Downsized portions can help take an already strong food-and-beverage operation from good to great.
As the lines between dining occasions continue to blur, the challenge for clubs is to provide fun and flexible culinary options. Enter small plates. These downsized portions are proving their flexibility in a variety of ways—as starters, snacks, sides, or even as entrees.
“Small plates are the perfect way for members to enjoy conversation and conviviality,” says Aaron Walters, Executive Chef of Briarwood Country Club, Deerfield, Ill. “The small, focused, high-quality dishes, served in a casual, social atmosphere, create a compelling experience where sharing and tasting are part of the deal.”
Clubs like Briarwood, Seagate Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla., and Pelham Country Club in Pelham Manor, N.Y. are menuing small, shareable plates that are packed with flavor, beautifully plated and confidently playful.
Briarwood CC offers a dedicated casual, fast and sometimes funky small-plates menu in its bar and on its terrace.
“We have 12 different dishes ranging in price from $6 to $14,” says Walters. “We change the menu every other month or so and we run specials, too.”
Two of the most popular small plates at Briarwood are a beef tenderloin slider and a tuna tartare taco made in a fried wonton and topped with a jicama salad and spicy chili mayo.
“When we cut filets from tenderloin, we grind the excess for the sliders,” says Walters. “Same goes for the tuna tartare. Both small plates feature high-quality ingredients, but also help us keep our food costs in line.”
Other favorites at Briarwood include a shrimp and sausage skewer drizzled with a sweet-and-savory blueberry barbecue sauce and hand-cut potato chips served warm with a spicy Sriracha foam.
“Our small-plates menu has helped us to capture members without forcing them into a sit-down meal,” says Walters.
How Big Is ‘Small’?
“You have to be smart about the goals of your small plate,” adds Walters, who maintains that one small plate should be enough for two or three people to each have a taste.
But at Seagate CC, Head Chef Garrick Ferguson menus much smaller portion sizes on the resort’s Friday tapas menu.
“Each plate is only a couple of bites,” says Ferguson.
Popular plates at Seagate include a jerk lobster grilled cheese on sour dough with pepper jack, roasted onions and bell peppers, as well as grilled lamb chops with a with a hummus spread.
“Finding that sweet spot between enough and not enough is tricky,” admits Briarwood’s Walters. But once discovered, it can transform an operation.
“Small plates have enhanced traffic in the dining room,” he says. “It’s becoming the place to be—and the thing to do—before dinner.”
For Ferguson and Seagate CC, if a member or guest is looking for more than a couple of bites, each small plate can be doubled.
Meanwhile, Gus Nikiforides at Pelham CC is thinking big as he joins the trend.
“We’re just getting into small plates and so we’re featuring them as smaller-sized specials for around $18,” he says. “They’re geared more toward the members who order an appetizer instead of an entrée for dinner.”