Summing It Up
Generating more wedding and banquet business is as easy as serving up tastes of your party potential during regular dining hours.
Some clubs and resorts take a “more is better” approach to weddings and banquets. Others come from a “better is more” perspective. But they all have the same goal in common—increasing their party-generated revenues.
Last year, banquet business at River Hills Country Club in Lake Wylie, S.C., increased by 16 percent, according to Clubhouse Manager Brian Kagey. And, he says, the club anticipates that growth will continue by at least an additional 10 percent this year.
Because the private club’s banquet facilities are available to the public for weddings and other private events, Kagey, Executive Chef Gary Smith and the River Hills sales team have developed a multi-faceted approach for marketing to both member and non-member party prospects. Kagey and Smith view every member interaction—from a regular weeknight meal in the clubhouse, to the monthly progressive dinners on the golf course, to special-event menus that pair connoisseur-caliber wines and foods—as opportunities to “go over the top,” Kagey says, and showcase the club’s distinctive style and capabilities.
“We’re competing with about 20 other clubs in this area, and word-of-mouth is our most effective member-oriented marketing tool,” Kagey notes. “So we have to work at establishing and maintaining our niche just about every day. For us, that means constantly coming up with new things for members to see, touch, taste and talk about.”
A “new thing” may be as simple as an updated table set-up or arrangement that switches from seen-it-before traditional to catch-the-eye contemporary china service pieces, or the addition of a vodka ice luge or champagne fountain at the bar. Or it might be something as dramatic as the $1 million renovation currently in progress at River Hills, which will include the clubhouse foyer and lounge, golf course and tennis court.
At Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines, Iowa, banquet sales over the past year have increased by about $100,000. Executive Chef Jeffrey Strahl, Jr. attributes a great deal of that growth to a major campaign that courts members (many of whom belong to at least one other club) with consistently outstanding food and service.
“Over the past couple of years, we have been focusing on menu upgrades, including an optional food and wine-pairing option each week and four major wine dinners each year, and constant food and beverage server training,” Strahl says.
Each week, the club also demonstrates its party potential by setting up themed specialty stations in the dining room. Friday, for example, is “Prime Time,” with a shrimp buffet and prime rib carving station Another night might feature a “Steak and ’Tini” station, with various cuts of steak and cooking accompaniments such as marinades, rubs and toppings, along with a selection of specialty martinis. Ethnic themes have put the spotlight on the cuisines of Mexico, Morocco, India and Shanghai, as well as a globe-trotting taste tour of “world barbecue.”
“The stations work for us on two levels,” Strahl notes. “First, they show members we can produce the same high-quality food, décor, service and experience in a buffet setting as we can for a sit-down meal in our dining room. Second, but just as important, they provide an opportunity for interaction with our chefs. It’s amazing how shy members can be about asking questions and requesting dishes they would like to try.”
Traditionally well-attended annual member events also give chefs like Strahl the opportunity to shine.
“My biggest goals from the beginning have been to nail ‘the majors’—our big three annual golf tournaments, the November/December holiday season, and other traditional family celebration days such as Mother’s Day and Easter,” he says.
To bring distinction to events, instead of a standard banquet hall dish such as salmon picatta, Strahl might offer a pecan-crusted walleye with crimson apple slaw (the color comes from the red apple, beet, onion and cabbage components of the slaw). A big crowd pleaser on the buffet table is the chocolate fountain (“still new and exciting in the Midwest,” he says), which he was able to customize for a Sweet Sixteen party by tinting a white chocolate cascade with pink confectionery coloring.
“Here’s where members can see how we handle large events with imagination and attention to fresh preparation and presentation detail,” Strahl observes. “This is where we really show that we deserve their loyalty.”
And now, not only are Glen Oaks members clamoring for spaces on the club’s special events calendar, members from other clubs are vying for available event dates as well. In fact, Strahl says, “Glen Oaks has become such a popular party venue, we find ourselves pre-booking events a year in advance.”
To date, the size of Glen Oaks’ ballroom has limited the size of weddings and banquets to a maximum of 220 guests. However, within the next two or three years, a major expansion will allow the club to accommodate parties of up to 300, Strahl says.
Although Longue Vue Club, a private facility in Verona, Pa., is not looking to increase its number of bookings, it is working to build each one into a bigger revenue generator, says Executive Chef Jonathan Holzer.
“Over the past three years, we have increased the number of weddings here from seven or eight to about 20 per year,” he explains. “Revenue-wise, we have seen somewhere between a 10 to 15 percent jump over the past year.”
One major reason for the growth is the constant exchange of ideas and feedback between the club’s food and beverage staff and Clubhouse Manager Rebecca Lazeration’s team of sales and event coordinator professionals. During their initial meetings with party prospects, the sales team and coordinators identify opportunities for upgrading menus, décor or other aspects of the event.
Based on this information, Holzer then offers to develop a customized menu and tasting, featuring additional courses, more elaborate hors d’oeuvres, and higher-end or seasonal items. This can really improve food cost margins, he notes, by highlighting more local and moderately priced, fresher products, instead of trying to search for fresh asparag
us in the middle of January.
In recent years, Longue Vue has made it possible for members to take their parties beyond the clubhouse. Using grills, portable warmers and a separate set of less formal, more durable, “but still elegant” china and servingware, Holzer’s crew is setting up a growing number of buffet bashes on the club’s skeet- and trap-shooting ranges and pool area. C&RB