With inspiration from New York’s Plaza Food Hall, Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, Md., embarked on a season opener that showcased the entire club property and combined numerous design aesthetics.
It’s often said that form should follow function. But it can be even more effective when the design element is in lock-step with how a function is conceived and executed.
That plan has certainly worked well the last two years for Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, Md., after its club management team set out, as 2011 and the club’s 85th anniversary approached, to “create an opening season dance to remember,” says General Manager Mitchell Platt, MCM, CCE.
“For season-opening galas or anniversary dances at clubs, the tendency is to think of black-tie dinner parties that are confined to the ballroom or another central location,” Platt explains. “We wanted to get away from anything that might seem stuffy, and also to find a theme and format that could do a better job of showcasing our entire club and all that it has to offer.”
Platt and his management team found their inspiration in the fall of 2010, during their annual trip to the New York Restaurant Show. While there, they dined at The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English, which had opened earlier that year in the concourse level of the iconic Plaza Hotel.
That sparked the idea to theme Woodholme’s 2011 season-opening event, held on Memorial Day weekend, as the Food Hall at Woodholme, so the entire club property, including outdoor venues, could be utilized as members moved around to sample food from the various stations that would be set up.
But the concept would not get all its sizzle from the food, even though impressive spreads with various themes (Grand Central Oyster Bar, Chinatown, Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse) awaited guests at every turn as they moved throughout the 50,000-sq. ft. clubhouse and adjacent outdoor space.
The Woodholme staff also brought back a full array of photos from their Plaza Food Hall visit, to help plan exciting decor for each of the dining venues that could further distinguish the event as anything but your usual club party. That meant pretty much anything was possible in terms of decorating, lighting, music and other touches that would help to encourage members and guests to fully enjoy themselves in a chic, casual atmosphere.
Opening up the possibilities in this way also meant that a new set of party coordinators and vendors who often don’t get—or don’t want—opportunities to work typical club functions would be invited to participate and show how they could help Woodholme achieve its goals for producing a markedly different and memorable event.
In approaching these companies to get them involved, Platt had a unique proposition. Woodholme members, he told them, are always looking for new sources of distinctive entertainment they can use for bar and bat mitzvahs, company parties and other social and business events they may need to arrange on their own, be it at the club or elsewhere. As part of giving you a chance to be part of the club’s special event, he proposed, I want you to hold off on invoicing us for your services until you’ve had time to see what your work could lead to in the way of other event bookings you might get from the membership as a result of the exposure.
The incentive for new vendors to showcase their skills and abilities to such a potentially lucrative new source of business ensured that they brought their A games to the club event. And those arrangements have ended up being a win-win for all concerned (and a no-charge deal for the club), Platt says, because of the immediate and positive response—and additional work—all the vendors have received from the Woodholme membership.
All of the special planning and effort that was put into the first Food Hall at Woodholme in 2011 paid immediate dividends in terms of great attendance (over 400 members and guests) and response. It then kept paying off throughout the year—the buzz generated by the event played a big role, the club feels, in helping it gain 25 new members last year.
Not surprisingly, then, when it came time to plan the season-opening event for Memorial Day 2012, the Woodholme team didn’t see any need to once again go searching for a new concept. This year’s gala had a similar theme, Platt reports, with refinements that made it “even better than last year.”
“We wanted to create [an event] that would get many members to come, not only for their entertainment and camaraderie, but also as a showcase to prospective members they could bring as their guests,” Platt says. “We’ve used our imagination to take things above and beyond the usual approach, and we think we’ve found a great concept that works well for us.”