Many Private Golf and Country Clubs are busier than ever, with many new members of all age groups signing up during the pandemic years. Members are utilizing the food and beverage facilities more than ever, whether for fine dining, casual fare, weddings, or other significant events.
I spoke to several club chefs to find out the often creative ways they have found to avoid the ongoing supply chain issues. ~ Diana DeLucia
Michael Ruggiero, Executive Chef, GlenArbor Golf Club, Bedford Hills, New York:
Although the supply chain issues have improved tremendously, we have now had to incorporate more systems to avoid potential pitfalls in menu writing. The best way is to stay ahead with your ordering where you can. At GlenArbor, it is dry goods and things like vinegar, certain oils, paper goods, and snacks that must be ordered in advance.
The menus sometimes need to be intentionally vague in case of inability to source products; this way, I can substitute without having to disappoint. Regarding items like fish for events, I wait until a week or so out and then contact my purveyor to see what’s available and then convey it to the member/client.
We work in an environment where everything we do is perishable and subject to mother nature. It’d be easier if we were selling a car or a computer because you’re selling the models they have, and that’s it. However, the amount of things you can do with food and ingredients is almost limitless. A good chef is much more than just a great cook and artist in this industry.
Matt O’Connor, Culinary Director, Wee Burn Country Club, Darien, Connecticut:
Starting with the basics, we are trying to stay flexible; things have improved immensely from where we were a year ago.
At Wee Burn, we can print menus daily if necessary so that the member doesn’t feel the impact of a missing ingredient. We will alert any parties/guests that we may have to make minor changes only if necessary (this has yet to happen recently). We are running smaller compact menus and using specials to use what’s in season and available.
Finally, we stay ahead, so if we have shorted an ingredient, we have time to get it from another vendor or change a menu and alert the host.
Shaun C. Lewis, General Manager/COO, Old Westbury Golf & Country Club, Old Westbury, New York:
Since 2020, the supply chains have forced all of us in the industry to pivot and be flexible. From the lack of available workers and freight boats that could not dock, we have all felt the undeniable crush from Covid.
GK: What can we do?
In June 2022, I directed my team to produce their 2023 capital expenditure list and authorized purchases of up to 50% of the total budget for the previous year. Usually, we would wait for approval in December and then look at 3 to 6 months for delivery. Some items, like patio furniture, take up to 12 months, especially if there is an issue with the quality.
There is no shortage of toilet paper or paper towels currently. However, stock up on your dry goods if you have the storage—items like hand towels, takeout containers, plastic film, and aluminum foil. Knowing you will not run out for the season will make life less stressful, and, you will get better pricing and peace of mind.
There’s been plenty of time over the past three years when I took a step back and looked at what we were doing and trying to accomplish. Sometimes it’s good to go back to the drawing board and come up with a completely different approach to what is now a reoccurring problem. You must involve your team. They are the ones to execute it; it’s best to have their buy-in from the beginning.
Your department heads must communicate with you regarding the issues they’re facing. Please don’t wait for them to tell you, reach out and ask. Be good support for them and always stay in communication with your boards.
Anthony Villanueva, Culinary Director, Edgewood Country Club, River Vale, New Jersey:
Running a multi-million dollar food and beverage program for a bustling Country Club that is also a banquet facility open to the public has continued to be a challenge even after pandemic shortages a few years ago.
Every Club has increased business and member traffic. With so many contracted parties and events, it is sometimes very challenging to honor the pricing and availability of many products we all need to service our clients. On many occasions, I must try and outsource and secure certain products far in advance. The products are usually still available, but we are not back to normal with labor shortages and fuel increases.
Many products we have become accustomed to having on hand come packed differently or have slight changes in quality for example- I always buy Chili sauce in #10 cans for better dry storage, and now it comes in bags packed differently. Produce comes packed differently now; last year, there were issues with the size of chicken wings. Prices have gone up exponentially as well. We can’t change what we offer but must be savvier with portion control and presentation to help minimize food costs without drastically raising prices. Our labor costs have gone up and we are trying to retain or acquire good team members. Everyone is hiring, and it is an employee market right now.
We still must provide premium service and products to our clients and members. Inventories must be adjusted constantly with all the price fluctuations. Almost any items from other countries are only sometimes guaranteed to be as readily available as before. Another example was last season when I needed to replace a simple deep fryer and was told it would be on backorder and arrive in three months! We don’t have the luxury of waiting or compromising service due to faulty or unavailable Equipment. That said, I was forced to purchase one in person, pick it up, and drive it back to my Club for installation. A compressor on one of my walk-ins goes down, and now I am told by the refrigeration expert that the parts are not available and are on back order! It comes down to cause and effect. Labor shortages have contributed to supply chain issues. It’s not that produce or merchandise isn’t available, it’s the labor involved with shipping, cultivating and producing these products that are the primary issue. Now it is still very challenging to predict what is unpredictable!
Jeremy Leinen, Executive Chef, The Country Club of Rochester, Brighton, New York:
This is my first season at The Country Club of Rochester and as events go, we have increased our banquet pricing by 8% across the board to start the new season. I am brand new and have yet to revamp banquet menus, but this was a simple first step.
I have kept detailed cost records/event P&Ls to document what items are costing us and thus able to show the trend and justify pricing adjustments. In a la carte, we have been more sensitive to price increases, mainly opting not to raise costs to the members; the Club has budgeted for a higher food cost due to the rise of the expenses. We had a substantial dues increase (just shy of 12%), and the Club is committing itself to service quality and opting not to nickel and dime the membership on pricing.
GK: Were than different issues at your previous Club in Chicago as there are in upstate New York?
I had a lot more options in Chicago. I have fewer options here; some things are harder to get, and most are considerably more expensive. I use a specialty supplier based in Atlanta. Their New Jersey warehouse does not deliver here, so I’m paying freight via UPS to order some things I need help finding elsewhere.
I am very confident that I will find meaningful solutions and relay them to you to give ideas and education to other upstate properties facing similar challenges.