Because clubs typically operate member dining as an amenity rather than as a profit center, their food costs generally run higher than in commercial restaurants. As a result, the strategies associated with controlling food costs in clubs are unique.
Some club chefs try to offset a la carte dining with a healthy banquet business. Others finesse menus to maximize seasonal or low-cost ingredients. Still more cross-utilize product, to make smart use of inventory.
And while the strategies may differ depending on the chef, the region and the club, there is one constant: Quality always takes precedence.
Here’s how three different clubs control their food costs:
The Princeton Club of New York
Michael Bourquin has been the Executive Chef of The Princeton Club of New York (PCNY) for the past ten years. He runs a 29% food cost and does about $6 million in annual food-and-beverage revenue, with a 25/75 split between a la carte and banquet.
“I think any club chef will tell you that cross-utilization of product is really important when you’re writing menus,” says Bourquin. “You never want to carry excess inventory that sits around unused. You also need to make sure you’re pricing appropriately, both in banquet and a la carte.”
When Bourquin designs menus, he strives to first use whatever product he has on hand. He then elevates the dish with an upscale presentation that doesn’t cost much, even if it looks like it does.
“Creativity is important,” says Bourquin. “For our weekly burger night, we use our custom-blended burger and then put a twist on it—like adding fried onions, for example—that allows us to charge a bit more.”
Plate presentation and menu descriptions play an important role, too.
“We offer dover sole for $39,” says Bourquin. “Other clubs and restaurants in the city price that same dish around $46. We offset the cost with more upscale presentations and higher prices on something like our Caesar salad, which comes in a beautiful Parmesan basket.”
PCNY creates daily specials to help move through inventory, too. The club also hosts a weekly low-cost Italian night on Mondays, as well as a “2 for $22” special on Thursdays, where members can pick either an appetizer and an entrée, or an entrée and a dessert, for $22.
Sankaty Head Golf Club
Richard Nielsen, CEC, has been the Executive Chef of Sankaty Head Golf Club on Nantucket in Siasconset, Mass. for the past two years. He runs a 43% food cost and does about $1.25 million in annual food-and-beverage revenue, with an 80/20 split between a la carte and banquet. Because Sankaty Head is on an island, it’s a highly seasonal operation that is only open for four months.
“Costs are secondary to quality here,” says Nielsen, who was previously with The Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, N.Y. “We don’t focus on it as much as at other clubs I’ve been with. The Board wants us to make sure we’re hitting the mark on member dining more than hitting a food-cost goal.”
That said, Nielsen is still careful to keep an eye on the numbers. He costs out all his menus, relies on a butcher’s yield for all of his proteins to get a more accurate cost for each portion, and changes things up to make the most of seasonal ingredients and excess inventory.
“Today, for example, we have three extra pounds of scallops—so I’m going to make a scallop-and-lobster slider with a pear-jicama slaw, micro-basil and bacon jam,” he says.
Columbus Country Club
Ray Carpenter, CEC, has been the Executive Chef of Columbus (Ohio) Country Club (CCC) since January. He runs a 35% food cost and does about $1.5 million in annual food-and-beverage revenue, with an 70/30 split between a la carte and banquet. CCC is managed by Troon Privé.
“Market conditions can have a big impact on food costs, depending on how frequently you change your menus,” says Carpenter, who has worked in clubs since 2001. “Fortunately, for us, we print menus in-house—so if a price spikes on an ingredient, we can adjust on the fly.”
Keeping costs in line at CCC is a “many-pronged attack,” says Carpenter, but it starts with purchasing and receiving.
“It’s important to know your usage history so you don’t over-order,” he says. “It’s also about finding creative ways to burn through excess inventory.”
Employee meals, provided twice a day, help CCC do this, along with daily specials, soups and sauces.
“When we’re creating specials or employee meals, we start first with what we have on hand,” says Carpenter. “Making sure the entire culinary staff is focused on moving product is critical. If there is an ingredient or component that can be used, that takes priority.
“We also pay close attention to waste,” he adds. “A lot of money can be made or lost in the smallest details.”
Being affiliated with Troon offers benefits that help Carpenter manage food costs, too.
“Troon has a corporate VP of Procurement who is always working to negotiate great deals,” says Carpenter.
Troon also provides Carpenter and CCC with support on everything from discounted pricing to menu writing and food-cost management.
“I have a network of advisers and other chefs in the corporation that I can reach out to if I need help,” says Carpenter. “Troon also offers many educational opportunities to learn about managing costs.”
TIPS AND TOOLS FOR CONTROLLING COSTS
From Richard Nielsen, CEC, Executive Chef, Sankaty Head Golf Club, Siasconset, Mass.:
“Make sure you price out every single component on the plate, from the protein to the sauce to the garnish.”
“Be aware of the costs with Q-factor items like rolls, salt, pepper, sugar, cream, coffee, and even lemons for water.”
From Ray Carpenter, CEC, Executive Chef, Columbus (Ohio) Country Club:
“Negotiate a prime vendor agreement with a broad-line distributor if you’re struggling with food costs. Sometimes, it is what’s best for the club operationally.”
“Stay in touch and work closely with your suppliers to find out what products they want to move and can give you great prices on.”
“Make sure you educate the front-of-house staff on ingredients that are especially high quality. Members will generally see the value if they hear the back story.”
From Michael Bourquin, Executive Chef, The Princeton Club of New York:
“Annually, we reevaluate every single item we buy, from condiments to breads to desserts. We shop around to make sure we’re getting the best possible price.”
“To prevent theft, we keep high-cost items, like dry-aged steaks, in a locked cage in a separate part of the refrigerator. Only myself and the sous chefs have keys.”
“When we order fish, we order the gross weight
“Portion size can make or break you. Be consistent and focus on presentation.”
“Don’t be afraid to shop around.”