Case Study: Oxbow Country Club Oxbow, N.D.

What sets country club foodservice operations apart from traditional restaurants is their need to be multifunctional. While fine dining operations are fixtures at most country clubs, many clubs also offer foodservice in the form of snack bars by the pool and golf course, casual restaurants for quick bites and catering capabilities for special events.

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Oxbow-Country-Club-KitchenThe cookline in Oxbow’s 2,000-square-foot kitchen includes double-stacked ovens, a broiler, two fryers, a flattop and a six-burner range."Much of this happens simultaneously, which presents its own set of challenges," says Joel Livingood, general manager at the Oxbow Country Club, located in Oxbow, N.D., outside Fargo.

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Built in 1975, the club has two main restaurants serving its 285 member families. The Grill is a 60-seat casual restaurant; the Bend serves up more upscale progressive dishes in the 120-seat dining room and can accommodate as many as 200 for events.

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"The Bend's original concept was fine dining, but over the last year we transitioned it to a more casual space due to the shift in our clientele," Livingood says. "There's not as much demand for high-end meals from members on a regular basis."

A full foodservice menu from the Grill is available poolside and brought out by waitstaff as a convenience to members and to help encourage longer stays. "This year, in an effort to grow membership and increase revenue, we're planning to open the Bend to the public," Livingood says. "We definitely have the capacity to do more business."

The food and beverage side of Oxbow's business has grown exponentially, and 2012 sales are expected to reach an all-time high of about $700,000. Livingood estimates that food and beverage sales make up about 40 percent of the club's revenues.

Executive chef Torey Ostlund oversees the country club's main kitchen, including the menu and all food production. In the last year, the separate menus were consolidated in an effort to control costs and increase efficiencies.

"The goal is to produce less items that are of a better caliber," Ostlund says. "We have items that can be interchanged and easily changed out in accordance with price changes or popularity."

Menus change with the seasons and are geared toward different sections of the club. For example, golf course foodservice includes fast, light meals such as sandwiches, salads and burgers.

"We describe our offerings at the Bend as out-of-the box comfort food, where we take traditional products and make them unique," Ostlund says. Case in point: the restaurant's grilled smoked turkey sandwich, which features provolone, bacon and chipotle aioli on cranberry rice bread. The restaurant also offers a rum-and-Coke pork chop served on spinach fettuccini.

The restaurants sell hundreds of burgers each day during some events, and staff members grind the meat and bake the buns daily. "Our guests are simple and often don't like fancy entrées," Livingood says. "In the winter, we have a prime rib night on the last Friday of every month. We also offer a fish of the week."

The cookline in the 2,000-square-foot kitchen includes double-stacked ovens, a broiler, two fryers, a flattop and a six-burner range. A built-in station has three heat wells. Nearby are a smaller freezer and a reach-in freezer, in addition to two reach-in coolers. The prep area contains two ovens, a mixer, a walk-in cooler, a walk-in freezer and a meat grinder. The dry storage section houses reach-in freezers for added space.

During large, catered events, the kitchen sometimes closes to members and the public for a period of time.

Because there is limited space in the back of house, it is important that Oxbow uses smaller-footprint equipment that is suited to multiple tasks. "This includes steamers that don't require hoods or plumbing and combis, which can be used for many tasks," Ostlund says.

Technology and portability are important, as are budget and pricing. "We have great relationships with the sales reps and vendors in our area, so their knowledge helps guide us in our purchases," Livingood says. "This also puts us in the know in terms of what's new and up-and-coming. Open lines of communication and trust are important."

The biggest challenge in country club foodservice is finding ways to be more efficient, while maintaining the same quality of service. It can be difficult to estimate the number of customers and to develop dishes that will appeal to all club members.

"As we grow and learn, we've realized as a club we have great restaurants that may not always be packed with people," Livingood says. "It can be tough meeting everyone's demands, but it's important to please our members that have ownership in the club. We always look for feedback."

With costs continuing to rise, the foodservice team's main goal is to increase the number of restaurant customers. The big volume gains in the past year have partially been attributed to monthly theme nights held throughout the year, including New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day dinners, a wine pairing formal dinner and a Santa brunch.

"Everyone says food and beverage is one of the most challenging industries, but in our case it has also been the biggest area for opportunity and growth," Livingood says. "It's important to be involved in social media and know your client base. We always talk to our members about the food and service because we want them engaged in what they're eating. This has paid off in huge dividends for us as a club." FE&S

Teeing Off on Country Club Foodservice

Q&A: Gordon Maybury, executive chef PGA National Resort and Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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