Upgraded cook and prep spaces are benefitting from extra room and more efficient layouts as they meet the increased demand for outdoor casual dining and takeout/delivery service.
Chaos and the kitchen are two ingredients that don’t mix well together. Even under normal circumstances, food prep, plating and overall food-and-beverage operations must run like a well-oiled machine to meet club standards. Throw a global health pandemic into the equation, and that process is likely to be slowed down considerably.
After redesigning their kitchens prior to the arrival of COVID, some club facilities have figured out how to better streamline production, maximize their space and still turn out meals that earn rave reviews with members.
At Eagle Creek Golf & Country Club in Naples, Fla., outdated kitchen equipment and a cumbersome layout prevented the burgeoning club from keeping pace with its growing membership. “Our walk-in cooler and freezer were pushing 40 years old; they looked old and run down,” says General Manager Don Madalinski.
Cramped quarters did not allow for the best use of prep space or an efficient workflow. After approving a capital-improvement plan that included a streamlined kitchen with 40 percent more space, the club underwent a $2.2 million renovation and proudly unveiled its new space at the start of 2020.
Reorganizing day-to-day operations has been the greatest benefit to Eagle Creek’s kitchen staff, especially with the addition of separate cook lines. “Hot and cold used to be all on one line,” explains Executive Chef Chuck Mahoney, CEC. “Now banquets can function without interrupting a la carte service.”
All prep tables are on rollers, allowing the kitchen to create separate stations and move them as needed. A separate pick-up window for salads, along with an expediting table, keeps ingredients in one convenient location. “We used to have all the condiments on ice in a separate area,” Mahoney notes.
Beverages have also earned their own designated space, with the liquor room housed right next to the beer cooler. Separate walk-ins for banquets, produce and dairy allow better organization and less clutter, as does a designated china room to house plates that can be pulled as needed. Five heat lamps were added, to allow plated food to maintain its temperature before leaving the kitchen.
Where previously servers needed to grab dishes right off the line, Eagle Creek’s kitchen is now equipped with 150-degree holding drawers. New baking ovens mean that desserts can be prepared in-house—something that was not possible previously. “We couldn’t bake a cake without affecting other ovens, [but] now we can switch things around as needed,” says Mahoney.
Such flexibility has been especially useful since the onset of COVID, when kitchens were forced to pivot their production and focus largely on carry-out orders. For Easter dinners, Mahoney and his crew plated to-go boxes by dividing a portion off the banquet line and the remainder off the front line. “We were able to put out 90 to 100 meals per hour,” he says. With such a successful run, the club plans to maintain its delivery options year-round, via golf and utility carts.
“It brings up a whole new business model,” notes Madalinski. He points to recent F&B figures that show a trend toward more delivery and takeout, especially during the club’s off-season. Food sales were up 43 percent from the previous year, with August 2020’s numbers up 19 percent over 2019. “People are excited about this different environment,” Madalinski adds. “Menus change more often, and the kitchen can be more creative.”
Mahoney says that his core staff, three of whom have been employed at Eagle Creek for over fifteen years, are demonstrating a noticeable sense of pride over the new kitchen. And Director of Membership and Marketing Laura Pelletier sees this trickle-down effect on the those they’re serving, too. “A lot of members don’t often see the kitchen, but they are feeling the value of their club now more than ever before,” she notes.
Royal TreatmentRebuilding food prep space to better serve a steady volume of diners was the goal of a kitchen expansion project at Kings Creek Country Club in Rehoboth Beach, Del.
“The original kitchen was never designed to be a full-service scratch kitchen capable of handling hundreds of covers per night,” explains General Manager/COO Don Byerly. The club’s F&B operation had skyrocketed in the last decade, from $450,000 ten years ago to current annual sales of $2 million. With the addition of 180 new members in the last three years and a wait list for its three membership categories, management did not need further convincing that a full-sized kitchen was in order.
To create a more flexible, space-efficient format, the design team quickly realized that simply tacking on extra square footage did not overcome its biggest hurdle: a single line without a pantry or prep/production area.
“The workflow was backwards; the dish area was in the back of the kitchen and servers had to carry dirty dishes through the expo area,” says Byerly. In addition, walk-in coolers were undersized and inconveniently located. “The new footprint cured all of these issues and gives us additional space to handle increased cover counts,” Byerly says.
Part of the now-3,000-sq. ft. kitchen provides increased prep worktop space, additional convection ovens, a combi oven, a stone hearth double-deck oven, additional flat tops for the pantry station, and a banquet prep area.
“Having this additional prep space and cooking equipment lets us prep or execute banquets or special events without interfering with the workflow of the a la carte team,” Byerly says. Opting for a large hood system that covers the front and back lines and is equipped with a utility distribution system also boosts productivity. The four-foot-high unit creates an opening that fosters communication with staff throughout the kitchen, while its easy-access panels allow utility lines to be adjusted as needed.
Repositioning the kitchen’s walk-in coolers and freezer has optimized the flow of food delivery and storage. A simple but underrated modification to the dish tank area—switching the “in” and “out” doors—prevents dirty dishes from coming into contact with clean, plated ones. Byerly credits Executive Chef Phil Lambert, who was involved in the design process from the start, with this idea. “Your chef knows the menu better than you do, and what kind of space the back-of-house team needs to ensure a smooth workflow,” he notes.
Other special features in Kings Creek’s updated kitchen include a designated pastry area, which has enabled the club to handle an influx of specialty cake orders, and a 30-foot expo line that can handle a la carte and banquet services simultaneously.
“Because we do not host a lot of banquets, this has proved to be very efficient, especially from a staffing standpoint,” says Byerly. The additional space on the expo line has also proved its worth during COVID, providing ample storage space for to-go containers used for takeout business. A door just off the expo line leads to the outdoor dining patios, which have been more regularly frequented during the pandemic.
Thanks to these vast enhancements in kitchen restructuring, the club reports faster ticket times, a more diverse menu and a 32 percent surge in revenue from 2018 to 2019. While Byerly had budgeted a 6 percent increase this year, that projection was upended by COVID’s impact in the spring. “However, even with the challenges we are facing with the pandemic, we beat our budget in member dining in June, July and August,” he notes.
At Sailfish Point on Hutchinson Island, Fla., renovating the kitchen to accommodate a surge in member dining last year also translated into an opportunity to improve efficiency. When a pub that was part of a 2015 clubhouse expansion surprisingly turned into a full-scale restaurant, management realized that a more structured design was required to run both dining establishments smoothly.
“We were sharing two cooking/production lines as a result of adding a restaurant to the rotation,” explains Assistant General Manager Aaron Gibbs. By adding a dedicated cooking production line for the pub and creating a more flexible design, the kitchen could take better advantage of its existing footprint. “This was our opportunity to get a fresh perspective and utilize all of our square footage,” Gibbs adds.
Transforming the former kitchen into an open-air format replaced a one-person cook station used for lunch buffets, enabling the main kitchen to supplement production. “It is now more aesthetically pleasing and gives us the ability to produce all food for lunch,” says Gibbs. “The main kitchen has a very open concept that encourages better workflow and communication.”
The banquet production line that had been sharing space with the pub production line was reconfigured, resulting in separate lines, custom banquet cooking and plating areas, and room for a chef’s table.
Another restructured zone was the garde manger station which, Gibbs says, had occupied more real estate than necessary. By recrafting this space into a more sensible size, designers were able to create a production line for the pub and reserve room for a stone-fired pizza oven. “We now have the ability to produce authentic pizza in less than 10 minutes,” Gibbs notes.
Freeing up so much space and reallocating it for better food prep made way for point-of-sale stations that have helped to minimize ticket-entry times. “Our servers and managers are able to spend more time in the dining venues with our membership because of the efficiency the design produced,” says Gibbs.
When the pandemic took hold, Sailfish Point was able to pivot its operation and use its redesigned facility in a different fashion. The wide-open space reserved for banquets became the central station for the club’s to-go, delivery and grocery programs, housing large volumes of boxed meals. In addition to being a staging area, this space also served as a supply closet for members in search of produce, proteins, dairy items and baked goods, as well as non-perishable essentials of paper products.
Fresh from the Oven
Outdoor dining just got a lot more satisfying at Bishops Bay Country Club, where piping-hot pizzas are helping to bolster F&B sales during the pandemic. In August, the Middleton, Wis. facility added an 800-sq. ft. screened-in pizza kitchen following a 35 percent revenue loss in outdoor events.
“We focus on families, and this added value has created an easy solution for family meal planning on a regular basis,” says General Manager/Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Murray.
Sporting an open-concept design, the kitchen is laid out with seating for 28 that adheres to current governmental restrictions. Members are able to watch and interact with the pizza kitchen staff, adding an element of excitement to the dining experience. Up lighting highlights the rustic timber ceiling, while premium patio furniture ensures years of usage.
Taking center stage is the 4,000-lb. custom-bult pizza oven, which required a section of the wall to be taken out to accommodate its massive frame. “The unit has its own exhaust that is variable, to allow for a consistent oven temperature,” explains Executive Chef Gabor Bencze. “This exhaust also controls the amount of heat that affects the staff and members.” At the kitchen’s grand opening, the oven produced 120 pizzas in two hours, much to the delight of hungry diners.
Thanks to a strong start and consistent sales throughout the season, the club has seen a 12 percent increase in member dining with the addition of the pizza kitchen. Carryout business has also improved by 18 percent. “We anticipate a major increase in carryout as the cooler weather comes,” adds Murray. But to keep on-site activity robust as well, the club plans to install automated mechanical sides to the venue by early October, along with radiant heat for year-round usage.
Keeping kitchens sanitized during the COVID pandemic has called for extra measures to ensure complete safety. At Kings Creek Country Club in Rehoboth Beach, Del., the culinary crew now sanitizes all worktops and cutting boards every hour; a pre-programmed timer alerts the team to this task.
Kings Creek also takes cleanliness a step further during food deliveries. All items are removed from their cardboard boxes before being placed into coolers and dry storage. “Some of our members have told us they have only dined at our club throughout the pandemic, because they feel safer here and trust our processes,” says General Manager Don Byerly.
At Eagle Creek Golf & Country Club in Naples, Fla., Mondays are dedicated to deep-cleaning the entire kitchen. On a regular basis, Executive Chef Chuck Mahoney uses a peroxide-based, eco-friendly cleaning solution. “Because we are not currently using the banquet room, our staff has all of their meals there,” Mahoney adds.
Having room to social-distance in the kitchen is another advantage. Sailfish Point on Hutchinson Island, Fla., is able to space out its staff, thanks to the additional square footage that its recent renovation has afforded.
Summing It Up
> Redesigning kitchen space can reinvigorate underperforming areas.
> Extra prep space reduces interference between banquet and a la carte production.
> Banquet space can be repurposed for storage until special-event business resumes.