Club chefs must help members and guests make informed operational decisions by experiencing the desired results with a culinary slant.
When I arrived at the Ritz Carlton in Naples in 1999, our kitchens needed new pots. We were stocked with the classic conundrum of aluminum materials that were bent, dented and broken. What was worse, the graveyard of discarded pots rivaled the useable par stock.
After several weeks, our purchasing department did an inventory of all of our aluminum pots, looking at the conversion costs for new stainless steel pots. The exercise yielded a cost of forty thousand for a complete transition.
Our Director of Finance was from Saint Louis. So the team of chefs and I decided to prove our point with BBQ ribs. We assembled two sauces, one in an aluminum pan and one in a stainless steel pan.
We presented the ribs to the entire accounting department with two identical bowls of sauces. We asked them for their feedback on the sauces. The next day the results were in. One of the sauces tasted metallic. The chemical reaction of the acid in the sauce mixed with the cheap aluminum pots. We knew this would prove our point. And it did.
Showing the finance department how the flavor was impacted by the equipment allowed our Finance Director to taste the need for proper cookware. Directly after the exercise, the financial budget was amended for new product.
In 2001, we rolled a custom-built wooden glass cabinet into the Vice President’s office filled with giant Ritz Carlton cookies. These pastries were legendary, too large to consume in one sitting and too good not to sneak the remaining half into a purse.
Our vision was to place these pastry jewels in a jewelry box. While I could have told the VP about the idea; displaying the experience directly in front of him played into his senses and we were better able to get the results we wanted and drive a better guest experience by allowing the decision-makers and see our vision.
In 2005, while sitting with Mr. Marriott, he asked me about peeled vegetables, touting cost saving in labor and waste. After a two-hour meeting, I was asked to investigate the peeled scenario for all the national Ritz Carlton hotels.
Two months later we arrived back at the Marriott test kitchen. First up was the smell test of garlic—peeled vs. freshly peeled. Both both products were sliced paper-thin, tossed in warm olive oil, and added to a light tomato sauce. The fresh garlic out-performed the pre-peeled, which was bitter and sour.
We did this exercise with peeled potatoes, root vegetables, and other labor finding suggestions. Starch played a major role in the potatoes. Root vegetables dry and begin to sour when pre-peeled.
After two more hours, we got up from the table and agreed that the taste and preservation of the product was more important than a profit margin.
Lastly, yesterday, we had a financial planning meeting with the President of the Union Club. During the meeting, our team requested next year’s club kitchen enhancements. After a long meeting, I asked our President if he would like to say hello to the kitchen staff.
While engaged with our Chef, a pastry cook blended a cylinder of ice cream in the new Paco Jet. After a few minutes, we presented him with freshly churned vanilla ice cream that had perfect mouthfeel, texture, taste, and balance.
Is there anything better than talking culinary visions over a bowl of frozen crème?
Chefs must speak both boardroom and kitchen languages. We must use our skills to make our point. This must be our strategy. If we are not enrobing the decisionmaker’s culinary senses, we are failing the members’ needs or wants for better culinary equipment, applications or services.
Maybe Mrs. Fields knew something all those years back with her mall cookie shops that filled the vast space with a fresh-baked aroma.
Next time you have to make a difficult decision with a member, owner or guest, do it over food. At the very least, your club’s culinary excellence will be the centerpiece of the conversation.