TJ Garrish, Executive Chef of L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton, retooled the club’s snack bar and pool-side dining spaces to make better use of the reduced team he has in place.
Before the 2020 pool season began, in the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all knew the upcoming summer season was going to be difficult. How difficult was still to be determined.
Here at L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton (Md.), I was asked to cut $100K out of my budget. I could try to cut labor and reduce food cost, which sounds simple enough, but then I wondered how I would run a pool snack bar with only seven kitchen employees who simultaneously run a la carte from the main kitchen.
Without increasing kitchen staff, I had to reevaluate the pool snack bar. Normally, we increase the staff by approximately 5 employees. Because of COVID-19, I had to let someone go to save on the kitchen budget and not hire for the snack bar. I honestly had no clue how we would produce quality menu items with such a limited staff but I refused to limit the menu to a small scale. My main goal as a chef is to make members as happy as possible and maintain a standard as well as consistency of menu items. Shrinking the menu would reduce member perception and satisfaction. So, my thoughts shifted to utilize the staff we have and basically close the snack bar kitchen. L’Hirondelle is a little different then some clubs we are very fortunate that our pool is next to the clubhouse and our pool snack bar is attached to the main kitchen. Therefore, I decided to not open our snack bar kitchen and instead run everything from our main hot line.
Our next task was a quickly developed menu. I have only been at L’Hirondelle since December of last year. I have never seen the snack bar open and after reviewing the menu from last year, I felt the need to put my spin on it. I focused on a grab-and-go menu first. I believe today’s members enjoy and want healthy menu options. So I began with salads, including some classics like Caesar and Quinoa Avocado salads, but also incorporating some fun things like a watermelon and feta with sunflower sprouts for a burst of freshness. (View L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton’s Grab and Go Menu here.)
With wraps we had to keep them classic, like chicken Caesar wraps, but again we tried to make things fun and light by adding an avocado, spinach and blueberry wrap, served with yogurt, as well as a new line of fresh squeezed detox juices, watermelon water, cucumber and lemon water which help to maintaining health for members, while also inspiring the culinary team to be creative in a new application.
At the pool, we still maintain some hot items including a quarter lb. cheeseburger, chicken tenders, hot dogs and fries. These items have quick cook times though, which allows our line to stay moving and keep everyone at a 6-foot social distance. We also still rely on our front of house team to provide snacks, ice cream, as well as drinks and cocktails.
Our biggest change this season has come in the form of an a la carte pool menu, which is served at a section of the pool with tables where members are waited on just like they would be in a dining room. (We are looking to expand this to all areas of the pool.) Our a la carte pool menu mimics our dining menu in some respects with like dishes including tuna and watermelon, bang bang shrimp, a danger dog, and a bahn mi. This menu runs entirely from the main kitchen a la carte line. Utilizing the staff already in place for the dining room we can maintain consistency with a focus on technique for this menu and achieve a higher quality in an area that did not always see this type of dedication. (View L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton’s Pool Menu here.)
Now to the brass tax of finacials. So far, our payroll for the months of May and June has been at $8,600/week compared to last year where we ran $12,400/week. We have reduced our food cost to maintain a 38% overall for the main kitchen as well as snack bar kitchen. For the current month of June we are projecting to be on track year-over-year, weather permitting.
I never imagined we would be able to run a snack bar in such a cost saving manner. Reevaluating the snack bar allowed us to streamline our procedures and merge important areas to provided new options in this part of the club. Time will tell if it’s sustainable, but it’s taught me that even as we evolve, we are capable of learning new ways to provide food to members.