TJ Garrish, Executive Chef of L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton, is making up for lost event business by controlling food costs and increasing a la carte.
We’ve all had our fair share of ups and downs this year. But for most of us, the loss of banquets and events has been a major challenge. Here at L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton, we’ve developed a handful of ways to try and make up for the loss of banquet and event revenue.
First, we extended the pool season until the end of September. We’ve also seen an increase in a la carte dining by 10% which has helped us hit our budget.
Within the last month, restrictions have slowly lifted and we’ve seen a slight resurgence with member events as well as with banquets.But the question remains: How can we provide safety within our event program while still maintaining our standards of producing quality items and contributing to the operation?
At the beginning of quarantine, I began rewriting the banquet menu, giving it a much-needed facelift while also trying to be as prepared as possible for the moment we could reestablish our event/banquet business. Since the menu change and the new restrictions, we’ve retooled the banquet menu to feature dishes that are served in individual containers and portions. This new setup allows us to adhere to the governor’s orders of banquets with service staff serving individual portions to each member.
I have always been a huge fan of individual servings in an event setting. To me, creating each dish allows us as chefs to infuse more flavors into the dish, be it sauces, garnishes, or oils. Building a composed dish for each banquet items does requires a little more work for the kitchen staff, but it makes the perception and experience of the finished dish ten times better.
The flavor is also enhanced with the components of each dish. A perfect example would be simple taco. With individual tacos, we are able to build to order using sauce vert, sauce roja, pickled onions, and garnish with micro cilantro and radish. We use disposable taco holders and a light board to maintain some heat for the brief moments before the members are served. This method has multiple variations, but it gives us unlimited possibilities of what we can achieve. At the same time, I feel this method allows us better control of our product. We are able to control our serving size and maintain a tighter food cost to help make up for lost business.
Of course, there are concerns. The questions are now endless! How do we maintain consistency? What are some dishes that will not maintain their heat? How can we overcome this? How quickly can we execute each dish? What type of servicewear do we use to best display the dish? What is the increase cost of single use serving vessels? Is there better equipment to use to make sure the dishes are staying hot? These are just a few of the question I ask on each event now.
Our cost has increased as a result of the answers to some of these questions. For example, moving to disposable servicewear increased costs. But it’s necessary.
We are also looking into different heating elements for banquets. We’re looking at using heated shelf warmers for mini paella pans and cast-iron vessels as well as infrared warmers with a heated base to achieve heat distribution from the top and bottom of the item. These are all things we have begun to research and purchase.
Due to the weather in Maryland, and members concerns with indoor events, these new tools would allow us to extend our events further into the fall before attempting to transition to indoor events.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve move from one learning curve to the next. We’ve grown more in the past few months than ever before. The pandemic has forced us to reevaluate our concepts and service styles. Throughout, we’ve stayed motivated to increase member participation and satisfaction.