Amarillo CC’s Executive Chef Colby Newman eases the stress of the holidays by making sure his team is prepared and supported.
Growing up, the holidays were my absolute favorite time of year. They were spent with family, eating some of my favorite foods, relaxing and watching football.
I never thought the holidays would eventually turn into the most stressful time of year where I see my staff more than I see my family. But this is the life of a chef, especially a club chef. We sign up for 12-14 hour days. We work weekends. We miss important events. And we show up late for every holiday get-together (most likely bearing gifts of leftovers from the kitchen.)
Time at home and eight hours of sleep is something that rarely happens for me during the holidays. In fact, on Thanksgiving Day, my alarm goes off at 3am despite the fact that I didn’t go to bed until midnight the night before. But my alarm isn’t the only one ringing in the early morning hours this time of year.
For our 740 members here at Amarillo (Texas) Country Club, the season officially kicks off with our Thanksgiving Day buffet, where we feed roughly 300 people. During the same week, we also do about 100 to-go orders of a whole Thanksgiving Day feast for members who want a “home-cooked” meal without all the hassle. Members can preorder anything from a couple of sides to the whole meal plus dessert. It’s cooked, packaged, and picked up the day before. All they have to do is reheat their food on Thanksgiving Day for their guests to enjoy.
From that point forward we have a banquet or event—including our Santa Brunch for almost 300—almost every day until New Year’s Eve, when it typically culminates with an extravagant wedding. It’s a marathon of work and it’s constant stress. But at Amarillo CC we strive to create an environment where teamwork is one of the top priorities. This helps us to retain and inspire our most valued staff members while also increasing member satisfaction, too.
Nineteen percent of our F&B revenue is earned in December. During this time, everyone on staff has to be more organized and more prepared than usual. Not only do we have our day-to-day dining—which can take place in up to five different dining rooms—but we can also have up to nine banquets going on at any given point.
A la carte is important no matter what time of the year, but there is so much going on in December that if my staff doesn’t communicate and we aren’t organized the details can easily fall through the cracks. Lucky for me, we have an extremely talented team of culinarians. And teamwork and communication are now second nature.
I try to do whatever I can to make sure my team is taken care of during these especially busy times. I bring them energy drinks and snacks. I make sure everyone takes their breaks. And I make sure they all get some time in their day to see their spouses, children and families. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them, so it’s really important for me to make sure that my team knows they are appreciated with whatever gestures I can make, big or small.
I oversee all a la carte dining and banquets in our club. And since I can’t cook every dish that comes out of the kitchens, I have to be able to delegate tasks to my team. I have to trust my Sous Chef to run the kitchen for a la carte. And I have to trust my Banquet Chef to be in charge of all the events while I bounce back and forth. But that trust isn’t built overnight.
Training and team building leading up to this time of year are so important. I like to cross-train the members of my team so they know how to work in all areas of the kitchen regardless of where I am. That way if we’re ever short-staffed in one area or busier in another I can rely on anyone to help out.
The start of the holidays most likely gives any club chef a mini panic attack. But with a strong team you will successfully get through it. Unfortunately, so many people come and go in a kitchen because not everyone can survive the work and challenging lifestyle that comes with it. But there are the people left who thrive here. We are the team players.
Remember that your club’s success this holiday season is dependent on the quality of planning and leadership you bring to the table. When you support your team and inspire them to be the best, your club will enjoy the positivity that comes with that—staff satisfaction, increased sales and usage and, most importantly, improved member satisfaction.
I can’t do everything on my own, so I’m extremely thankful for my team and that we can get through the busiest and most stressful time of the year together.