When Brae Burn CC’s century-old clubhouse got a $4.5 million food-and beverage makeover, its dining program stepped out of the wings and into the spotlight.
In 2013, Brae Burn Country Club, West Newton, Mass., was on the cusp of a major strategic and cultural shift that would not only transform its century-old clubhouse, but also enhance food and beverage’s position as an important amenity for members. Inspired by the membership’s desire for new, more modern dining, the club invested $4.5 million into upgrading the dining room, bar, kitchen, and patios. No corner was left untouched.
In addition to new spaces, Brae Burn also hired key managers, including Sean P. McLaughlin, General Manager, and Jason Nill, Director of Food and Beverage, to join Executive Chef Dean Moore in crafting a program focused on service and quality. Together this dynamic team, with the support and assistance of a well-chosen and diplomatic F&B committee, has elevated Brae Burn’s a la carte operation in all aspects.
Brae Burn Country Club
AT A GLANCE
Location: West Newton, Mass.
Average Annual F&B Revenue: $2.9 million
A la carte/Banquet Mix: 55% a la carte/45% banquet
Food Cost: 45%
Average Weekly Covers: 500-600, depending on the season
Average No. Golf Rounds: 24,000
Average No. Catered Events Monthly: 35
Average Member Age: Early 50s
Food & Beverage Minimum: $400/quarter
- Grille Room
- Upper and Lower Decks
- Banquet Spaces
Kitchen Employees: 20
Grille Room Kitchen Size: 1,100 sq. ft.
Main/Banquet Kitchen Size: 2,500 sq. ft.
Clubhouse Size: 50,000 sq. ft.
Annual F&B revenues at Brae Burn now hover around $2.9 million and are growing daily. Usage is up 40%. Surveys showed an increase from just 38% of members being satisfied with the club’s dining program to well over 73% now being either satisfied or very satisfied.
“Our a la carte dining has been completely transformed,” says Nill. “From the food to the wine to the service to the space, what we offer our members is dynamic and one-of-a-kind.”
The Power of a Renovation
Before, Brae Burn’s dining room was dark and dated. “There was nothing exciting or welcoming about it,” says Moore. “Menus were equally rigid, and there wasn’t flexibility or room for creativity.”
As the club’s average member age decreased, the desire for a more modern and functional space, with menus to match, grew stronger. In 2013, a new food-and-beverage committee, led by Vin Fabiani, took over, and radical change was finally on the horizon.
After months of rallying members, securing funds and finalizing plans with architects and designers, the project, which took six months to complete, was given the green light.
“It was an opportunity to start fresh,” says Moore, who has been at the club for 11 years. And Brae Burn jumped right in, making a succession of changes that each made significant contributions to a total makeover:
A new members’ bar was added, and the dining room was expanded to feature a new curved wall of windows. (This improved both the aesthetics and provided additional space.)
- High-end finishes and extensive millwork were added, along with two fireplaces and a lounge space.
- New furniture, china and glassware were purchased.
- To maximize headroom, extensive structural improvements were carefully implemented, and air-conditioning and heating ductwork was installed under the floor slab.
- A new stairway was added, to provide a convenient connection to banquet and ancillary spaces on the second floor.
- The a la carte kitchen was reconfigured, as better refrigeration, a wood-stone oven, a “Swiss Army Knife” (a unit with six burners, a griddle and 2 seperate ovens) and other new equipment were all purchased and installed.
- Several outdoor dining areas were also improved. A new pergola was built and landscaping was enhanced. Additional dining was added on the second-floor deck.
Even seemingly minor changes had a big impact. “We overhauled our service details,” says Nill, who is not only new to Brae Burn, but also to the club industry. (He comes from one of Boston’s top hotels and has extensive restaurant management and consulting experience.) “Before, serving dinner was enough. Now, thanks to our hospitality-focused training and a detailed service sequence, everything is well-thought-out and our members’ needs are take care of immediately.”
This has renewed not only the membership, but also the staff. “They are 100% committed,” says Nill.
With the new space came a new dedication to culinary quality and creativity.
“When Jason and I came on board, the renovation was already well underway,” says McLaughlin, whose background is rich with experience in hotel and executive conference centers. “The big decisions had been made.”
What remained to be addressed revolved around the menus and service issues.
So Moore, Nill, McLaughlin and the newly appointed Executive Sous Chef, Joe Dion, put pen to paper and drew up a plan that would significantly elevate the quality of ingredients, the style of foodservice and the structure of both food and drink menus—all while allowing those on the F&B team to flex their creative muscles.
“We’ve improved purchasing and sourcing, elevated our ingredient standards and changed our menu strategy,” says Moore. “We’ve even added a teen menu that features smaller-sized [and lower-priced] versions of regular dishes. It’s been a big success with families.”
Menus will continue to change seasonally, with new specials running daily. Farm-to-table fare is the focus. Freshness and locality play key roles, too.
“My style has always reflected clean flavors with simple ingredients that are prepared well,” says Moore. The management team and food-and-beverage committee have given the kitchen the freedom to do what it does best, he adds. “There’s no micro-managing or debate about the cost of meatloaf, for example. We’re encouraged to be creative and to elevate Brae Burn even further.”
The Time to Serve
Under Nill’s guidance, service standards and beverage menus have also been completely revamped.
“The renovation closed our operation for six months, so we basically started over,” he says. “We’re a really tight team now, and we all have the same mission: to improve the member experience.”
Brae Burn does this through its service culture, which emphasizes a member-centric approach where name recognition and member preferences are extremely important.
“We can teach anyone to be a good server,” says Nill, who refers to himself as Brae Burn’s “chief hospitalitarian.”
“I can’t teach someone to have a warm personality or care that Mrs. Jones likes her steak well-done, even though she says she likes it medium-rare,” he adds. “You either have that hospitality gene, or you don’t.”
One of the many ideas that Nill brought from his restaurant experience is what he calls a “swarm.” When a member has finished dining, his or her server will call a “swarm” in the back of house. Any available staff then comes to help clear the table immediately.
“It takes seconds to clear a table when you have six people attending to it,” says Nill. “Plus, it makes the members feel as though many hands are taking care of them, instead of just those of their server.”
Strategies like this have generated a new vibe in the dining room. “Because we all work together, nothing is missed,” says Nill.
The Cocktail Hangout
Brae Burn took back its bar scene by incorporating a rich mahogany bar, deep seating and a tap for beer into its dining room design.
Both the wine list and the cocktail menu were also improved.
“Our wine list reads in body order from lightest to heaviest,” says Nill, who was instrumental in its creation. “For example, the member who regularly drinks Merlot will see that a Super Tuscan is quite similar in intensity.”
This style of composition has helped to move members out of their comfort zone and encouraged them to try new wines, without the fear of the unknown or the hand-holding of a sommelier.
The club’s cocktail menu is equally well-crafted. More akin to a trendy restaurant than a country club, it features a rotating list of seasonal libations that highlight ingredients from the chef’s garden (like Brae Burn basil in the Summer Cucumber Basil Martini).
“Our cocktails should be just as interesting as our food,” says Nill.
One of the most popular drinks on its menu is Brae Burn’s Earl Grey Infused Moscow Mule, served in a traditional copper mug. It’s a perfect example of a classic cocktail with a modern twist.
“Cocktails are really important in the restaurant world,” says Nill. “If we want to be the number-one choice for members, and continue to attract a younger demographic, we need to offer the cutting-edge craft cocktails and cuisine they’d find at the best restaurants in Boston. And then we need to deliver a truly personalized experience.”
From the Executive Chef’s perspective, “having managers like McLaughlin and Nill who are newer to the club industry on our team has proven to be a really important part of our evolution,” says Moore. “They bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the table—ideas that are well-supported by the club’s membership [see member satisfaction chart above].”
Usage of Brae Burn’s dining venues, McLaughlin says, has “increased dramatically—so much so that we’ve had to implement an online reservation system and manage expectations during peak periods.”
With plans to update banquet spaces and back-of-house operations in the next few years, Brae Burn has much to be proud of. Its culture is collaborative and creative. It has the right people in the right places. And it has big plans for continued growth and success.
“Dining is universal,” says McLaughlin. “It brings the club together, and it’s now one of the most important aspects of our operation.”