by Penelope L. Wong, Executive Chef
Once known as the unknown, Glenmoor Country Club is now considered “The Best Family Club” in Denver. In the nearly 15 years that I have been with Glenmoor Country Club, just the mere thought of a new member wait list was surreal. I have had the pleasure to witness and take part in the unfolding of true potential. I began my tenure with Glenmoor Country Club in 1998; hired on as a pantry line cook and worked my way up the ranks to executive chef within 6 years. Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride.
During the early years of my tenure, the club went through a myriad of changes including new programs, membership promotions, new policies and dress codes, ventures into different types of cuisine and menu creation as well as exploring several different service styles with the help of consulting firms.
On the upside, food and beverage had begun to develop a loyal following with new introductions to diverse cuisine appealing to the younger average age of our membership, excitement over new wine menus and food pairing dinners. However, while menu creation was expanding, so was the need for a bigger, better restaurant and kitchen to expedite the demand. New membership levels became stagnant, the clubhouse was in dire need of a facelift and the golf course was not getting the play it deserved. It was time for a change.
Step 1: Hire the Right Leader
In 2007, the Board of Directors formed a search committee seeking a new team leader with extensive renovation and club re-building experience. It was reassuring to have the appointed recruiter as well as the search committee interview each and every one of the department heads to gain their input as consideration for such a key new hire. Steve Van Buren came to us from Cincinnati, OH, with immense accolades from a well renowned recruiter, as our new General Manager. Steve’s background was overwhelmingly food and beverage focused, and he came to us with extensive experience in clubhouse renovation. The management team was in for a ride.
Step 2: Invest in the Operation
One year after Steve took on his new role, the membership approved a complete $8M interior clubhouse renovation. This was the opportunity to take a good look at what direction the club was heading, what type of membership Glenmoor wanted and who was willing to be a part of it. A small group of members formed a building committee and met weekly with the contractors to ensure this undertaking met the expectations of our membership. In addition to the physical overhaul, the Board of Directors, Membership Committee and House Committee were dedicated to making Glenmoor “your home away from home.” The “Best Family Club” in Denver was born.
Several months into the construction, it was intriguing and exciting to watch as blueprints and kitchen design came to fruition. One thing was certain: it takes a village! Department heads were asked to go out into the city, tour other clubs, dine at several of the local restaurants that our members enjoy, golf at other courses and get to know banquet and catering styles of other facilities. From all angles, department heads met on a weekly basis with Steve, sharing the progress with our new plans and concepts for the reopening; gaining valuable input from each others’ experiences.
Food and beverage, specifically, was one of the main focuses of the reopening. A majority of the inner face lift of the club house regarded the kitchen, bar and dining area. With this spotlight on food and beverage reopening operations, several pieces needed to be resolved. Firming up the menu was key. Creating the menu was easy, convincing the Board of Directors that the menu would be a success was the tough part. Several meetings, several revisions, several suggestions and one final overall menu tasting later, we had our menu. This was to be our handbook for service training, for creating our wine and beverage menu and ultimately, for creating our new dining culture.
Five months into this intensive planning process, it was time to face the demon – reopening (cue scary music). From my vantage point, the scary part may have been limited to my department, only because I was putting my trust and laurels in the hands of architects and their builders to complete a kitchen and a food service establishment to specs based only on meeting after meeting and redesign followed by redesign. The specs, of course, all based upon imaginary lunch and dinner service flow based upon the final revision of the approved reopening menu, based upon the flow of a kitchen ran in previous years, based upon the flow of service, based upon the hope that service training was actually sinking in… I think you get the point. The kitchen and dining room were being designed by people who did not get their hands dirty in my field of work; I had no choice but to trust them.
With two weeks left before reopening Memorial Day weekend, we still did not occupy the building. Day after day after day passes, each day filled with the anticipation that THIS was going to be the day when they handed us the keys to our new clubhouse. Well, finally, with two days to go before our scheduled and highly marketed opening day; we were handed a set of keys. (Cue expletive) We are given TWO DAYS to get shelves and walk in coolers and freezers stocked (after, of course, all of the new shelving units are put together), our NEW staff trained, the bulk production items made (sauces, dressings, etc…); oh, and let’s not forget – to get prepped up for the big Memorial Day BBQ and opening of the pool as well! The kitchen is an utter mad house. The front of the house is an utter mad house setting the dining room, learning the new POS, going over mock service, learning and tasting the new menu, reviewing wine service and training and menu pairing, touring facilities, memorizing product lay out in the kitchen store room for restocking, stocking the bar, etc…
Somehow, someway and by some miracle, we pulled it off. We had a record breaking two days of revenues. To put it in perspective, the fiscal budget for the month of May had the restaurant revenues budgeted at only 37% of normally forecasted revenues, knowing we would only have less than a week of operations before month’s end. With the delay in completion from the construction, in just two days of operations the restaurant had exceeded budgeted revenues by 155%. Although it seemed to be utterly impossible in the beginning, it resulted in an amazing job well done.
Step 3: Create an F&B Program to Match the Member Demographics
In the nearly ten years since I began my tenure as Executive Chef, I watched as not just food sales, but overall food and beverage revenues inched their way up the totem pole from meager to respectable and highly impressive. In the three years as Executive Chef before the renovation, I was proud of boosting food and beverage revenues by nearly $200K. In the three years following the renovation, I am blown away by food and beverage revenues boasting a $1M increase.
What worked for us? For starters, the overhaul in menu presentation proved to be a big success. We stayed away from the typical country club menu, and, yes, there is such a thing. Many country clubs have a general philosophy of, “order whatever you want and pray to God we have it in house.” Well, my theory was to offer something they never thought to order at a country club. Taking advantage of the lower average age of our membership (44), I reduced my menu size-significantly. By introducing ethnicity and modern fusion with inclusions of traditional classics and standbys, I rolled out my new menu as an all day, one page menu. To my delight, the members embraced the new menu theme. Many were part of the loyal following that had developed pre-renovation and were glad to see some of the same fusion concepts present on the new menu.
There was no open faced turkey sandwich with brown gravy and not even a hint of parsley to garnish the plate being offered on the menu. Instead, we featured items like Thai Coconut Curry with Shrimp and Orzo, uniquely spiced Rotisserie Chicken, signature salad dressings like Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Smoked Trout Caesar Dressing, Korean Short Rib Tacos, Cedar Smoked Black Cod and Tabasco Grilled Onions. Of course, if Mr. Smith comes in and requests an open faced turkey sandwich with brown gravy and not even a hint of parsley to garnish the plate we are more than happy to oblige. On top of the all day menu, we continue to offer daily specials for both lunch and dinner, pairing favorites like soup and salads or sandwiches together for quick business lunches or a bite to eat after a round of golf, offering daily signature street-cart style tacos and high end steak and seafood items paired with wines for our veteran foodie diners. The menu changes seasonally, and popular daily specials carve their way to become new menu items. All of which are executed out of our very open expedition kitchen – the focus of the restaurant was intended to be very much food driven.
On top of menu service, we offer weekly theme nights to cater specifically to our unique membership demographic. With an average age of 44 years old, we have over 1,200 children amongst our membership. While the dining at Glenmoor offers a level of casual sophistication with daily and weekly themed food and wine pairings; we also make sure to include the kids. Themed family night dinners, movie nights for the kids as well as bingo events for the whole family to enjoy offer well rounded family entertainment all year long. We also change up our restaurant promotions monthly to offer variety to our membership. In striving to provide a food and wine program at the club that is just as good, if not better, than what the local restaurants down the street are offering, we weed out the need to go out to other restaurants. The end result has the restaurant and bar posting average nightly dinner covers of 150-250 guests, consistently. To date, our record night serviced 376 covers, a la carte. The membership culture that has developed around Glenmoor is one that boasts friendships and good times with good food and libations.
Step 4: Leverage Your Assets and Engage Prospective Members
Within the last four years since reopening, we’ve had the pleasure of placing highest honors in Colorado Avid Golfer publications for best food as well as best family club. Colorado Avid Golfer also presented me with the honor of being featured in an article in May of 2010.
Without a doubt, an influx of membership levels play a crucial role in contributing to such remarkable revenue increases in food and beverage. Membership sales were clearly a strategic focus in the renovation process. The goal was to build a better club that members would be proud to be a part of, and especially, to belong to. There were several factors in our favor already in place. The existing membership was extremely enthusiastic and supportive; the Board of Directors was realistic and very goal oriented and a highly experienced General Manager along with a well-qualified management team was in place.
With all of these key factors in place, Teri Ramirez, Membership Director, had taken membership promotion into overdrive. Starting with our existing membership, various incentives were being offered to members asking them to invite and/or sponsor their own circle of friends who were interested in club membership. The excitement surrounding the new clubhouse and membership programs was contagious. Clubhouse tours became a daily occurrence. Management, as well as hourly staff, was quickly learning a new protocol regarding prospective member service, an extension of the existing protocol of a ‘members first’ attitude.
The whole process of engaging with prospective members’ visits soon became a recipe for success. Prospective members were enamored with the new facilities and they were invited to enjoy a round of golf to try out the course, and then invited back to enjoy an evening in the restaurant to engage in the dining scene. Membership sales showed steady and rapid progression throughout the first two years of reopening. With the impact of a larger membership, club wide operations grew substantially. Over time, initiation fees were doubled in both golf and social memberships. In June of 2011, Glenmoor was proud to announce that we had reached membership capacity in both golf and social memberships; and as a result, Glenmoor Country Club had a wait list – for the first time in its 26 years. More noteworthy, is that this transformation took place during a highly impactful economic recession. Presently, there is a two year wait to become a full golf member with the ability to have social privileges for one year prior to becoming a golf member; and there is approximately a one year wait to become a social member.
Step 5: Continue to Elevate Your Golf Operations
With food and beverage playing a key role in Glenmoor’s gaining popularity and membership sales reaching unprecedented levels; to maintain the integrity of Glenmoor’s foremost attraction, the golf course and the golf program at Glenmoor share the spotlight. Our Pete Dye-designed golf course showcases impeccable conditions maintained by original course superintendant, Dennis Vogt, who has worked with the Dye family on numerous courses around the world. Led by our head golf professional of 16 years, CJ Parry, and a combined tenure amongst the first assistant, buyer and teaching professional of 45 + years, the golf program at Glenmoor has grown exponentially.
Kicking off the golf season now starts with a dedicated demo and club fitting month. This involves scheduled demo days with top branded club fitters and industry professionals on sight to educate and assist our members in gaining the best clubs for their game. Demo days have become quite popular amongst the golf membership as they test drive new clubs and enjoy grilled burgers and hot dogs right on the driving range. The golf shop at Glenmoor has also established MVP pricing, or member value pricing, which meets or beats any current model pricing on both hard and soft goods. MVP pricing provides another level of service to our membership that is much appreciated year round, especially around the holiday shopping season.
Step 6: Engage Your Members (and their children)
Increasing membership levels continue to benefit with revamped Jr. member lessons and kids camps each year along with continually evolving tournament programs. Along with member tournaments, we have also seen a notable increase in non-member tournaments. In this last year, we have seen a 40% increase in Monday tournament revenues.
While every club has its ups and downs, Glenmoor Country Club has certainly had its fair share. But with every sink or swim opportunity that Glenmoor has experienced since opening its doors in 1985, we have managed to stay afloat and eventually, survived to share our tale. Currently, the club is in excellent fiscal shape. Approximately three years ago the decision was made by the Board of Directors to put 100% of initiation fees aside for future capital improvement projects to avoid any future assessments and run the operations at breakeven. In the spring of 2011, with the new capital philosophy in place, we completed construction of our new Cabana Grill poolside bar and grill, along with a new poolside locker room facility. In the spring of 2012, we completed construction of our new golf course Halfway House snack shack and tennis office – paid for in cash. While I’m no expert, and Glenmoor is the only club I’ve worked in, I can certainly vouch for the trials and tribulations this club has overcome to see its way to success. We continue to maintain a stronger than ever interest in the club; and more importantly, the membership continues to exude pride in belonging to Glenmoor Country Club.