Penelope Wong, CEC, Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.) is focused on what is best for the operation and membership as a whole—not on what is best for a single member on any given night.
We’ve all been there: Twenty-eight tickets deep with more spewing out of the printer that haven’t even been pulled or called yet. You’re in the middle of getting it handed to you during one of the busiest Friday night services of the season and, like clockwork, one of your best servers approaches the pass and asks, “Chef, Mrs. Miller is in and is really hoping she can order the Coconut Curry Shrimp from last month’s menu. Is it okay if I ring that in?”
What’s the correct answer: Yes or No?
Two years ago, without hesitation, the answer would have been yes, yes, yes. However, we’ve seen a significant change in our dining culture here at Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.). The volume, intensity and insanely ridiculous special requests coming in have become nearly unmanageable. In my attempt to gain back some control over this operation, I have, without hesitation, become the “no” chef. I must say, it is insanely gratifying. As much as I understand the dynamic of country club life and the unspoken policy that members basically get anything they ask for, I have begun empowering my management staff to follow suit to regain our claim on operations.
After all, aren’t we the ones who know best? Isn’t this why we were hired?
Last month, I had a conversation with a fellow chef who works just down the road from Glenmoor CC. He was on the brink of releasing a completely new menu concept at his club with the guidance and vision of his new general manager. He was very excited about his new menu concept but was concerned with how well the membership might receive the change. He knew that we change our menus here quite frequently and so he asked me specifically about accommodating special requests. My sous chef was a part of the conversation as well. When he asked me if I accommodated special requests, my sous chef laughed out loud. He answered for me: “She’s pretty much a ‘no’ chef.”
I shared with my peer my vision and goal to reclaim this as my kitchen, my menu, and my operation. The look on his face was of absolute relief. His concern about having to the tell the members “no” had been trumping the excitement about being empowered to progress from the confines of traditional country club cuisine. I shared a few examples of that week’s services with him to make him feel better about having to say “no.”
During a very busy lunch service on ladies play day, the pool was packed, the patio was packed and the dining room was filling rapidly. Additionally, we had three smaller groups meeting in our banquet areas with members and guests ordering from the grill menu. We were in it. I had all hands-on-deck, my line stacked solid with seven of us pushing food out like we had done this before. Suddenly, my expo calls out, “Chef! I need a side of guacamole for Mrs. Jones, please. Do you have any made?” Without pause, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “No. And I’m not going to stop what’s happening on my line right now to make her any.” He stared back briefly, looking for some slight indication that I was joking. When he realized I was being blatantly truthful with him, he moved on and instructed the server on the proper verbiage to communicate to the table. This has become routine for him. And as one of my FOH managers, he agrees with me wholeheartedly.
We have a very active membership here at Glenmoor. Our F&B program is most certainly its own entity and it does not rely on weather or the tee sheet to dictate volume for the day. Most nights are balls-to-the-wall busy and I have to constantly reinvent the wheel of efficient F&B service and excellence in service and standards. With that in mind, I decided it would be best to focus on what is best for the operation and membership as a whole—not what was best for the Jones or the Millers on any given night. I decided it is no longer ideal to compromise service for a dining room full of members waiting for their orders so that I can make one member happy by having to stop the dance of my line cooks in their perfect zone of pushing orders out, step off the line to retrieve the proper ingredients and then somehow work it into the mix of what the line is properly stocked for (i.e. the current menu).
Before you judge me, know that I don’t turn down EVERY special request, even if we’re in the weeds. If a request comes in that is easily doable with the items already stocked on the line, won’t impede the flow of service or is to accommodate a severe allergy, I am happy to oblige.
I impose monthly menu changes in my member dining areas. One of the reasons for this is because I run an all day, one-page menu for both lunch and dinner and supplement with several lunch and dinner specials. Our menu design, cuisine and concepts save us from having simple things like guacamole or egg salad available all the time. The monthly menu changes offer the variety the membership is looking for, the creativity and freedom my cooks yearn for, and the ability to remain relevant with today’s ever-evolving dining trends.
I do my best to offer a realistic and ample amount of variety in menu design to satiate my membership. And for the most part, the majority of them understand and appreciate the concept of the cuisine we offer at the club. When I do come across a disgruntled member or a member who may not have as much understanding as most, my method is simple. We educate them. When I’m able to, I take the time to visit with the table, to listen to what it is they’re asking for, and then I simply explain to them why I won’t accommodate their request. I explain what’s going on in the kitchen right now, the limitations we face, the volume we’re trying to manage, the sheer number of other members we’re trying to accommodate, and then I steer them in another direction with either a featured item or another menu item that I feel would appease their craving. Most times, I’ve been very successful. Plus, as a bonus, I’ve just sold them on a menu item that is currently available!
Saying “no” isn’t always a terrible thing.