Westchester CC and The University Club of San Francisco have employed flexibility, diligence, and ingenuity to design events that are both safe and celebratory.
When the rug was pulled out from under club managers in March 2020, the concept of gathering for weddings, member events or banquets felt too distant to comprehend. The short-term focus was on how to help low-contact activities like to-go dining, golf and other outdoor-leisure pursuits make their way back into club life. Thinking about how to resume large-scale celebrations innately linked to mingling and socializing represented a much bigger challenge that would have to be put off until the immediate crisis subsided.
Recognizing, however, that in times of great change, the role of community formed within clubs promises to be more prevalent than ever, Westchester Country Club (WCC) in Rye, N.Y. and The University Club of San Francisco (Calif.) are two properties that have already begun to address how to restart their event business as well. Both clubs understand the importance of still being able to provide a safe haven for members to use as they celebrate life’s greatest milestones and find connection with familiar faces.
Westchester Country Club, Rye, N.Y.
WCC, located less than 30 miles outside of Manhattan, sits on a sprawling property that features championship golf courses, ample event space, and an open-air clubhouse.
The moment COVID-19’s severity hit the news, Caroline Hay, WCC’s Director of Sales and Catering, jumped on the phone with couples and families that had planned upcoming events at the club. With the world in the dark about the months ahead, she set out to provide comfort and reassurance to guests who had spent months or years planning their big days.
“We gave [the members] two or three options to reschedule,” says Hay. “Our goal was to offer all the flexibility in the world, and to hold space for them to make the decision on their own terms.”
Redesigning events of this size required extensive research and collaboration. With WCC’s Chief Operating Officer, Tom Nevin, at the helm of the project, the club constructed a detailed blueprint for everything from seating arrangements to ordering entrees. Hay then translated the team’s research into language that was familiar, clear and comforting.
For WCC, guest lists will remain small for the near term, typically under 50 people, depending on regulations. That will provide enough distance to spread everyone out either in the club’s outdoor event space, or in one of its ballrooms. Large dining tables will accommodate guests with more than enough elbow room during dinner.
Additionally, hand sanitizer will be available on each service station, bar table and entranceway, and all staff will wear masks, gloves and face shields, according to government regulations.
Passed hors d’oeuvres will arrive on custom-made trays fitted with acrylic shields for added safety, and all passed drinks will include a disposable lid.
The club has also decided to forgo table service or a traditional buffet during dinner. Similar to an action station, guests will approach a designated area for each course. Wide tables will separate the guest, server and chef, who will be standing by with menu options.
The guest will choose an item from a displayed menu and relay this to the server, who will then pass on the message to the chef. After constructing each plate in real time, the chef will pass the plate back to the server, who will leave it on the table for the member or guest.
Despite these new procedures, Hay reiterates that every detail will be personalized with the care and style of any pre-COVID event.
“Everything we’re trying to do brings in the human element of our everyday lives,” says Hay.
The University Club of San Francisco, San Francisco, Calif.
Creative member engagement was a top priority for The University Club even before the state’s shelter-in-place order began. Its COVID-19 resource page features an extensive list of virtual events, workout classes and newsletters from the staff. According to Nadia Tran, the club’s Catering Sales Manager, the team never missed a beat, working full-time from home to support members the moment they were no longer able to meet in person.
Similar to what Westchester CC encountered in New York, California’s lockdown came earlier than many surrounding states, putting event managers in the spotlight to quickly reschedule and reimagine events for the foreseeable future.
“By being proactive in reaching out to members and guests, we were able to be flexible, open and helpful by doing the work ourselves as industry experts, and presenting all known options,” Tran says.
A Future of Flexible Events
Though corporate events will most likely resume in 2021, as of now both new and existing gatherings are on the schedule for this year and next at The University Club.
“The love and desire to celebrate has not gone away, even though we are far apart,” says Tran. “And people are tapping back into that in creative ways.”
As the guidelines continue to change and expand, Tran and her team understand that adaptability is key.
“We have been drafting up seating arrangements and diagrams with a variety of scenarios, depending on guest-count limits and when we are allowed to restart events, and by maximizing physical distancing,” she says.
The club may also use tactics like sign-in sheets for tracking purposes, and will post ample signage on the best way to follow safety guidelines. Other tactics, like non-contact temperature checks and controlled food-and-beverage environments, may also be used.
The club may also incorporate a virtual element to each event. In these instances, loved ones will be encouraged to contribute to the events or virtually connect with the group, if they are not able to attend in person.