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The Importance of Strategic Architectural Design in Club Operations: Part 1


I wish I could poll chefs, servers, bartenders, and managers working in facilities that weren’t designed with daily operations in mind.

Or controllers and finance committee members who fret about the labor cost of their club every time there is an outdoor event or large influx of members in for dinner.

Or a strategic planning or house committee who is trying to understand why the members continue to talk about dissatisfaction with speed of service in food and beverage, inconsistency in menu items, or why food can’t arrive hot to their table or their drinks be served in a timely manner.

Why would I want to do this?

Because after 30+ years evaluating, consulting, and helping clubs fix those exact issues, I know the reality of why it happens. Yet so often the actual design of a club, a kitchen, a bar, a hostess stand, the location of equipment or storage areas or even the offices can have a detrimental effect on long term operating costs and serve to frustrate those who must work within that poor design. Eventually it affects the membership at the point of service.

Sure, things look nice on the outside – the views are stunning, the finishes are superb, the carpet is lush, there are multiple points of entry to make it convenient for the members, and the front door is imported from Italy...but does it work to deliver consistent service and high quality products?

As you embark on strategic planning, reopening after a renovation, or if you are simply trying to answer these same questions for yourself, I want to list several things I’ve seen with architectural design that impede a club’s ability to deliver the service experience expected.

I'd like to start with the food and beverage side of things first, here in Part 1. Remember what I said about 30+ years of experience? I've got a lot to offer, so next Friday we'll continue with Part 2 as we go through other areas of the club such as fitness and administrative areas.

Let’s start with those multiple points of entry. Yes, it’s nice and convenient and I am not against it by any means.

  • But you must realize that this means members will enter and exit from multiple locations, which can impede the initial greeting and seating of them. Sometimes members will walk in, sit down, and then wonder why no one has served them. In reality, no one has seen them yet; so creating a plan for multiple points of entry is key in your training programs.

Service stations located 50+ feet from the kitchen or nearest bar that are equipped with a point of sale system, an ice bin, and a small refrigerator, but are lacking a sink, a bread drawer, or the ability to obtain beverages such as iced tea, soda, coffee, or lemonade – not to mention water -- are problematic.

  • The reality of this service station is that it will never be used for service the way an architect thinks it will. It won’t improve speed of service; it will actually either slow it down or add to labor cost because the more often a server has to leave their station or the floor, the more people are needed to serve that area in timely manner.

  • Why? Because the ice bin is pointless without having beverages to serve with it being conveniently located in the same area. A server is not likely to use that POS system if they also need to get a cup of coffee, a bread basket for the table, a cup of soup, or a Sprite for a child. It doesn't make efficient sense for them.

  • They will instead use a POS system that is located where everything else they need is located – and this will cause a back up of servers who are doing the exact same thing.

  • And while they are retrieving coffee elsewhere, they will also want to pick up cream near the coffee area, not walk back to the service station to get the cream out of the small refrigerator.

  • Suppose the service station is set up to bus items into it for staging until such time as it can be taken to the kitchen. While this is a good thought, without a sink there is no ability for a server to wash their hands after handling the dirty dishes.

  • Thus, this service station will eventually devolve into a storage area or a place for servers to take breaks off the floor, but it won’t improve or facilitate better service.

Doors or the lack thereof also have an impact on service.

  • On the subject of server stations, I have also seen motion detector lights placed behind the door so it doesn’t turn on as expected until someone is already inside the dark service station and the door closes behind them, finally triggering the light.

  • Or the service station that is lacking doors altogether, causing a sight line issue with members and making them uncomfortable. We don't want their experience to be noisy or reminiscent of sitting at a Denny's Diner counter.

  • I have also seen architects place only one door in and out of the kitchen, or opt for doors without windows which is a recipe for accidents not to mention lost china, glass, and silverware due to dropped trays.

  • Lastly on the subject of doors...the door that hits the hostess stand, rendering it useless during service.

Point of Sale systems (POS)

  • I have seen these wired for internet access, but the architect forgot about the electricity needed--so the cord either runs along the length of a wall, is placed across the dining area with a piece of tape or a throw rug over it, or that intended location for a POS system is just never used, resulting in more steps for a server.

  • Sometimes the designer creates a piece of furniture that does not allow enough space for a printer, check presenters, pens, extra printer paper, etc.

  • In addition, a POS system than doesn’t swivel at the bar so that both bartenders and servers can use it - or a POS terminal that is positioned such that the severs/bartenders have to turn their backs to the member - is also unwise.

  • Lastly, lines not run correctly from a pool area to a kitchen so that the POS tickets can print in the kitchen are a pet peeve and inconvenience to pool staff. P.S. In 2017, why don't we make more use of the tablet POS?

Bars designed without practical operational thought to how they're being used by the club.

  • What is the beverage program at the club? Is food served at the bar? How fast does it need to operate to service members at peak hours? How many locations and servers is that particular bar serving in addition to the barstools at the bar? Is the bar area also used for additional wait areas/lounge? And if so, is there appropriate space for furniture/couches/chairs/tables that can be repositioned when not in use or when members want to adjust them?

  • If the bar is servicing multiple dining locations plus its own lounge area, is acting as the service bar, and also has a lot of barstools, it needs to be designed for speed and for multiple bartenders to easily work together.

  • One point of sale terminal will not work in a situation like this.

  • Counter level cooler doors that open outward will slow people down if there isn't enough room for the door to be open with a person bending down in front of it and still allow enough room to walk them. Why not install coolers with sliding doors with glass fronts and lighting?

  • Multiple liquor wells, sinks, and trash cans will also be needed.

  • If food is served, has space been allocated for bus tubs, roll ups, extra napkins, salt & pepper shakers, condiments, etc.? If not, then a server or bar-back will have to be scheduled more times than not to attend to dirty dishes so that bartender can stay focused on their tasks.

  • How far does a bartender/server need to lean out over the bar to set/serve/clear? You would be shocked how many bar designers set up the equipment and bar top in such a way that unless you are 6’4” tall, you cannot properly service your guests across the bar.

  • How many wines by the glass does the club serve? This may require a wine preservation system or additional refrigeration.

  • How many beers does it serve? By the bottle or can or both? Or draft? These all require different equipment and space not only for glassware, but also for the product it has to carry. For example, if a keg needs to be replaced, how far does a bartender have to go to replace it and where are the back up kegs kept?

  • While thinking about beer, can your golfers also purchase six packs there to take on the course? If so, you will need room for the portable coolers or bags, extra ice easily available, and easy access to beer replenishment.

  • Will the club offer wine flights/beer flights? This also requires separate glassware/service pieces, storage, menus, and training.

  • Is the bartender expected to be the point person on take-out or call-ahead orders? Where will the meals be staged at the bar? How close is the phone to the POS system?

  • Imagine servers and bar-backs having to duck under a long phone cord, because the phone is mounted to the wall further and the POS terminal is at the bar.

  • How many vodkas does the club serve? This one question alone can overload a liquor storage area.

  • Does the club make a lot of frozen drinks as a specialty? One blender may not be enough or perhaps a specialty blender is better suited.

  • Does the bar have easy access to the tables the bartender will serve, or to an espresso/cappuccino machine, or other non-alcoholic beverages?

  • Will the bartender serve water as a standard at the bar? This will possibly increase glassware needs and cocktail napkin cost.

  • I have yet to see a bar designer really think through a trash can location and recycling bins either, which for a bartender is critical. Take a look at your bar – was trash an after thought? How many pieces of equipment did you have to forego in the end at your bar because it didn’t actually end up fitting as designed?

  • If you have a dishwasher, where do the empty glass racks go? Chances are they are hanging out in some not-so-pretty view of your members.

  • AND…where does the clean rack go when it comes out of the dishwasher? I could guess...

  • How will the liquor product be secured/locked at the end of a shift? If retractable locking shutters will be used, does the product need to be reset/removed from display shelving every shift?

  • This will need to be noted in training checklists – OR – set up the locking mechanism so that the liquor can stay INSIDE the cabinet. Same goes for pocket-door shelving.

And don’t forget about a trash can for the servers picking up drinks, and a place for them to store their cocktail trays when not in use!


  • I could spend days and days on this topic, but here are a few things to think about!

  • First of all, realize that your club kitchen is likely serving 3 – 5 menus at once, so designing it like a typical restaurant kitchen just doesn’t work. AND, 80% of your orders are special orders, so the kitchen must be able to adapt quickly to members’ requests.

  • If a la carte and banquet operations have to coexist in one kitchen space, consider creating movable and/or adjustable work stations, and use tables with wheels or collapsible racking systems. Just like your dining rooms change with different themes, the kitchen needs to adapt at times as well.

  • The kitchen equipment and design often does not take into account how the club operates, what the members expect, and the service systems in place.

  • For example, a badly designed kitchen will cause increased labor and/or food costs if the kitchen cannot prep adequately for its business needs. What does this mean?

  • If the kitchen does not have enough refrigeration to prep in advance for an event and also run the line for meal periods, chefs must get creative and either purchase different product requiring less prep (that is more expensive) or bring in a crew to work around the clock to get the menus prepped and ready to go closer to the time of the event start. Or worse, use the existing staff to execute the event, sacrificing service on the line for the members.

  • Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the menu balanced across all sections of the kitchen: sauté, grill, pantry, etc. or is one area overloaded? This will slow down ticket times.

  • Who prepares the soup for service – the servers or the kitchen? This will impact needs for china/silverware in that area.

  • Are soups made from scratch? If so, is there room to make a stock while also using the kitchen for service?

  • Does the club intend to have two or more soups daily and how often do they change? This can impact needs in the kitchen.

  • Are pastries and desserts made on site? What about bread? What other specialty items are made in house? All of these impact the kitchen operations.

  • Does soup or salad come standard with every entrée? This should factor into the design of the kitchen.

  • Does the club serve a bar menu, pool menu, or other area out of the same a la carte kitchen? This will require additional items prepped and possibly different cooking time expectations.

  • It’s possible that a separate pizza, pasta, appetizer, or salad station needs to be created to keep up with family service demands.

  • Is there room for all of the china needed to service the line?

  • Is there a place for oval trays and tray jacks where they won't trip someone?

  • Is the dish area in a place that goes with the flow of traffic or is it likely to create a jam? Is there enough room there for glass racks, linen racks, trash cans, and dump buckets without causing the staff to do the mambo shuffle to unload a tray?

  • If this isn’t set up correctly, you will find yourself replacing linens and silverware often and probably broken dishes and glassware as well.

  • A few other items to be on the lookout for in the kitchen are power wash stations and sloping floors for drainage; of course, I assume you have floor drains.

  • Other areas not often thought about when planning renovations or for a new space are:

  • Receiving areas – can a truck back in? Is there a gate? Who will have access to the gate?

  • Trash removal

  • Recycling

  • Janitorial and chemical storage

Offices and Administrative Areas

  • Chef’s offices should be near the kitchen with a window to the kitchen so they can see what is happening at all times. Placing a chef in a remote area by tucking him/her away in some spare office can have harmful effects on the kitchen cleanliness, organization, and/or overall efficiency-- not to mention security and theft possibilities.

  • If you want the dining room manager, food and beverage manager, or assistant manager to monitor finances or sales reports, print menus, create promotional signage, use an automated reservations system, etc. they must have an office with a computer, access to the internet, and a printer. Without such an arrangement, they will be wasting time going to and from equipment located elsewhere and not being on the floor like they should be.

  • And while we're talking about employees, do you have staff quarters with restrooms, lockers, changing areas, or maybe even showers? If your service staff acts as your set up crew, this would be a very nice thing to have not only for their well being but also for your customers/members so that the staff can clean up before going onto the floor.

  • Large-scale hostess stands may serve to become a barrier between staff and members. If the hostess is to be the point person for take-out or call ahead orders, they will need drawers and areas for those supplies that don’t inhibit the function of the hostess/greeting standards.

  • Are you in an area where a coat check is needed? Be sure it is located near the door. :)

  • The hostess stand must also accommodate the club's menus, wine lists, children’s items, etc. It should have a light or a lamp. Many hostess stands are built without even knowing the size, shape or quantity of menus needed.

  • Speaking of menus and wine lists, where do they go when the servers pick them up? Not assigning areas or building in designated storage spots for them creates more steps for the servers if they must return them to the hostess stand. If this is the case, and the hostess stand is far away, you will find your menus in the kitchen, in service station, left on tables, or sitting on chairs. All of those alternate locations are the most likely places for them to incur damage. Menus are the biggest piece of marketing you have in food and beverage, so damage to them sends the wrong message to your member/guest.


  • Club furniture is moved around A LOT. Members move it, staff moves it, and managers move it. We go from a communal workspace, to lunch, to an afternoon book club, to bar service, to dinner service, to a breakfast buffet to a theme night within one 24 hour period. As clubs strive to engage members at every turn, we are constantly providing new ideas in the same venue.

  • All furniture needs to hold up to how it is used. If it is very heavy, the carpet will end up ripped or the floor scratched, increasing repair cost. You also risk a workman’s comp claim due to injury potential from heavy lifting.

  • While we are on the subject of furniture, if you build in a buffet – the entire buffet needs to be considered. Building in a hot line with no thought of where plates will go, salads will be placed or how soup can be served will end up making your built in buffet look worse in the end.

I know that's a lot to go over. As you can see, I am passionate about service and an advocate for staff and managers to have what they need to be successful. So often at RCS we are called on to fix service issues, timing problems, or inconsistencies. Nine times out of ten there are design flaws contributing to the inefficiencies of service areas or hindering the kitchen’s ability to keep their ticket times short. So, if you choose an architect or design firm help you put your strategic plan together, don’t forget to have someone on your operations team or an operations consultant work with them to ensure the needs of the club are being met.

Next week, we'll continue with Part 2 of this series as I touch on the operational needs of other areas of the club like the pool and fitness areas. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Part 2 has been posted! Check it out here.


Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group, is a celebrated management consultant, educator, and speaker. RCS, the creators of Food and Beverage Service Boot Camp™, specializes in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs for private clubs, fine dining restaurants, and luxury resorts and hotels. For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at

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Whitney Reid Pennell
 Founder & President

Whitney Reid Pennell is the founder and president of the award-winning RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services). She is a published author and widely praised seminar leader, with over 20 years of club operations management and consulting experience. 

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