Sedgefield Country Club in is adjusting, learning and evolving its food-and-beverage approach in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in mid-March, Executive Chef James Patterson has navigated Sedgefield Country Club (Greensboro, N.C.), point-to-point, through the changes brought on by the outbreak. He’s been steadfast in adjusting, improvising and redirecting as the situation changes.
Patterson’s leadership is nimble, confident and proactive. He and his team have introduced a dozen new programs, including carryout, a butcher shop, food truck partnerships, and a locally focused pantry box.
In the midst of much uncertainty, Patterson has been unwavering. He has forged stronger bonds with his culinary team, as well as with Beverly Marler, Sedgefield’s Club Manager, Maya Panayotova, Director of Food and Beverage, and the corporate team at McConnell Golf, Sedgefield’s owner.
As the Sedgefield team continues to refine and improve each initiative, new ones are also being dreamed up. The pandemic has revealed that there are no bad ideas, and that food plays a critical role in the bond between members and their club.
Patterson has been with McConnell for more than 14 years, serving as Corporate Executive Chef for the past four. He’s been with Sedgefield—which has 600 members and does $2.4 million in annual F&B—for six.
This level of familiarity helped Patterson identify immediate needs when North Carolina received the shelter-in-place order. First, the club pulled all outdoor furniture, so golfers wouldn’t be encouraged to loiter. Then Patterson and his team ironed out the details for a new carryout program.
An expanded menu of grab-and-go style lunches would be offered out of the Greenside Café. A la carte dinner menus were also made available to-go, out of the main clubhouse in the evening hours. (Sedgefield has two clubhouses on either side of Greensboro.)
To keep the menu interesting, Patterson introduced to-go family-style meals with three different themes: comfort, Italian, and fine dining. He also began offering nightly specials.
“We used to only be open Wednesday through Saturday, but we’ve extended service to include Tuesday, too,” says Patterson. Pre-COVID-19, the club would typically do 50 covers on a Wednesday night. “Last Wednesday, we did over 75 covers,” he reported in April.
More Ways to Serve
In addition to carryout, Sedgefield created a Butcher Shop that allows members to pre-order steaks cut to order, as well as lamb loins, pork chops, seafood and more.
“We ran a ‘Lobster by the Pound’ program and sold 121 lobsters, totaling over 150 lbs.,” says Patterson. “We sold them either raw or steamed with clarified butter and lobster bibs. When we offered a ‘Surf and Turf’ package we sold 56 orders of crabcakes, 25 orders of 40-day, dry-aged New York strip steaks, and 31 orders of ribeyes that day.”
To help support local businesses and connect members to needed supplies, Sedgefield partnered with its broadline distributor and with local produce companies to design and sell customizable grocery boxes. The club also partnered with a local bakery to make its products available to members.
“We’ve been able to set up a strong supply chain,” says Patterson. “I think we have a responsibility to our community and our members to incorporate local products and businesses whenever we can.”
DIY Starter Kits
Wine sales have been strong during the quarantine period, says Panayotova, who has been offering wine by the bottle for both take-out and delivery.
“We have an active wine society,” she says.
Taking the carryout model one step further, Panayotova pitched the idea of offering cocktail kits to-go for some of the most frequently ordered drinks at the club. In each kit, all of the ingredients are included, minus the alcohol.
“We offer a bloody Mary, margarita, and French 75,” says Panayotova. “We include mixing instructions, too.”
Patterson has plans to not only extend the “kits” model to include burgers, tacos, and fajitas, but to also launch a spinoff of “Nailed It,” where the culinary team will assemble kits for members, who will then compete with one another to see who can replicate the meal the best.
“We’ll have members submit a short video or photos of the family preparing the meal,” he explains. “Then my team will judge them based on style, creativity and family bonding.”
Feeling the Impact
Even though its to-go numbers have been holding steady, Sedgefield, like many clubs, had to lay off more than half of its service staff.
“My exec sous and I sat down and discussed who we felt would best suit the new model,” says Patterson. “Since we chose to limit service to the Greenside Café during the day and only do curbside pickup from the clubhouse at night, it made the most sense to lay off our a.m. culinary team while retaining our p.m. team.”
Because the club has two clubhouses, that decision meant the secondary clubhouse went from a four-person team to just one, who is now working four days preparing staff meals and pre-wrapped sandwiches for the beverage cart, and one day assisting at the main clubhouse.
“We went from a team of 16 down to a team of 8 for the two properties,” says Patterson. “I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy. We’re working with half the staff and doing more volume than before in a shorter window of service. It’s challenging, but this is a really unique chance to catch our members’ attention and serve them in a way no one else can right now.”
Throughout this process, Marler, who has been with Sedgefield for 30 years, has been diligent about supporting her managers and guiding them down the path. “As much as the layoffs hurt those former staff members, I think they impacted the department managers just as profoundly,” she says.
Marler even started a daily walking group to help staff members unplug and socialize from a distance.
“We can’t pretend the cutbacks never happened,” she says. “We can’t pretend to know if or when we’ll be able to bring those people back, or what the club will look like on the other side of this crisis. Right now, we have to focus on being as efficient as possible with the team we have in place.”
Numbers and Budgets
While it’s impossible in the current environment to compare numbers year-over-year, or even month-over-month, the state of Sedgefield’s current budgets isn’t all doom-and-gloom, Patterson reports.
“While sales have increased, our cost of goods has increased as well,” says Patterson. “We’re offering these options to our members at a drastically different pricing structure than before. So our margins are entirely skewed by this style of service.”
In 2019, McConnell Golf made the switch to all-compostable branded packaging and disposables. During the pandemic, Sedgfield has realized an increase in the need for those style of items.
“We knew there would be an additional cost factor to carryout,” says Patterson. “But we’ve stayed ahead when it comes to supplies. That has been one of the most impactful moves we’ve made to streamline service.”
In March, Sedgefield exceeded budgeted food sales revenues. April appears to be on target as well. However, the lack of banquets will have a deep impact on the overall operation.
“We are creating as many useable options as we can,” says Patterson. “Ownership has been very supportive of our efforts. The expectations are to do our best to keep our budgets in place, when and where possible.”
With a situation that changes so frequently and dramatically, it’s hard to make plans for the future.
“Every day, the management team spends 15 to 20 minutes brainstorming and discussing ‘what if’ scenarios,” says Patterson. “The first hurdle I see in reopening will be staffing. Our members will expect us to be fully operational once the COVID-19 stay-at-home order is lifted, but that’s not going to be a quick switch to flip.”
Anther big unknown for Sedgefield—and the industry at large—is banquets.
“We have to consider how our members are going to feel once they are allowed to come back” says Marler. “I don’t think anyone is going to rush back into hosting parties of 200 with buffets and passed drinks.”