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Menu Planning: It’s All About the Variety

The success of an a la carte dining experience in a club is predicated on delivering on many fronts. Food quality is important, but service can be equally important to members. However, in this article we want to discuss the menu, its importance and how it should be developed. The need for variety is a common menu complaint heard in McMahon’s focus groups and surveys with memberships across the country. Complaints include: it is too boring; the menu never changes; or the new restaurants in town offer these dishes, why can’t we?

General managers and chefs in private clubs have a real challenge due to a limited customer base. They have to develop a menu for their members that reflects the many different palates and preferences that exist. The larger clubs with thousands of members have the opportunity to offer different themed venues, but the typical 18-hole country club with 500 to 600 members will most likely have a grill room, bar/lounge and maybe an upscale room for a la carte member dining. This challenges these clubs to serve diverse dining styles in just a few spaces.

We talked with food and beverage consultant Richard Lareau, ECM who views the menu as an extension of the relationship between the chef and the members. He takes a very strategic view of the menu and how to present its items. One of Lareau’s most important suggestions is to understand your local cuisine and have items on your menu that reflect the local flavor, especially from the restaurants at which members dine at frequently.

From our discussions with Lareau and other managers with culinary expertise, here are a few pointers:

· Use only the best quality food. Members expect the best in their clubs and the menu should reflect that.

· Do the simple things very well. Make sure that hamburger bun is toasted and the lettuce fresh and crispy. Serve soup piping-hot, like it is meant to be.

· Develop your menu through the members’ eyes and palates. Understand what they are looking for and what is trending in your area.

· Plan menus collectively. Remember delivering an exciting menu is a collective process done with the F&B director, general manager and chef.

· Be mindful of kitchen constraints. Make sure your kitchen can handle the menu(s) you are offering.

· Consistently communicate specials to the membership. Seventy-five percent of your menu is the standard fare of club sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, etc. The remaining 25 percent allows your culinary team to experiment and provide something special for members. It is critical this is communicated consistently to members so they know in advance what special treats the chef has in mind for them.

· Brand items. Make signature dishes or drinks that are only available at your club.

David Meyers, a leading culinary consultant in the private club industry, said menus are continuing to be more progressive these days adopting a youthful and playful feel. Chefs are becoming more creative using newer cooking approaches, starches and vegetables, providing members a unique experience at their club.

Your golf and tennis professionals are building strong membership bonds through their crafts. The chef should also be building bonds through the food he is creating for them.

Menu Creation

The menu is such an important piece to the dining experience, but many managers overlook it. A strong menu not only will have good choices, but the layout and feel are also critical. Cleveland Menu Printing has been serving the hospitality industry since 1930 as a one-stop shop for menu creation, development and printing. Brent Wilhelmy, Sales Manager at Cleveland Menu, says his biggest challenge is trying to develop a unique menu design that no other club or restaurant may have. To accomplish this, they have recently started using heavier materials for the actual cases like copper, aluminum and even wood. One of their favorite menus recently developed for Carolina Country Club’s 1910 Bistro has a strong wood back panel with copper, and has been a big success at the club. As you can see, a strong menu makes a statement about the quality of the whole dining experience.

Menu design is a process that needs to be strategically planned. According to Restaurant Engine, a restaurant design consultant, some items to keep in mind when designing your menu include:

·         Keep it simple, clean and easy to read

·         Keep fonts at no less than 12 points

·         Avoid using capital letters

·         Use typography to highlight items

·         Nostalgia, natural materials and artisan aesthetic are all in

·         Let diners see the whole menu at once—the tri-fold is on the way out

·         Don’t publish desserts on the main menu

·         The dessert menu should always include the five “C’s”—caramel, chocolate, coffee, citrus and cheesecake

Technology Innovation

When asking both the managers and menu designers about the future of menus in regard to technology (e.g., iPads), almost all of them commented that a physical menu still has value. While some commercial restaurants have begun using tablets to help patrons view menus and place orders, for the private club world, those changes are years away. Many restaurants see the value of tablet menus with drinks. Having an extensive wine list available on one of these devices can allow diners to easily view the list, but also learn about the wine and where it came from. The same can be said for beers and cocktails. Richard Lareau sees the future of tablet menus at a more simplified menu location such as a pool snack bar. Understand your members and club culture before venturing out into new technology.

In Conclusion

Menus are becoming an increasingly important component to the dining experience. You hear about menus all the time from members and from the big restaurant chains. From McDonalds extensive menu to Chipotle’s simple menu, understanding your customer and providing what they want in an easy to read menu is critical to the dining experience.

“I was at this restaurant. The sign said ‘Breakfast Anytime.’ So I ordered French Toast in the Renaissance.” – Steven Wright

“I don’t want to hear the specials. If they’re so special, put ‘em on the menu.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Club Trends Fall 2015