C+RB‘s 15th Annual Ideas Issue highlights creative new events and approaches, born out of pandemic necessity, that have earned permanent popularity. In this article, we look at how El Niguel Country Club in Laguna Niguel, Calif. offered a virtual summer cooking series to keep members engaged with the club.
While members of El Niguel Country Club (ENCC) in Laguna Niguel, Calif., were missing much of their regular routine at the club last year, they were especially hungry for a memorable dining experience. Because meals on the premise were not possible, management decided to offer the next best thing, and so the club’s virtual summer cooking series was born.
“[Executive Chef Bruno Massuger] wanted to reach members during a time when they may not have been able to join us,” says Clubhouse Manager Lori LeBard. With California having undergone a stay-at-home order twice during the pandemic, the club’s then-president, Ryan O’Kane, decided to team up with Massuger to create the first at-home cooking demonstration, “Mastering the Grill.”
This program, along with other virtual cooking events, was promoted on ENCC’s website, social-media videos and in the “Foodie News Weekly” e-mail blast. Tickets were $50 (not including tax) for two.
Prior to the event, members picked up pre-packaged fresh provisions from the club for grilling at home, including tri-tip steak, salmon, dry rubs and vegetables for the side dishes. Registered participants were able to access the event via Zoom or Instagram Live and follow along using the provided recipes. The event was capped off with a Q&A conducted by Massuger, who answered members’ “burning questions” about grilling tricks and tips. With about 50 members in attendance, the event was deemed a success and a welcome reprieve from pandemic living.
Once the club was able to resume operations, albeit with safety restrictions in place, in-person events resumed, beginning with a whiskey dinner in late September. Held outdoors on the terrace patio. the four-course dinner highlighted four of Woodford Reserve’s flavor profiles, prepared in an intimate format. Tickets were $100+ per person.
To transform the club’s Lakeside Terrace into a Woodford Whiskey Club, the space was outfitted in the brand’s signature copper and rose gold colors. Tables of six or fewer were spaced apart to allow for social distancing . A local mixologist was on hand to craft an “ENCC smoked old fashioned” featuring specially branded ice. “We educated members on the flavor profiles of four different whiskeys as well as their history and origin,” says LeBard. After indulging in a spirited meal, each attendee went home with a commemorative gift set to mark the occasion.
But the experience did not end there. The dinner served as a launching pad for the Whiskey of the Month Club, for members to imbibe premier cocktails in the comfort of their homes. Members have the option to receive curated whiskey, scotch or bourbon gift packages that can be picked up curbside. The promotion has been marketed to prospective participants outside the club’s golf shop, showcasing monthly offerings, and on the golf course, where players are treated to beverage samples. As an added incentive, members who join the whiskey club are given priority seating at upcoming tastings and events.
Because not all members were not yet keen on returning to the club, even as restrictions had eased, the virtual cooking series expanded to attract an even younger demographic. During the holidays, the club offered a Christmas cookie decorating virtual event. Kids were provided with links to demo videos and cookie boxes for housing their finished creations—adding a little sweetness to an otherwise challenging year.
The Goal: Satisfy members of El Niguel Country Club in search of regular F&B experiences while away from the club and jumpstart monthly programs with added incentives.
The Plan: Create instructive tutorials in an engaging interactive format and wow members with personalized dining options that cater to their interests.
The Payoff: Successful events that maintain member connections.