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January 2020

Themed Menus Build Sense Of Community

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By Steve Eubanks

The term “overchoice” was coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock, which described the detrimental effects of too much change in too short a time frame. Toffler wrote about the anxiety and psychological paralysis of having too many choices. He had no idea what the next 50 years would bring, especially with the advent of the internet. But he did get the broad concept of overchoice correct. Do you get your diet-caffeine-free soda plain or with cherry, vanilla, orange, raspberry, sweet cream, mango, tangerine or lime flavoring? How do you choose from the 100 Cabernets with a 90 or above rating? Which shows do you binge-watch next when you have 2,000 options on various streaming services? The process can be maddening.

Club operators might not use the term “overchoice,” but they know the concept better than most, especially when it comes to food and beverage. Specialty restaurants have become ubiquitous, even in smaller markets. Whether it’s Westchester, New York or Windermere, Florida, the options and turnover rate in the food industry, make it possible for a person to eat every meal in a different restaurant without ever going to the same place twice.

In order for clubs to compete, operators have to offer more than standard post-round sandwiches and beer. They need to develop a sense of community within the club, something that goes beyond just menu items. To borrow from the old television show “Cheers,” people want to go where everybody knows their name.

Themes are a great way to start. 
 
“We create themes around golf events and adjust that to the audience we expect to be at the club on any given day,” said Jason Trujillo, the executive chef at Santa Lucia Preserve, a private club just a few miles inland from Pebble Beach, California. “Like for the men’s golf day, we have cooked pigs outside in the ground, just to give them a feeling that they’re out with a group of friends, something different that they can’t find anywhere else.” 

The concept is the antithesis of elaborate. Trujillo and his staff dig holes in the dirt and build fires with mesquite. Then they wrap a pig in native fronds and bury it in the ashes and embers. Between 12 and 20 hours later (depending on the size of the pig) they pull it up and have it ready to serve as players come off the course. 

“We are there to cut and serve it, which is about the only difference between what we do and the traditional ‘pig pulls’ that you had in the old days,” Trujillo said. “Neighbors used to come together and roast pigs like this. And then all the families would come over for a meal. We’re trying to recreate that same feeling.” 

The themed menu concept doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with an event. At Boot Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, executive chef Casey McQueen rotates Thursday-night themes. The club then markets those events to the membership early in the week, generating buzz about the theme for the week. A “Texas Barbecue Night” includes brisket, fried chicken, trout, corn chowder and okra and beans. And a “Comfort Food Night” includes fried catfish, black-eyed peas, cheese grits and greens.

“The results are huge,” said Barbara Koenig, marketing director at Boot Ranch. “(We have) a full dining room (60-80 guests) on Thursdays, which used to be dead. Year-over-year F&B revenue is up 12%.” 

“It’s not just golfers and it’s not just men,” Trujillo said about designing themes to create a sense of community. “We know that the ladies at this club have a lot of options so we create specialized menus that cater to them. Fruits, salads, lighter items that have a broad appeal to the women here. It’s been a huge success, not because they can’t get those same items elsewhere but because we build events around those menus, around belonging at Santa Lucia Preserve. It’s part of the community.”

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