Executive Sous Chefs, like Army Navy CC’s David Clark, have had to take on new responsibilities to protect and support their Executive Chefs, teams and members.
In talking with colleagues around the country over the past few months, I have heard anecdotally that many Executive Chefs—as members of their clubs’ senior leadership teams—have been required to shift their focus from the culinary department to more holistic club operations and their organizations’ broader responses to the crisis.
As a result, many Executive Sous Chefs have been asked to step up and play more of a leadership role in aspects of culinary operations than they might have been before. I’ve noticed that this shift has brought with it many new challenges, but the most critical ones have been related to people management: both in relation to our culinary teams and our members.
Most importantly, we have had to lead and manage our teams in new and different ways. Exec Sous Chefs have always been involved in hiring decisions and terminations, but keeping our teams safe while navigating the possibility of furloughs, phased returns to work, and other staffing questions have been a new set of challenges for many of us. This has been made more difficult by the need to make personnel decisions with compassion while balancing the stark reality of COVID-19’s economic impact.
For many of us, the current crisis has had a significant emotional impact on our staff and ourselves. For those who we have had to furlough or layoff, their livelihoods have been put at risk and this is not something that any of us take lightly. For those who we have been able to keep actively employed, their friends and co-workers may no longer be by their side, and there is often a sense of unease about future cuts. The impact on engagement has been tremendous, and I know I have spent a much larger percentage of my time focused on keeping employee morale up during this time of crisis.
I have tried to do extra planning and organizing to allow the team to simply focus on execution, thus eliminating stressors. I ensure the staff is taking their breaks as culinary teams. On the one hand, this helps prevent unnecessary contact across groups. On the other, it also provides an opportunity for teams to relax and unwind as a group.
Furthermore, as we’ve all likely been operating with smaller teams, and our staffs have had to pull double duty or lean into new areas of responsibility. Line cooks jump into the dish pit, grab a mop, or help remove trash from the building. The stewarding team has had to cut vegetables and stock shelves. My Executive Chef, Douglas Anderson, a Veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, describes this as “small ship mentality,” meaning everyone pulls extra duties while out to sea. I have made a concerted effort to acknowledge when individuals go above and beyond, and support those who may be struggling with new or additional duties.
With social distancing and new safety regulations, all of our teams have had to rethink physical setup and operational workflows. At ANCC, all staff members must have their temperatures taken as they arrive at work each morning; team members are not allowed in the building if they have a fever. Kitchen staff and servers must wear masks at all times and gloves when handling food. We have re-arranged the kitchen to allow 6 feet between stations. Our kitchen now has duct tape arrows on the floor to ensure the kitchen staff follow particular paths to prevent contact. Keeping our teams and members safe is our top priority.
In addition to taking care of our staff, we all have had to re-imagine the way we deliver excellent service while prioritizing the health and safety of our members. The guidance we have received about preventing Covid-19 goes against every principle of a high-quality Club experience. Clubs are meant to be personal and social, delivering members custom and exceptional service; this is very hard to do from behind a mask or from a distance of six feet.
We have had to rethink our clubs’ operations and services while trying to minimize the impact of new restrictions on members. At ANCC, as I’m sure is the case at many operations, we have maximized utilization of outdoor space and brought in new equipment (such as grills) to help deliver a re-imagined dining experience that does not sacrifice quality. We have tried to minimize the need to touch surfaces by leaving as many doors open as possible and no longer requiring members to sign chits.
Members have varying levels of comfort leveraging club services during the pandemic, and our teams have all had to be creative and expand offerings to meet a range of interaction preferences. At ANCC, we launched a grocery store, grab & go meals, a la carte take-out, and as noted above, re-imagined our on-premise dining options and experiences. We wanted to guarantee an exceptional and safe 4th of July experience for our members, so we took extra precaution in designing the event. We offered an outdoor served buffet (served by team members in protective gear) to eliminate any ability to unintentionally transfer the virus. On the buffet, all cold salads were individually portioned into containers, and all hand-held sandwiches were individually wrapped. Our grounds crew measured and marked squares on the fairway so limited capacity family groups could sit together while maintaining a safe distance from other guests.
Not since my time in the U.S. Army have I had to think on my feet this much. When I was deployed to Iraq, my Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant Rhodes, would say to us “No decision is the worst decision. Always keep moving. If you stay in one spot you are an easy target.”
While we are not in a traditional combat zone, we are, in a way, at war with this virus and we all have been asked to come together to defeat it. As leaders of culinary departments, Executive Sous Chefs have had to take quick action and make a range of decisions amidst uncertainty to protect and support both their teams and their Club’s members in ways most of us never could have imagined.