcharge for private events.
The café is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., hours that mesh well with the club’s early-morning rush and after-lunch crowd. It may also be open as requested for wedding parties or other special events.
“We mostly see 30-somethings use the café for business meetings or to charge up electronics,” says Rentschler. “It’s been a hugely successful addition to the clubhouse, and it only took us about 30 days to build.”
The Columbian Café sells Blue Nile coffee and Seattle Roast espresso. “The chef, restaurant manager and I sat down at the beginning with our vendor and tasted a lot of different coffees,” Rentschler says. “We wanted something that was high-quality and unique, and that you couldn’t purchase at your local grocery store.”
To further ensure quality, the club brought in a barista to train the service staff that operates the bar. “The staff at The Columbian Café really enjoys what they do,” Rentschler says. “They like the interaction with the members and creating specialty drinks for them. They help with creating seasonal specialties, too, which have been really popular.”
Pastries, made daily by the club’s in-house pastry chef, include everything from Danish and oversized muffins to homemade chocolate-chip and oatmeal cookies. “We’re going to expand the food side to add fresh fruit and more healthful items, because we’re getting a lot of requests for that kind of thing,” Rentschler reports. (For a full menu with pricing, see the online version of this article at clubandresortbusiness.com)
The best part of how the idea has worked out—beyond the added revenue and increased member satisfaction—is that Rentschler no longer sees cups from that “place across the street” in his clubhouse. “Our prices are 25 to 50 cents lower than theirs,” he notes. “And our pastries and baked goods are far fresher.”
By Joanna DeChellis, Contributing Editor
As the trend toward using hyperlocal ingredients produced onsite in chef’s gardens continues to gain traction with clubs, a growing number of properties with maple trees are now boiling up liquid gold.
Joe Wachter, Golf Course Superintendent at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis, (C&RB, March 2012) has been tapping maple trees for years. With the help of his brother and father, they boil the sap to create a completely natural—and mighty tasty—maple syrup.
Parlaying this hobby into an idea that would provide his members with a truly unique condiment, Wachter started tapping Glen Echo’s maple trees in 2010. He installed the taps, collected and stored the sap, and boiled it down to produce a signature maple syrup that Executive Chef Terry Peirick has used in a number of menu applications over the years, including maple-glazed pork tenderloin.
At Glen Echo CC, Golf Course Superintendent Joe Wachter (above) has teamed with Executive Chef Terry Peirick to feature home-tapped and -made syrup in a variety of signature dishes.
“It takes about 43 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup,” says Wachter “The first year, we got about four gallons [of syrup]. In 2011 and 2012, we only got about a gallon and a half. But this year, we got about four gallons again. It was a really great year for sap.”
Wachter’s boiling process has evolved over the years to become more efficient and team-oriented. The first year, Wachter boiled the sap over a gas burner by the shop, which took a long time and used a lot of propane. He decided to move the operation to his brother’s outdoor firewood stove, which worked great, but was cumbersome for one person to use.
Since then, he’s kept the whole process on property, coordinating the sap boiling schedule with Peirick, so he can use the 15-gallon, dual-lined steamer in the kitchen. Plus, he benefits from having the watchful eyes of the F&B staff available, to help refill the pot as needed.
When the traditional approach of providing tied napkins for staff and members/guests to use when opening and closing buffet chafing dishes kept proving “too hot to handle” (and also inevitably ended up looking, and being, messy), the staff at the Northwood Club in Dallas set out to find a better solution. That led to discussions with an apparel manufacturer to develop the “Lid-Mitt,” which is made from a heat-absorbing material (similar to a skillet handle or oven mitt), and includes Velcro closures to ensure a snug, secure and always-safe-to-touch grip.
“The Lid-Mitt allows a very uniform and sleek look on our buffets,” reports Northwood’s Food and Beverage Manager, Robby Peters. “Since we started using it, we have reduced the amount of linens being thrown away. They have been very well-received by the membership, and there have been many comments on how they are easy to grip and use when maneuvering the chafing-dish lids.”
Northwood originally had a few dozen prototypes of the Lid-Mitt manufactured, to start testing the product. After quickly discovering how the production cost was minimal in comparison to how durable, reusable and machine-washable the mitts were proving to be, the club now plans to turn its discovery into a new side business, Peters reports. “We are in the beginning stages of setting up production/development, with a goal of being able to take bulk orders that would include custom-made [Lid-Mitts] with [club] colors and embroidered logos,” he says. (For additional details, contact Peters at [email protected] or 972-239-1366.)
THE GOAL: Offer members a hyperlocal maple syrup made by tapping
trees located on the club’s property.
THE PLAN: With the help of the grounds crew (Glen Echo CC) or a group of members who have tapped trees for years (Blythefield CC), both clubs were able to install taps, collect buckets, boil sap and produce a completely natural maple syrup.
THE PAYOFF: The syrup has helped to distinguish each property, while also giving members a uniquely produced condiment to enjoy with breakfasts, brunches and in other menu applications.
“It’s much simpler to use the steamer,” says Wachter. “We can set up a schedule to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.”
Blythefield Country Club, located just north of Grand Rapids in Belmont, Mich., also produces its own maple syrup—but in this case, a group of members have taken the lead to work hand-in-hand with the club’s executive chef to help “tap” the concept to the fullest.
“We have some members who have been bringing in their own homemade maple syrup for our pancake café, brunches, and breakfasts,” says Jeff Hiler, Executive Chef. “After having many discussions with them about how they make the syrup, they invited me to their cabin to watch it first-hand.
“At the beginning of this year we decided, with the help of those members and some of their supplies, to tap nine of the maple trees here on the property that are closest to the clubhouse and parking lots, for easy access to the buckets,” he says.
The trees were first tapped on March 6th of this year and over the course of the month, 137 gallons of sap were collected.
“One of our members made his own wood-fired evaporator that we used to make the syrup,” says Hiler. “The raw sap is preheated before it goes into the evaporator pans. As the fresh sap enters the pans, it pushes the partially boiled sap through a series of channels in the pan toward the valve, where it’s drawn from the evaporator when it’s not quite syrup. The sap is then put into a finishing pan, where we finish the syrup and test it to make sure it’s the correct sugar density.
“Finished syrup has a density of 66.7% sugar,” Hiler explains. “The finished syrup is then sent through a filter press to remove the ‘sugar sand,’ which is made up of the minerals that are in the syrup because of the evaporation process.”
The members who helped tap the trees and make the syrup were given half of the haul, while the club kept the other half.
“Members always ask now about which menu items feature the syrup,” says Hiler. “They’ve always enjoyed hearing about specials and features that use fresh herbs and produce from our garden, so the response to the syrup has been extremely positive.”
Neither Blythefield nor Glen Echo incurred any extra costs associated with producing the syrup, and both clubs plan to
continue tapping trees in the future.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to tap even more trees next year, with the help of the grounds department,” says Hiler.
“We always try do a number of different things for our membership to distinguish ourselves and add value in unique ways,” says Wachter. “The maple syrup is a perfect example of that.”