While the pandemic has delayed their full rollout, these clubs have already seen signs of how their recent revamping of casual-dining venues will pay off when a la carte service kicks back into high gear.
If there’s one steady stream of business clubs have always been able to rely on, it’s dining on the premises. Whether grabbing a quick bite with golfing buddies or enjoying the sunset with a post-game cocktail in hand, members share the love of a good meal at their home away from home.
For those facilities that underwent recent dining renovations, grand openings were put on the back burner as chefs traded in chafing dishes for takeout containers. Challenged by pandemic restrictions that have limited F&B service, many clubs are exploring new ways to maximize the impact and payoffs, once full in-club service can return, from the changes they’ve made.
Ready to Serve
Opening redesigned dining space during a pandemic may sound like a recipe for disaster, but for Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y., it satisfied members’ appetite for a memorable, safe experience.
“We realized that our clubhouse had taken a band-aid approach over the years and that a full overhaul was due,” says General Manager Kevin McGuirk of the long-term capital project. Plans were unveiled in 2018 and construction started the following January. With only a slight delay due to COVID, the newly renovated dining space opened to members in August 2020.Upon entering the facility, visitors’ eyes are immediately drawn to the two-story structure, with lounge seating positioned on the lower level and dining tables upstairs. “The casualness [of the design] comes into play, with members rolling right off the course or the courts in their golf or tennis attire for lunch or dinner,” says McGuirk, describing the entry from the terrace bar lounge as a seamless transition that ties directly into the outdoors.
On the lower level, soft seating with cocktail tables and firepits can seat approximately 30. This facility wraps upward, opening into a casual-dining area that can be dressed up for evening service of up to 200 people.
The relaxed style is evidenced by charcoal and ash gray furniture that blends into the flagstone terrace. Built-in lighting illuminates interior terrace walks, with sconces alongside the outside of the building.
To maximize the use of the outdoor dining space into the colder months, the club invested in fifteen patio heaters and a group of stainless-steel stoves that serve as firepits. “We were able to extend usage from Labor Day through the end of November,” notes McGuirk.
Because COVID-19 upended the ability to host buffets, Siwanoy quickly pivoted to a la carte dining, with a whopping 95 percent of foodservice held outdoors. Members did not have to forego their traditional Sunday family cookouts, thanks to some minor adjustments. Buffets were manned by kitchen staff, who invited diners, by the table, up to each station to serve the food to members. During regular dining hours, takeout was available courtesy of a newly implemented transitional menu.
That same kind of innovative preparation and execution also helped Siwanoy rejigger its Thanksgiving dining plans. Instead of the usual two sit-down options, food-and-beverage service quickly pivoted to a takeout emphasis, generating 60 orders that fed 200 people.
McGuirk credits the new clubhouse design for helping to streamline this process. “We had two egresses for staff to work out of: One adjacent to the terrace that cut through to the outdoors, and another coming out of the north side of the kitchen,” he says. “We staged pickup orders in the grill room at the bar and also had a pass-thru that went to the front desk, where members could pick up takeout orders.”
Looking forward to the days when club life can resume full operation, McGuirk says the value of lessons learned are not lost on his staff. “In a perfect world, you’d want multiple soft openings,” he says. “But because we couldn’t do that, we learned how to adjust our operations, and how to change up Thanksgiving and prepare takeout for a short window.”
Raising the Bar
At Pelican’s Nest Golf Club in Bonita Springs, Fla., an expanded outdoor eatery has, quite literally, elevated the member dining experience. Last year, the club embarked on a $9 million redesign of its clubhouse dining facility that included a covered seating area, bar and formal indoor dining room. According to General Manager/COO David Gillespie, the myriad changes “have received nothing but rave reviews from membership.”
Among the biggest changes to the layout was the elevation of the existing 5,000-sq. ft. veranda, which was raised to the same height as the clubhouse. Twenty-foot, floor-to-ceiling screens were a key element to the design, helping to widen the space and provide ventilation when weather allows.
“Bringing the veranda to the same height as the rest of the building, and putting a roof over the entire area, opened the space up for seating for over 100, more than double the old seating [capacity],” notes Gillespie. With furnishings awash in a palette of off-white and beige, the vibe is casual, light and airy.
In addition to covering and screening the entire area, a 24-seat bar is now part of the outdoor dining experience at Pelican’s Nest. Overlooking the finishing holes of the club’s 36-hole golf course, as well as the Estero River that winds down to the Gulf of Mexico, the bar features a quartz countertop, hidden back lighting and stools that match the dining-room chairs.
Wait stations and service stations are strategically located, eradicating any potential traffic issues. “The veranda is the preferred seating choice for members, now that the heat and humidity have abated, and every seat is taken for both lunch and dinner,” says Gillespie.
To facilitate an effortless flow between the outdoor and indoor dining spaces, the clubhouse has been outfitted with fold-away, floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Inside the formal dining room are a generously sized bar that seats 36 (up from 18); lower ceilings with sound insulation; new carpeting, and furnishings in neutral tones that mirror the outdoor décor. As with the veranda, server wait stations have been revamped to better accommodate nightly head counts that can reach 400 in full-service times.
While Pelican’s Nest has not been able to function to full capacity during the pandemic, the club has rounded out its reduced a la carte dining with takeout service. Current in-person dining runs at approximately 50 to 60 percent, with five percent dedicated to carryout. Gillespie expects food-and-beverage revenues to increase by roughly $500,000 in the next fiscal year, and believes the club should resume full operations by the fall of 2021.
Over the last year, the club has come to understand the importance of taking time to manage a redesign. “Renovations of this magnitude require patience,” says Gillespie. He is hopeful that 2021 will allow the Pelican’s Nest membership to fully partake of a dining experience that has been years in the making.
“We have three dining facilities that give every member the option to go from casual to formal at a moment’s notice,” he notes. “It really is the best of all worlds combined in one space.”
Understanding the value of enjoying a memorable meal on the premises, Cleveland Country Club in Shelby, N.C., has upped its member satisfaction quota with an expanded casual-dining area. Part of a larger club-wide renovation, the project began last April and opened in August 2020, helping to elevate the member dining experience.
“Food and beverage is not only important to the sense of community at the club, it is integral in the sale of new memberships and the retention of current membership,” says General Manager Allyson Kahl Darling. “Not everyone plays golf, not everyone plays tennis, not everyone swims. Everyone likes to eat, drink and have a good time.”
Cleveland CC’s centrally located casual-dining facility, including a spacious outdoor deck, looks out onto the golf and tennis courts (the previous design featured small windows and thick vinyl railing that obstructed the view). Darling describes the new style as one that “combines Southern tradition and local culture, with a creative nod to modernity.”
A curved bar offers a place to enjoy a cocktail while taking in a sporting event on one of the six flat-screen televisions. Patrons have the option of dining at curved banquettes with built-in seating, lounge chairs and deep-seated sofas. Rich blues, along with leather and tweed fabric furnishings, are set against warm stained woods and a metal pressed-tin ceiling, creating an atmosphere that is relaxed, yet sophisticated.
Spilling into the outside is a partially covered dining area, complete with fireside tables and café lights. Darling credits the purposeful design choices for creating a seamless transition as diners to move from one area to the next. “It has been fun to watch the different groups spend the afternoon side by side,” she notes.
And for the staff, ingress and egress to the kitchen is more efficient, thanks to newly installed doors that allow servers and cooks to move about freely. Multiple work stations have been added to the bar area, while wine shelving that had been previously relegated to other areas of the club is more accessible and visible.
At the time the redesigned casual-dining space opened to members, the club was forced to contend with the fallout of the pandemic. “We saw the obvious decline in revenue immediately, with the restrictions on group business and the shutdown of all indoor dining,” recalls Darling. “It was important for us to continue to provide our members with some sort of food-and-beverage amenity.”
With a newly reorganized kitchen that fostered greater functionality, Cleveland CC’s Executive Chef, Zach Anderson, was able to execute a takeout menu. And even when the club reopened its indoor dining in late August to 50 percent capacity, curbside service was still maintained.
The advantage of having a well-designed outdoor dining facility is not lost on Darling and her staff. “Our renovated outdoor space has proven to be incredibly valuable,” she observes. “Many of our members are only comfortable dining outside, and we have plenty of space for social distancing. We have even been able to do some small social programs outside, overlooking the golf course.”
Such enthusiastic response from membership has carried the club into the present, where dining fills to 50 percent capacity at a rapid clip. While use of new community tables has been put on hold, and only 11 of the 22 bar stools are available for pre-dinner or post-golf drinks, Darling and her staff are hopeful that members will soon be able to embrace all of the latest design enhancements the way they were intended.
“I am looking forward to social programming in our new space—live music, dancing and seeing our members enjoy what they worked so hard for,” she enthuses.
A Taste of Post-COVID Dining
It seems fitting that a dining establishment meant to evoke a cozy feel would be dubbed The Homestead. For members at Old Ranch Country Club in Seal Beach, Calif., the casual eatery that opened last October is a testament to its environment: modern-ranch seating and a menu featuring California wines and locally sourced ingredients.With sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance and the golf course in the forefront, the Homestead’s interior is set in a complementary design. Director of Membership Renee Ord describes the décor as “having a modern ranch aesthetic with plush, soft seating amid western charm and timeless design details.”
A warm color palette of browns and blues contrasts nicely against the granite stone bar top and Art Deco lighting. “The overall design improved the layout, creating atmosphere and ambiance, where the space before just consisted of four-top tables, and the bar was in a separate space accommodating a very limited number of members,” says Ord. (Maximum occupancy of the bar and dining room is 175.)
Directly off the Homestead is an outdoor dining space that has been enhanced with new furniture, including a custom fireplace and lounging chairs. Easy access between the two spaces allows wait staff to move freely from kitchen to dining areas. In addition, separate point-of-sale stations, which are out of members’ line of sight, help to streamline operations.
The casual-dining renovation was completed by the time California permitted indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, but The Homestead was only able to be open for one week before all dining operations were forced to close again. Even in this short period, though, the club benefitted from the renovated space.
“Going back indoors for that one week increased our revenues dramatically,” notes Ord. “The week before the opening while we were still outdoors, our revenues were $39,000. The week we were able to open indoors at 25 percent capacity, our revenues were $63,000.”
By creating innovative takeout offerings, including a Thanksgiving at Home package and virtual wine tastings, the club has been able to provide supplemental F&B services for its membership. While not necessarily profitable, these value-added initiatives have been well-received.
“Since Day One of the pandemic, our members have supported the dining operations in every way possible,” notes Food and Beverage Director Mitchel Queen. “Our to-go food and beverage service provided options for members who were not able to physically dine at the club, and we creatively maximized our available outdoor space for members coming off the golf course or those who were looking for a much-needed oasis away from their homes.”
Looking ahead, Queen is enthused by the prospect of a full return to club life, including the casual-dining facility. Opening the long-awaited, newly renovated space, even if only for a short time, “gave our members a foretaste of a post-COVID dining experience,” he says.
Summing It Up
> Creating easy flow between indoor and outdoor dining spaces is conducive to a more casual layout.
> Design plans should look to add POS stations that can help staffers going between kitchens and dining rooms.
> Providing an array of seating choices, from bar stools to cozy loungers, allows members to move easily from drinks to dinner.