Winged Foot GC’s GM encourages and supports the club’s culinary team, with a special emphasis on capitalizing on Executive Chef Rhy Waddington’s expertise and judgment.
After three decades as General Manager of Winged Foot Golf Club (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), Colin Burns has seen the club’s food-and-beverage operation evolve first-hand from a barely-good-enough program at the start of his time with the club into one of the best in the business.
The shift didn’t happen overnight. Instead, it was the result of steadily hiring, empowering and supporting the club’s culinary team to do what they do best.
C+RC: You grew up working in your family’s restaurant. How did you end up in management?
CB: After college, I traveled abroad. I thought I had escaped the kitchen, but ironically I ended up working in a kitchen in a youth hostel.
When I came back to the U.S., Atlantic City had just come online. I was able to move into a front-of-house position there. Things flew. I worked seven days a week for what felt like 24 hours a day. Because of my experience in my father’s restaurant, I moved up pretty quickly through management.
C+RC: And when you left Atlantic City to start a family, you then shifted into the club world?
CB: I worked for a club that was almost as intense as Atlantic City and I continued to work crazy hours.
As an aside, I’m pleased to see conversations and policies happening around work/life balance. That’s how it should be.
C+RC: How do clubs encourage a successful balance?
CB: I think it comes down to hiring and managing. Clubs need to be prepared to hire three people instead of two. When you do so, you’ll attract a higher-quality employee and they’ll stay with you, because they will be able to achieve a more ideal balance. It might cost you a little more, but it’ll cost you far less in turnover in the long run.
C+RC: What’s the dynamic like between you and Winged Foot’s Executive Chef, Rhy Waddington?
CB: I’ll get to that answer, but I have to give some backstory first.
Soon after I came to the club, we hired a Michelin star chef, who eventually hired Rhy as a sous chef. We had this big meeting of the minds to figure out what to do with that chef when he started with us. That’s when the President of the club at the time said, ‘We aren’t going to do anything. He’s the chef. We need to let him be the chef.’
That conversation was a defining moment for my leadership philosophy. It was so simple, yet so brilliant.
C+RC: How does Chef Waddington fit into that story?
CB: One of our most senior members, who I was sure would be unhappy, fell completely in love with the new cuisine. When that chef moved on, we promoted Rhy, and he has taken the operation in an even more impressive direction with his ability to build and nurture a team, deliver menus and dishes that are cutting-edge, and focus on quality, consistency and the overall dining experience.
C+RC: Is that what you appreciate most about him?
CB: There’s a lot I admire and appreciate about him. His ability to connect with the membership is wonderful. I believe food tastes better when it’s prepared by someone who cares about you. Every dish he puts out is made with love and appreciation for his members and his craft.
Beyond that, Chef Waddington has raised the technical ability of our entire culinary team.
C+RC: How do you support him?
CB: It goes back to what I said early, about letting the chef be the chef. I don’t micromanage. I don’t stand in his way. I don’t treat him as though he works for me. We are colleagues and he is responsible for the culinary operation. He’s also an incredibly keen business person.
I’ve been in club kitchens where the general manager or the clubhouse manager will sit and watch the food as it’s going out. They’ll behave as if they have the ability to either change something or comment on something.
I am the opposite of that person.
C+RC: What’s next for food and beverage in our industry?
CB: I don’t want to sound opportunistic, as what’s happened to the restaurant industry is devastating. But I do think clubs are uniquely positioned to up our games in terms of bringing in new, displaced talent and raising the technical ability of our teams.
In this episode of Club + Resort Talks, sponsored by Bush’s Best, Colin Burns, General Manager of Winged Foot Golf Club (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), discusses his leadership style, which focuses on encouraging the club’s culinary team to take the lead in decision making and capitalizes on Executive Chef Rhy Waddington’s own expertise and judgment.