Another beloved niece just said I do. In a wedding shower celebrating her, inside an intimate circle of advice, she sat storytelling about the time she spends in the kitchen with her groom. I have eaten the delectable evidence of their deep dive into culinary adventures I would never attempt. We all laughed when her mother dryly suggested our bride would hatch the chick that would become the family’s next Thanksgiving turkey.
I remember the day I offended our daughter, while she raced home from the airport a lá Mario Andretti, by suggesting she needed to wash her new Riedel for the wine we were bringing to her (her words) thrown-together, casual pizza party.
I remember the year I no longer eschewed using paper plates and napkins, or my own mother’s advice to buy deviled eggs in a pinch and serve them on a beautiful platter.
Farm to table, sur la table, à la manière de table. Our way to the table, what’s on the table, how we style the table and what we do around the table look different from one family or one generation to another.
Thinking about our niece’s joyful exploration of all things culinary (while coveting her new fine china), I reached out to our friend Cory Conklin, general manager and COO of Mission Hills Country Club in KC and F&B authority, curator and influencer, to ask how members across the decades approach the food and beverage experience, cooking and entertaining.
The F&B interests and style preferences of your membership must vary greatly. What do members/couples in their 20s generally want from F&B?
I see diners in their 20s craving innovation and a casual vibe. They are more interested in creative new cuisines than reproductions of classic items.
Members in their 30s begin to lean toward healthier dining options. As some begin to experience the combination of a slowing metabolism and starting a family, they care deeply about the ingredients they put in their bodies.
Diners in their 40s are adventurous. They try new things and like to “relive” dishes from travel experiences.
Our 50-something members revert to craving vibrant socialization around the dining experience. For many, the kids have left home and eating out becomes a great way to reconnect with friends.
These members enjoy a lighter meal and desire high-quality, but smaller portions. They often have more time to enjoy a meal, so they also tend to wish for a relaxing pace of service.
Members in their 70s lean toward nostalgia and formality in their dining experiences. Familiar dishes accompanied by attentive service are often a great combination.
Respecting the differences in the way members young to old approach the F&B experience, what one thing would you take from each segment and elevate for the others?
Our youngest adult diners help push the growth of culinary innovation. While each generation has tendencies, every age group loves to see new dishes and artistic creations.
Those in their 30s help us with our needs to consistently look for ways to make the world better for future generations. From disposables to GMOs, this group keeps us educated and, more importantly, accountable.
Members in their 40s remind us to be adventurous and try things we may have dismissed in the past. And those in their 50s remind us to enjoy ourselves. They don’t hesitate to order a steak and open a great bottle of wine on a Tuesday night.
The cliché “stop and smell the roses” comes to mind as a great lesson from diners in their 60s. Members 70+ remind us to value classic sauces and presentations. So much of our food today is inspired by classic dishes from our past.
Is formal dining out of vogue?
Formal dining isn’t dead, but it is dying. Impeccable service and beautifully presented food will never go out of style, but people are no longer as willing to dress up for this experience. Likewise, younger diners are less concerned with tablecloths and the brand of china on the table. Most of us still like to put on a bow tie and use five different forks during a meal once or twice a year for special occasions, but it is not enough to build a business around.
With a history of serving as GM in the finest clubs in the country, you see best practices. What two or three things related to the F&B experience do you consider classics that should be enjoyed and elevated across every age segment?
Personalization. There is nothing more gratifying than when someone knows just how you like it! Nothing builds brand loyalty more than this.
Personality. The personality of the environment and service staff are critical to a dining experience. If these awaken your senses, you will enjoy your meal more.
The F&B experience has the potential to enlarge our lives, regardless of our age or any life circumstance. What are you working hard to teach and model for your young children?
While formal dining is going away, etiquette is not. I believe dining experiences are a great way for children to learn manners and socialization skills. The dinner table becomes a first impression at several points in our lifetime, so I believe it is important for young people to learn the skills to be at their best in this environment.
Do you see a difference between entertainment and hospitality?
I view hospitality as a subset of entertainment. Hospitality, to me, is the tactical execution of proper etiquette and steps of service. I view entertainment as how an experience impacts your senses. This is everything from music to lighting and uniforms to the font used on the menus.
How do you entertain or offer hospitality at home?
We are typically very casual when we entertain. I want people to be comfortable. We like to serve meals we regularly cook for ourselves and try to choose meals that don’t require us to be in the kitchen while we are also trying to enjoy our guests.
What are the essentials you and Kay have in stock at home to welcome a guest on a moment’s notice?
We are always ready to serve you a suitable beverage if you arrive at our door. We also love charcuterie, so we generally have enough items to build a nice board to enjoy with company. The guest rooms are always ready with towels and bottled water.
There are things that create an immediate buzzkill for a guest in a club, and things that set the stage for a wonderful experience, regardless of the setting (poolside or fine dining). What are the dos and don’ts of welcoming a guest?
The greeting is such an important start to the experience. Warm, prompt greetings and a quick beverage set the table for a great night out. A flat or delayed greeting puts the server immediately in recovery mode.
The best and worst part of the job is dealing with the unexpected, which in my mind always presents an opportunity. An unexpected allergy issue can lead to an apology for not having much for the guest to choose from or it can lead to the chef visiting the table to see what custom dish can be created for the guest.
Do cleanliness and order play a part in the F&B experience?
Absolutely! A clean and orderly space implies professionalism and attention to detail. It is a great cue to the member or guest that the staff is organized and cares about the little things.
J.R. side note:
Our daughter and her husband hosted a driveway party to which our niece and her fiancé were invited. Sometime later in the night, our daughter noticed there wasn’t a dirty plate or glass in sight. She wandered into the kitchen to put things away and found it spotless, complements of Braden. May that be the lifetime yin and yang of all wedding nuptials. If one makes a mess, the other cleans it up.
I have never opened a bottle of wine at home that tasted as good as it did on the patio of the winery at sunset overlooking the rolling hills of beautiful vines. I’ve spent plenty of money figuring this one out.
What’s your favorite tablescape?
I’m not a designer, but I do know when I see something I like. I tend to be a “less is more” kind of person. I try to steer clear of flowers or plants with distinctive or strong aromas, as they disturb the nose and palette. Candles or soft lighting are always more flattering to faces and food.
What’s the most memorable F&B experience you’ve ever had and why?
My wife and I traveled to Italy with friends in 2019 and were able to have dinner at Osteria Francescana in Modena. It was ranked the best restaurant in the world at the time and it delivered. Chef/Owner Massimo Bottura spent time at our table and his staff of 70 took exquisite care of the 30 diners that evening. As an industry guy I soaked in every detail. The experience was amazing and made better because it was shared with friends!
You pull both young and mature members into planning or event committees to enlarge the member experience. What are the commonalities across every age segment?
Consistency. This is the Holy Grail for all food and beverage operations. It is easy to nail an experience, but getting it right over and over with different people at different times is much more challenging.
What, in your opinion, are the table graces? What good manners or common courtesies do you teach to your staff?
I put a strong emphasis on verbiage for service staff. I believe using proper terminology is a great way to exhibit professionalism and instill confidence in guests.
You’re a wine lover and passionate collector. Tell us one great story about your pursuit of wine. Favorite wines?
In France with a group we spent a day exploring wineries in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. An importer friend had set up three tours for us that day. We arrived at the third of three stops around 5 in the afternoon. The winery had hired an interpreter for the winemaker to be able to visit with me, as they felt I had influence over the importer’s buying decisions. Our group tasted more than 50 wines over the next five hours. The winemaker spoke no English and we spoke no French. He would look at me after every sip to gauge my impressions, which I could only do through facial expressions and hand gestures. It was one of the more interesting tastings I’ve experienced.
I’m definitely more of an old world wine guy. I love Italian wine, while French and Spanish wines are close behind. Domestically, I believe Washington wines are on the rise and overdeliver on value.
Knowing everything you know and considering everything you’ve seen, what would be your desired romantic dinner?
My wife and I have hosted a gumbo party annually. It is such a fun and delicious dish for a casual get-together.
Tacos! I can make them out of almost anything.
Spontaneous patio or courtyard experience?
Shared charcuterie and wine passed around a table of friends.
A bowl of some ridiculous kid’s cereal.
Parting question: any tricks of the trade you want to share? Tools? Sources? Treasures to have in our pantries?
I love having an instant-read thermometer, as I’m picky about proper cooking temps. I still use the Food Lover’s Companion as a guide for terminology and reference. We try to source unique, high-quality spices, olive oils and other accompaniments. They help turn up average meals (and cooking skills). I try to find our wine pairing well before dinner so we can decant, if appropriate. Many wines benefit from a little airtime.
JR parting thoughts:
I appreciated Cory’s thoughts on how he entertains at home, and his emphasis on enjoying guests and making them comfortable. He elegantly greets, elevates and interacts with people as though he has all the time in the world for them. He is a masterful storyteller with an impeccable sense of timing…never dragging the narrative and knowing just where to place the period. The time he gives you is never a fly by.
The wedding couple made their favorite chocolate raspberry cake (inspired by a recipe they found online and elevated) the week of the wedding and snuck it into their hotel on their wedding night. The bride said it was her attempt to come close to a favorite restaurant’s six-layer, chocolate masterpiece. She uses fresh raspberries and says mini chocolate chips work better. Get Chelsea’s recipe here.
Congratulations, C+B. Wishing you a lifetime of piping filling into éclairs.