Eva Barrios, CEC, Executive Chef of Royal Oaks CC, is leveraging her team’s collective creativity and a well designed clubhouse to enhance member dining.
It’s that time of year many people look forward to as they make plans to visit family and celebrate the season with their favorite holiday traditions. This year, however, we are staring down a possible second shutdown due to COVID-19. Restaurants are beginning to reduce their hours and patrons are becoming more cautious about what they do and where they go.
Here at Royal Oaks Country Club, we have been blessed in that we have remained open throughout this challenging time. The club is surrounded by a residential community where the majority of the residents are members of the club. As you could imagine, they tend to use the club pretty often—sometimes as much as 3 times a day—and we are grateful for their support.
Throughout the pandemic we have continued to stay very busy. We have limited seating inside the dining room and outdoor patio area. We are hosting small weddings and other events, mostly outside. We have several internal meetings a week to come up with new ideas of what we can do keep the members happy and engaged while being safely distanced from each other.
One positive of what we are going through is the constant drive to create new ideas for the membership. Just recently, we invited a few members of the Houston Symphony to host a private outdoor concert where we also offered dinner service for members. It was so beautiful and peaceful and something we all need during this time. In fact, it was so well received that we offered another night to our members and it sold out in two hours.
It’s interesting to highlight that while our banquet event revenue has decreased, our a la carte revenue has increased significantly compared to previous years (see 2020: The Year of A La Carte). I attribute this to the unwavering support of our members and the fact that Royal Oaks is a place where they feel comfortable and safe. And while we are proud that our members feel safe in our club, we haven’t relied on just that to keep members coming back week after week. We have also made it easy for members to drive up to valet and have their orders brought to the car. We are working hard to rotate our menu to keep it new and interesting every time members return to the club. When I talk with the members, they tell me how excited they are to receive their weekly email to know which specials we will be offering.
As we all know, it takes a team to be able to come up with different dish ideas and to keep the operation running as smooth as possible. I am fortunate to have sous chefs who are always thrilled to write new weekly specials. They have taken ownership of their dishes and have been enhancing their unique cooking styles each day helping to make the entire culinary operation shine. Not only that, but the whole culinary staff of Royal Oaks has stepped up to the plate when it comes to serving menu items with the highest level of quality that is expected of them. Because of this the members, have seen a positive change in their dining experience.
Another unique opportunity we have on capitalized on is our Palm Grille, our seasonal pool dining area. It’s become our member’s favorite place to dine with family. Pre-COVID, the pool area was simply an area to enjoy during the summer. Once the season was over, we would close up the Palm Grille and host all events in the clubhouse. But with the need to find more outdoor space, our pool dining area has become a crucial resource for safe events.
This year we even hosted our Halloween party outside by the pool and tennis courts and split the events up into two time frames. Members loved the idea and we were able to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend the party without any concerns about social distancing. It was a unique event and everyone had a great time. Many members mentioned how exciting it was and how they would love to see it become a new trend they would like us to continue for coming years.
We are constantly reinventing ourselves and even though it can be stressful, it is very inspiring to realize that with a little determination and creativity, a team of people can make anything happen to make our members feel appreciated and excited for the future.