Wes Tyler CEC, CCA, Executive Chef at The Club at Carlton Woods, discusses the impact and opportunity with to-go programs beyond the pandemic.
Someday, we’ll look back and tell our children and grandchildren the stories of how a global pandemic brought us closer together and made us stronger. But for now, we must continue to document our challenges and trudge froward with new ideas and strategies. It has been amazing to witness the changes within the hospitality industry, clubs, and resorts—but it has been especially inspiring to have a front-row seat to the changes here at The Club at Carlton Woods.
In the kitchen, we’ve been forced to dig deep into our creative minds in an effort to evaluate and implement new and existing programs, develop new concepts and ideas within existing programs, and, more specifically, resurrect and examine clubhouse to-go programs.
What does all this mean? Well, from a financial standpoint, we have to compensate for lost revenue due to the pandemic and social restriction guidelines. From a business model standpoint, we have an obligation to remain open and be consistently available to our members in some way, shape, or form.
Our solution has been deeply rooted in to-go programming. In 2020, we increased our to-go revenue stream by approximately 400%. We did this by using a variety of outlets and programs that we predicted our members would participate in. We were right.
First, we expanded our Turn Grill concepts. Last summer, one of our two clubhouse operations was closed, so we shifted and seized the opportunity to begin offering BBQ strait off the smoker, prime rib sandwiches, and distanced social interaction with our members. (We learned that a simple conversation can go a long way with a member when there is no-one else to talk to.)
Overwhelmingly positive support and feedback with this program has encouraged us to take a detailed look and refine our position and offerings in these areas at both clubhouses moving forward. We are also expanding our comfort stations at both clubhouses, and we are excited to continue to enhance these offerings and elevate the experience for our members. The “Turn Grill” operations are in full swing every weekend—and the offerings remain in high demand.
In addition to the shifts at the Turn, we also repositioned our family feature nights into family to-go packages and we introduced “no-fuss” family meals.
The “no fuss” program has been so popular it has most certainly earned a permanent spot on our weekly menu rotations. The “no-fuss” family meal includes a complete 3-course “ready to eat” meal presented family style that can be taken home and enjoyed by 4-6 people. This program has afforded us the opportunity to expand our presence and availability directly in the homes of our members.
Beyond the flavors, we strategically analyze our to-go packaging and marketing techniques as well. After all, members eat with their eyes right? So when they get home with their to-go packaged food, we believe it should be as appealing outside the clubhouse as it is inside. We want our food to walk the walk and talk the talk! Thermal to-go bags, corrugated boxes with the club logo’s for transport, fried chicken buckets for our family features…the opportunities are endless and we continue to explore more possibilities.
Another positive departmental highlight this past year has been the overall increase in to-go business volume. This includes not only the “turn grill” and family meal success, but also an influx in our a la carte to-go orders at the both clubhouses.
Hopefully this trend will continue far beyond the pandemic, as it is a refreshing infusion into the club and the culinary department. The focus and redirection of our food outlets has provided us not only the foundation to be financially successful, but it has opened the door for new opportunities to “think inside the box” in these outlets and beyond.
Furthermore, we have been able to remain available to our members and offer a “home-base” during a time of need for our community. I believe throughout all of this, a new focus, a fresh set of eyes, and creative thinking shed light on opportunities that would otherwise have gone by the wayside. These programs have been a silver lining in the middle of a crisis, and they’ve offered the prospect of a new culinary arena for club chefs.
The true challenge will arise when we examine the sustainability of these programs. How do we keep to-go going?
Certainly there will be a decline in to-gos once the restrictions are lifted and restaurants reopen their doors. But once we neutralize, and things settle a bit, I believe we will see many of these programs remain part of our food and beverage operations in some way shape or form. Take for example holiday programming. Holidays were once enjoyed at the club with a large group. Now that same meal can be provided by the club and enjoyed in the comfort of your home. Tailgate packages can be ordered and delivered to your door for the big game. Take and bake packages can be ordered for birthday parties. And the list goes on.
These alternative programs have made a mark on the club industry. They allow us to expand beyond our dining rooms and kitchens. Now, we are able to provide for our members on their terms.
As club chefs, we strive to offer a personal connection and touch with every dish we make. Our goal is to make our members feel like they are at home when at the club and to make them feel like they are at the club when they are at home. Carlton Woods is a special place and the love and support surrounding us is immeasurable.
As I reflect on the impact this virus has had over the course of the last year, this is my silver lining.