Russell Scott, CMC, Culinary Director of The Club at Carlton Woods, offers a handful of ideas for club chefs to help differentiate carry out and to-go.
Russell Scott, CMC, Culinary Director for The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas, was looking for creative ways to differentiate the club’s to-go offering from local carryout programs. In addition to the All Day Dining menu, Scott and his team created, they launched other programs—including weekly grill kits—that the club’s nearly 700 members were eager to purchase.
CRC: How have you approached foodservice at The Club at Carlton Wood during COVID-19?
RS: When the shelter-in-place orders started to come out, I reached out to colleagues across the industry to see what they were planning. A lot of chefs, especially in restaurants, were offering family meal packs for about $30. I went to our GM and I told him we could not feed our members for $5-$10 per person and keep them satisfied. I actually said it would be better for us to just close than try to do something like that as it would hurt our reputation if we lowered our quality. He agreed. Instead we created an all day dining menu. [View The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus All Day Dining Menu here.] It’s split between lunch and dinner offerings and is slightly smaller than both our lunch and dinner menus put together. However, it’s much larger than what we were seeing most others offering in the area.
CRC: Was it well received by members?
This approach turned out to be a smart move on our part. Our members have really enjoyed getting some of their favorites to-go as well as having access to a larger selection. Their response was especially important because this area has many other dining options for them, but the choose to support their club.
CRC: Has your offering evolved much since the first few weeks?
RS: We started small, with about 10% of overall daily volume compared to last year, but that quickly grew to 40%. Since then, we’ve had days where we’re doing more daily volume in carryout than we had been doing pre-COVID-19.
CRC: That’s impressive. What do you attribute this to?
RS: I think we have been very careful to listen to our members wants and needs. We also closed one of our two clubhouses to run all foodservice out of the other. Members who typically frequent the closed clubhouse are now using the carryout from the open clubhouse so we’re seeing a spike from that increased usage.
CRC: Have you reconsidered family style meals to find a way to make them work for your members?
RS: We have considered them, but most of our members have told us that they don’t want to cook. They also don’t want leftovers. So instead we created a value-oriented daily special with dishes like meatloaf, tacos, fried chicken, prime rib, and turkey parmesan. Members can order these as an individual portion or they can order as many as they would like to create a family style meal. We have been able to maintain our normal pricing structure for those dishes which helps.
CRC: Does the All Day Menu ever change?
RS: We change it slightly each week, but the features completely change. We’ve also added two more services to our program: a daily no fuss meal that consists of a casserole with proteins, turkey tetrazzini or lasagna; and a weekend grill kit where we provide beef, chicken or fish that has been lightly marinated in raw form, along with accompaniments that can be quickly reheated or cooked on the grill with the proteins. Both have been extremely well received.
CRC: How did you come up with the grill kit idea?
RS: I was talking with several members who were picking up to-go orders when they mentioned that their plan for the weekend was to grill out. I started considering how we could help them and help the club by offering high-quality, raw, lightly marinated products that they could finish quickly at home.
After making the menu [View The Club at Carlton Woods’ Grill Kit menu here], I ran it by my GM. We decided on a fair and attractive price point for the membership then we marketed it by dropping an ad in our members to-go bags. We also posted about the new program on our website and included a mention in the weekly email newsletter. Participation has been impressive.
CRC: Have you launched any other programs since?
RS: We have four shuttle vans on property, so we have begun to offer delivery to members in the immediate area around both clubhouses. We have also begun offering a small amount of grocery products, like tea, paper and hand sanitizer.
CRC: Have you started to look at reopening? What does that look like for your club/state?
RS: We will open for in-house dining tomorrow [May 20] and we will continue with our all day dining menu for both to-go and in-house for the short term.
Once business grows enough, we will separate to full lunch and full dinner menus, hopefully over the summer. We will not offer breakfast, though we will do an à la carte brunch and a dining room omelette station on Sundays.
Our capacity must be 25% of our original capacity and tables can seat no more than six.
Knowing and getting to know our members even better over this time has been a lifesaver for us and it will continue to guide us in the future as we evolve and recover. We will continue to be flexible and change as soon as we identify an opportunity to do so safely and with everyone’s best interest in mind.
CRC: Any other lessons learned?
RS: Yes, actually. We found that it was much more productive to communicate with our members frequently, even if it might be perceived as annoying to some. When we didn’t remind them of what we had to offer, we would see a decline in participation. When we reminded them, it spiked.