Some entertainment and hospitality experts now compare today’s fine dining experiences to going to the theater several generations ago. Like theater, fine dining offers a chance to escape the everyday grind and unwind in an ambiance-rich setting. Because people already turn to clubs and resorts for atmosphere, enhancing existing formal dining experiences with up-to-date designs and decorative touches gives clubs the opportunity to take this feeling to the next level—which can ultimately lead to repeat visitors and a happy membership
So say “so long” to stuffy, formal dining, and hello to creative, elegant dining options that can appeal to everyone— from trendy couples celebrating a romantic first anniversary to corporate managers looking to close a deal. In fact, if you utter the words “formal dining” to many club and resort managers these days, you’ll likely have several alternative descriptions quickly suggested to you: “fine dining,” “business dining,” or “casually elegant dining.”
As clubs and resorts continue to follow the trend toward creating more comfortable and homey environments that and guests, they’re learning that their most elaborate dining options can still offer memorable and “classy” experiences, without being stiff and completely devoid of personality. In fact, clubs are creating a special fine dining personality all their own, as they blend interior design strategies and trends used by independent restaurants with tried-and-true classic touches that have always defined the club and resort offer. Location, Location, Location
Look around. Sometimes, inspiration for a formal dining design is in your backyard— literally. Because many clubs and resorts have the benefit of spectacular surroundings and well-manicured landscapes, it’s no wonder that more dining room décor now revolves around what’s outside the doors and windows, rather than what’s going on inside.
When the Desert Highlands Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., renovated its Ventana Room five years ago, inspiration came by looking out the windows at the area’s sun kissed rocks and rolling valleys. The goal was obvious: Preserve the upscale dining experience by capturing the Southwestern mystique. “Basically, we [have tried to] bring the desert inside,” says General Manager Tim Bakels.
And bring it, they do. The view through floorto- ceiling windows and glass French doors is undoubtedly the room’s focal point.The decorative vibe is natural Southwest, and its warm ambiance is complemented by an organic, earth-toned color scheme. The indoor colors pick up the natural rich beiges, rusts and sages of the surrounding rocks, maple trees and desert. An oversized, bright Southwestern painting rests over the chic, clay kiva fireplace, to pull together the feeling of a haciendainspired dining room. The result? A distinctive, fine dining elegance all its own.
At Arrowhead Alpine Club in Edwards, Colo., the dining room feels as if it grows out of the mountain. A modest dining room is set at 9,500 feet in an on-mountain yurt—a temperature-controlled canvas structure—and embodies the active spirit of the private club’s membership. “It has a rustic cabin feel, and we go with the whole Colorado mountain-living theme,” says Derek Ducharme, Food and Beverage Manager/Chef. This fall the club is replacing the skins on the canvas to update the yurt and better utilize the view of the 14,000-foot mountain, by adding large windows and a set of classic French doors that open out to the yurt’s patio.
Regardless of a club’s surroundings, the full personality of its fine dining room will grow out of its accessories and interior design details. At Arrowhead, the warmth of its lodge is augmented by an antique-looking potbelly stove and plenty of decorative details. The walls are adorned with antique skis, lanterns and vintage ski advertisements, and antique oil lanterns hang from the ceiling. The true mountain experience is reinforced by additional furnishings.
“Our tables are handcarved out of knotty pine, and all the chairs are made out of pine logs and upholstered with moose and bear patterns,” describes Ducharme. The unconventional décor is offset by classic fine dining tabletops that feature crisp white or pinegreen linens, and rust or burgundy-toned napkins.
Starting at the Tabletop
At clubs and resorts everywhere, as fine dining facilities continue to add personal and stylish touches to their décor, tabletop set-ups remain timelessly chic. During the Ventana Room’s renovation at Desert Highland GC, the managers tested different stemware, china, flatware and linen combinations to reflect the desired elegance that is the hallmark of dining in that room.
“We use Riedel crystal instead of standard stemware,” describes Christophe Hermine, Clubhouse Manager. “We also use different china and pure silver flatware and salt and pepper shakers.”
At establishments like 27 Ocean Blue at Florida’s Boca Raton Resort & Club, tabletop settings are a top priority, with the goal of distinctively setting them apart from other fine dining restaurants. “Everything from the napkin to the coffee cup is thought about,” says Doug Zeif,Vice President of Food and Beverage for LXR Luxury Resorts, owners of the resort and club. “We set the table and go through all the courses to make sure every little piece of the tabletop is correct.”
At the Missouri Athletic Club (M.A.C.) in St. Louis, Mo., tabletops in the Rendezvous Room immediately evoke a certain sophistication that differentiates it from the club’s more casual grill room.With fine Italian linens, all tables are double- topped for a more luxuriant appearance and set with fine crystal, china and flatware delicately etched with the M.A.C. logo on the handles.
“It is very subtle,” says General Manager Larry Thompson. “We don’t try to be ostentatious in that kind of display.” For this club, less is more. “The table is devoted to the dining experience,” says Thompson. “We don’t believe in table tents, because we’re not trying to sell you something else while you’re there having dinner. Our wait staff is well-trained to help make selections, and we don’t need a sign to tell you that we have a wonderful dessert.”
Through the years, many dining facilities have been turning to regional or ethnic décor to establish an overall theme or mood. Making a statement with tabletops can help fine dining establishments define their signature appearance, but many clubs and resorts are moving away from traditional formal settings in favor of something a bit less rigid.
For example, a subtle Tuscan theme permeates the Royal Oak restaurant at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif., thanks to Italian linens, flatware and stemware. And at the Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterfield, Ind., the trend toward country club casual is apparent in the formal dining room, where trading in gold-lamé linens and fine china for the traditional white linens and china used in the club’s grill room has given the formal dining a fresh feel.
“We are trying to make the formal dining room into a more comfortable fine dining experience,” says Mike Clindaniel, Food and Beverage Director/Executive Chef. Walls That Speak Well of You
Creative walls are another way in which fine dining establishments can set themselves apart. One attractive style is textured walls. Rather than monochromatic flat surfaces, clubs and resorts are opting for rounded corners, wall fabrics, customized paint combinations and dimensional surfaces to guide the overall atmosphere.
extures can also open up a dining room in ways that traditional painted walls cannot. Silverado Resort’s Royal Oak restaurant relies on the walls’ brushed textures and an oversized mirror to add depth to the space, while maintaining intimacy.
Alternately, wall fabrics have gained momentum in the last several years and offer a more opulent finish than traditional wallpapers. And no fabric is off-limits—even leather. Yes, leather. The caramel-toned, soft leather walls within Sand Creek’s formal dining room are complemented by a wainscot of lacquered dark green wood with minimal artwork on the walls. In this way, the unique deep-green, wooden fireplace with a white travertine surround is accentuated, finished with a modern feel from six-foot-tall wrought-iron vases around the room and a multi-toned ceiling mural of a sunrise and sunset. With fabulous choices for fine dining wall textures and fabrics abounding, who says you have to choose just one? Certainly not the people at Veranda Restaurant at Lake Placid Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Housed in a mansion built at the turn of the century, Veranda boasts five different dining rooms and an outdoor veranda. Overall, it was designed to be warm and cozy, while maintaining unparalleled elegance. Combining wood wainscoting, stonework, fabric wall coverings and intricate stained glass, every room in the restaurant offers a unique experience.
One dining room in the upper level, the aptly named Birch Room, is trimmed entirely in birch logs for a rustic edge. The White Room adjacent to it conveys a more lively tone. “The White Room is really light and uplifting,” says Donald Whitmore, Director of Food and Beverage. “The wall coverings are bluebirds and blue jays, and there is a nice brass chandelier.”
Downstairs, though, the wall textures take center stage. There is a large stone fireplace and it has stained glass on each side of it. It is definitely the focal point of the room. C&RB
Summing It Up
• Formal dining has evolved into “fine” and “casually elegant” dining, with the emphasis on providing experiences that draw as much excitement from ambiance-rich settings as from the menus themselves.
• Clubs are creating special fine-dining personalities all their own by blending the best new restaurant interior design strategies with tried-and-true classic touches.
• The stunning natural beauty of many club and resort properties offers special opportunities to create unique and memorable fine-dining settings.
• Clubs have always set some of the most elegant tables, and this expertise should be drawn upon as tabletop settings are adapted to new fine-dining atmospheres.
• Creative use of new materials for dining room walls and decorations can also help create distinctive decor and experiences.
• Comfortable seating remains a critical constant for fine-dining experiences, which last significantly longer than other meal occasions.
Putting panache into fine dining décor within clubs and resorts is simple. Unlike independent restaurateurs, club and resort owners have an obvious advantage in knowing their clientele inside and out. So if you’re looking to spice up dining décor, take a cue from your membership’s personality and desires.
The strong artistic presence at the Missouri Athletic Club is directly linked to its membership, as a large part of the club’s original artwork has been donated by members over the years. “We have a wonderful art collection here,” says Larry Thompson, General Manager. “We’re very proud to display our art, and it lends to the ambiance in our restaurants.”
The club’s Rendezvous Room houses original oil paintings, primarily depicting outdoor themes, that inspired the room’s blue, green and beige color scheme. The artwork also brings to life the spirit of the city athletic club’s active membership, and offers a type of urban oasis amidst city living.
Across the country in Napa Valley, Calif., the Royal Oak at Silverado Resort is also decorated with a member and guest favorite: You guessed it, wine. Display cabinets filled with members’ favorite wines reach to the ceiling and stand tall next to the open-air kitchen. This presentation puts wine on a pedestal and makes it the backbone of the fine dining experience. “Being in wine country, part of the dining experience is, of course, the wines,” says Terry Peterson, Director of Food and Beverage.
Please Be Seated
While each club and resort has its own set-up, one constant ties all fine dining options together: the length of the meal. Most fine dining rooms estimate that meals last from two to three hours. Comfortable seating at tables is therefore crucial to an enjoyable dining experience.
“Furniture comfort is a very big focus for us,” says Larry Thompson, General Manager of the Missouri Athletic Club (M.A.C.). “We want people to feel comfortable, and we want them to feel at home.” The club offers its members cushioned, upholstered chairs with comfortable arm rests.
The Ventana Room at Desert Highlands Golf Club utilizes overstuffed leather seats with cushioned backs and armrests, to provide full-on comfort at the table. Others mix things up seating- wise to give the room a different look and expand dining options. Sand Creek Country Club offers both cushy leather booth seating and high-backed, mod-patterned cushioned chairs.
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