The impact of the pandemic will influence club culinary programs in a variety of ways, says Fiddlesticks CC’s Executive Chef Ryan Daniels.
As the world transitions back to some semblance of normalcy, most of us can look back and be proud of what we have accomplished. We made it through an unprecedented global pandemic with no playbook in hand. We faced tremendous adversity with rigor and grit.
But, as we look forward, we have to think about what’s next?
I am no Nostradamus or fortune teller, but I have confronted all sorts of difficulties this past year and I’ve seen widespread change.
Let’s look at the craft of culinary first. Just a short time ago, it seemed dining trends were ever-changing. Restaurants were booming and new restaurants were opening daily. Since last March, the leading culinarians in our industry went from evolving and creating to focusing all their time and energy on how to keep their doors open, satisfy payroll and create revolutionary to-go/curbside menus.
Club chefs were all doing much of the same. We created daily menus and we executed them 7 days a week. We developed a made-from-scratch frozen dinner menu and opened an onsite commissary. These innovations allowed our membership the opportunity to stay within the gates of the club and still receive the provisions they needed to live comfortably and securely during this time of great uncertainty.
Operationally we have all felt the struggle. We had difficulty procuring items. We had to deal with employees being affected by the virus, and then spend the rest of the day contact-tracing and then rewriting the work schedule minus the affected employees for the next 2 weeks.
Over Thanksgiving, we temporarily lost 80% of our culinary team here at Fiddlesticks Country Club. But with fortitude and resourcefulness, we persevered. With four cooks, including myself, and one dishwasher, we continued to operate seven days a week and executed Thanksgiving as planned as if we had a full staff. I am very proud that we as a strong cohesive unit were able to pull up our bootstraps and make that happen. (But it is not something I would ever want to do again.)
Now we are trying to hire brigade members. With the number of layoffs and the unprecedented unemployment numbers this past year, it is surprising how difficult it is to even get candidates through the door. With a steady stream of government stimulus payments and the unemployment rate increasing, it is almost like the government is telling Americans that it is okay to stay home and still collect a paycheck. Hopefully, this will end soon, and we will have an influx of well-qualified future culinarians chomping at the bit to join private club kitchens.
The extra challenge is what’s beyond our control. This situation is not just affecting kitchens. Our purveyors are feeling the effect as well. There are difficulties procuring products and challenges having to tell chefs that they are out of the products upscale kitchens rely on. They must constantly put out fires from upset chefs who are already stressed beyond belief. Then they have to change plans yet again. This isn’t a one or two-off situation. It seems with every order placed more and more items are harder to come by. Purveyors are experiencing similar staffing challenges. From a shortage of warehouse employees to the lack of truck drivers, it is up in the air what time our delivery will arrive. I have even heard of certain places not getting their orders on their scheduled delivery day. What a mess!
Even in the face of these challenges, we are still here, working hard and going strong. And I know most of you are like me and still in love with what we do. So, the bigger question is what is in store for us in the coming weeks and months? What will our members want? Will they feel comfortable with buffets? How do we continue to meet and even exceed management and member expectations?
Here are my five predictions on how clubs will transition in the near future:
- Outdoor dining will continue to thrive. Members and guests feel comfortable outside. The open air gives them a sense of security.
- We will get back to buffets, but the optics will change. I think members are still cautious, even with a vaccine. They will continue to want the buffet experience when applicable but will want someone serving instead of everyone touching the utensils.
- Certain products will continue to be hard to procure and prices will stay high. It is no secret that a variety of organizations have benefited, and have even made millions, during the pandemic. But a lot of companies have lost a lot, and I am sure they will be looking to recoup their losses.
- Menus will become more simplistic. Members will certainly want wine dinners and specialty nights once in a while, but for the most part, I think menu offerings will include simpler dishes cooked really well. Technique and quality will be the focus, versus trying to create the next culinary trends.
- Food and beverage operations will remain in the spotlight. Over the past year, food and beverage has been an unsung hero. Golf courses, tennis courts, and pickle ball courts were all still open, but most of the group functions in these areas did not exist and events, in general, were gone. Looking back, the “functions” we pulled off all centered around food and beverage. We did a few drive-through BBQs, wheeling our large wood smoker in front of the clubhouse and serving our members right off the smoker. As with most other clubs, we continued to execute memorable holidays for the members, too, changing up how we present them, but still making the occasions as special as possible.
Like with everything, this era will be behind us someday. I can certainly speak for myself when I say it has been quite the journey. Thinking back, I often wondered how we would make it to today. But blessed with great leadership, unwavering support, a willingness to adapt and, perhaps most importantly, the resilient attitude needed to overcome adversity, we’ve learned that anything is possible.