Strong leaders can transform their operations. They chart a course from here to there and point the team in the right direction with clear, step-by-step instructions that outline the how, when and why.
At The Patterson Club in Fairfield, Conn., Geoffrey Lanez, CEC, MBA, Executive Chef, and Lindsey Levine, Director of Food & Beverage, exemplify effective leadership. They value and support their teams. They lean on one another’s strengths. They are transparent and excel at communication.
The work they’ve done collectively over the past year, along with the groundwork Lanez had done before Levine’s arrival, set a new foundation for growth at The Patterson Club that will have a lasting impact on the culinary program and the individuals within the team.
Setting a Framework
Lanez has a solid culinary pedigree.
As an undergraduate student at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) in Providence, R.I., he began building a name for himself by competing on the student level and studying under prominent chefs, including Joseph Leonardi, CMC, AAC, Director of Culinary at The Country Club (Brookline, Mass.).
After graduation, Lanez went on to earn his MBA from JWU and further established himself through his education, advanced training, certification and participation in various national and international competitions.
Before joining The Patterson Club as Executive Chef in April 2019, he was the Executive Sous Chef of the Somerset Club in Boston, Mass.
“The [Patterson] Club had suffered a great deal of turnover within its culinary leadership,” says Lanez. “Three or four chefs had come and gone in about five years.”
Lanez knew he’d have his work cut out, but he was ready for the challenge.
“We started from the bottom and used the disruption as an opportunity to restart with a new, stronger foundation,” he says.
Most practically, this meant deep-cleaning the kitchen and teaching the staff the fundamentals of cookery and culinary ops. It also meant writing standard operating procedures for all parts of the operation, from menu switches to inventory and receiving to sanitation and food handling.
“I was told that the priority was to fix the food, but I learned very quickly that I couldn’t fix the food unless I first fixed the team’s culture,” says Lanez.
His goal, albeit lofty, was to unlock the team dynamics he was accustomed to at his previous post. He wanted his staff to make better decisions, increase productivity, drive culinary innovation and have higher levels of engagement.
“I threw the whole world at them and gave them the chance to accept it or move on,” says Lanez.
Some stayed, and others left. Those who stayed subscribed to the plans Lanez had laid out, and these individuals have become valuable members of The Patterson Club’s 40-person culinary team. They went back to basics and focused on fundamentals. They evaluated the membership needs and wants. They developed relationships with vendors and sourced higher-quality ingredients.
Today, the culinary program at The Patterson Club stretches across four pristine kitchens, serving the Grill Room, Banks Dining Room and Patio, The Turn, snack bar and banquet operation. With 450 members, the club does $2 million in annual F&B, and its culinary philosophy is simple and direct: Execute at the highest quality.
“I want to change what people think of the club culinary industry,” says Lanez. “I want them to know that if they work here, they can take days off; they don’t have to miss every birthday party or wedding, and they will create incredible food and get a deeper education along the way.”
Compete to Learn
Lanez took the downtime during the pandemic to restart and rebuild the operation pragmatically and systematically.
“We used the time as productively as we could to safely train the team, create new systems and catch up, so when the world reopened, we’d be better positioned to thrive,” says Lanez.
With the pandemic mainly in the rearview, Lanez wants his team to spread their wings and continue to develop as technical culinarians. He has been encouraging them to compete in many of the same competitions he’s participated in.
“Competition enhances learning,” says Lanez. “These events expose cooks to different skills and people, and they encourage mastery in an effort-based way. In my experience, the approach one takes to competition translates to everyday work habits.”
Thanks to Lanez, The Patterson Club supports a culture of competition by paying for travel and expenses and giving employees the time off to compete.
“My favorite Elon Musk quote sums up my theory on competition,” says Lanez. “‘If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks, and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve.’ It means that competitions and the prep leading up to them will help me and my team learn faster.”
A Perfect Match
When a capable club chef like Lanez is buttressed by an equally ambitious director of food & beverage in a property ripe for change, the pathway to success becomes more precise, robust and dynamic.
Levine started at The Patterson Club in January of 2021 on the heels of a profoundly successful career in full-service restaurants. She has opened and managed Michelin-starred restaurants all over New York City. She has built beverage programs from scratch and received dozens of awards for her work.
Levine was eager to impact a different side of the foodservice industry. When the position opened at The Patterson Club, she was intrigued.
“I loved the idea of having an off-season to analyze and reset,” she says. “In full-service restaurants, you tend to put a band-aid on everything. There’s never any time. I was attracted to the idea of being able to strategize and fix problems at their root. I was also eager to have a less transactional experience with guests.”
At The Patterson Club, cash is never exchanged. The focus is entirely on hospitality and service. Since coming on board, Levine has gone over the front-of-house operation with a fine-toothed comb. She has restructured service styles and drafted a vision for her team. She has built extensive and ongoing training programs for the staff, too.
“Our team must understand that their role is to create a member experience,” she says. “In a club, we’re not trying to drive revenue. We’re here to provide a service that can’t be found elsewhere.”
That philosophy applies to how Lanez manages the culinary side as well as to the experience crafted in the dining room.
“When the staff understands the food and culture of the club, they take ownership of it, and that creates a community between the employee, employer, manager and member,” says Levine. “I call it ‘FBS,’ and it stands for Food Beverage Service. All three things must match and operate on the same level, like a kick line.”
Levine persuaded the board to invest in support, training, programming and education for all of her staff members in the same way they support competition for culinarians.
“We have 31 service points, and we discuss one daily,” says Levine. “Training is ongoing and ubiquitous. Chef and I have weekly meetings to discuss the positives and the negatives. Everything we do, we share. And our solutions are always reinforced by our why.”
Making It Their Mission
Both Lanez and Levine want to reshape the hospitality labor landscape. Lanez is eager to fix work-life balance for chefs and cooks, while Levine intends to create a well-rounded food-and-beverage environment for front-of-house employees that isn’t reliant on tips.
“We both want the same thing,” says Levine. “We want to create a deeper sense of professionalism around hospitality and culinary—and the only way we’ll get there is by starting here.”
In March 2022, The Patterson Club hired Tom Bartek, CCM, CCE, as its new General Manager. Both Levine and Lanez were involved in the search. They outlined the characteristics they wanted in a manager, and both managers were delighted by the hire.
Bartek has a culinary background and graduated from JWU, just like Lanez. He has had an impressive management career in prestigious clubs, including Bryn Mawr Country Club (Lincolnwood, Ill.) and Montammy Golf Club (Alpine, N.J.).
“My first impression of The Patterson Club was that there was already much structure in place,” says Bartek. “I gather a great deal of that can be attributed to [Lanez] and [Levine]. But I appreciate these managers’ eagerness to improve as leaders and help their teams grow as professionals.
“[Lanez] is humble and attentive,” he adds. “He knows his strengths and weaknesses and has worked to improve both. [Levine] is as strong a manager as I’ve had the honor of working with. With these two capable managers at the helm, the future of The Patterson Club—and the industry as a whole—is bright.”