With additional banquet-room space, a reconfigured kitchen and fresh finishes, the newly remodeled banquet and dining room at the Bonnie Brook Golf Course wins rave reviews on both sides of the dining room.
When it opened, Char Piquette, now-retired food and beverage manager for the facility, declared it “absolutely gorgeous. The end result is beyond our wildest dreams.”
The Waukegan Park District in Illinois owns and operates the clubhouse, which was built in 1987. Although some renovation was done nearly a decade ago, the more recent project exceeds all expectations.
The transformation began as a plan simply to redecorate and freshen up the banquet facility and lobby. Following a feasibility study, PHN Architects of Wheaton, Ill., and its consultant determined that if the space were renovated–and functionality improved–the district’s bottom line would follow suit.
The former banquet room seated approximately 150 people, in an awkward “L” shape that meant obstructed sightlines and a disconnected atmosphere. One leg was used as a restaurant, while the other operated as a banquet facility, says PHN Principal Doug Holzrichter, who led the Bonnie Brook project. When the spaces were combined, the situation was far from ideal. “Depending on where you sat, you couldn’t see everyone. It didn’t feel like one space,” he explains.
“The facility just didn’t work well,” he adds. Beyond the poorly configured space, which led to under-utilization, the kitchen’s design also was inefficient. A large, two-sided fireplace in the middle of the room–though beautiful and well-loved–negatively impacted the layout and functionality. And while bland decor didn’t help, storage needs ate up precious space, causing problems beyond aesthetics.
Not only was the available banquet space poorly designed, but it also was too small for many weddings and other large parties. “We were missing the mark for many of the weddings,” says Waukegan Park District Executive Director Greg Petry.
“We gutted the kitchen, lobby and banquet facility, and started over,” says Holzrichter. “We put in a new kitchen and a new elevator, and all new finishes and interior decorating.”
The extensive work did not require altering the building’s footprint, however. Instead, rearranging space and eliminating underperforming areas allowed for the creation of a vastly more functional clubhouse and banquet facility. The only exterior change was enclosing an interior staircase and attaching it to the outside of the building.
The new banquet area can seat 250 to 275 people–a sweet spot for weddings and other banquets–and can be divided for separate gatherings of up to 120 and 140. A full bank of windows on one side offers panoramic views of the golf course. Bonnie Brook now also includes a “pre-function area,” a space with bar service that permits banquet-goers to mix and mingle before entering the banquet room.
“The kitchen was redesigned to create a far more functional setup, with additional prep space and better flow,” says Michael Steele, who took over as food and beverage manager.
With a new elevator, the facility is fully accessible. That same elevator also permits convenient access to basement storage space, eliminating the need for storage on the first floor.
And the front lobby has been substantially dressed up, with wainscoting, wood beams, new lighting and new interior finishes.
District officials believe the project’s cost–around $965,000–will be absorbed by increased demand for banquet bookings and revenues.
With the reopening, popular Wednesday-night public dining has returned to Bonnie Brook. The renovation has also allowed for an expanded public menu, as well as a weekly special. A special Christmas dinner the week before the holiday features both a surf-and-turf entree and a glee club and sing-along for entertainment. Steele also added a children’s menu to appeal to families. “Our customer counts are increasing,” he says, pointing out that clientele drifted away during the months the facility was shuttered for renovations. “We’re working hard to bring them back,” he says. “We’re headed in the right direction.”
There’s no question that diners like what they see so far. “The response has been very, very positive,” Steele says. “People are just amazed at the transformation.”
Tips For Others
Other districts and facility owners may also be mulling a construction project to boost their own bottom lines. What do those involved with this improvement project suggest?
• Consider using a consultant.
PHN worked with consultant Joe Carlucci of Carclucci Hospitality Group. “We did a feasibility study and then put together a business plan that showed if we make Bonnie Brook a first-class facility and improve the function, it should increase the bottom line,” says Holzrichter. He adds Carlucci specializes in the restaurant industry, and his input was valuable in pinpointing not only what was needed, but also what the revenue possibilities would be.
• Realize that it’s not always necessary to add space.
“We were able to effect a dramatic improvement by reconfiguring and redesigning,” Holzrichter says. “We didn’t change the building footprint. Except for moving the staircase outside, we accomplished what we needed in terms of square footage by rearranging space and eliminating functions that weren’t needed.”
• When designing spaces, consider the value of a “pre-function” gathering space.
“We never had one before,” says Piquette. “It’s really nice for weddings. People can mix and mingle before going to the banquet room. And because the space is next to the grill room, there’s bar service as well.”
• Fit and finishes count.
“We helped Bonnie Brook go from bland to beautiful,” Holzrichter says. “We dressed up the front lobby with wainscoting, new lighting, wood beams and new finishes.” The transformation adds a “wow” factor that had been missing.
• It’s possible to realize a big return on a not-so-big investment.
Waukegan spent less than one million dollars on a facility that now has a significant revenue-generating potential. With a larger banquet facility, it is in a position to attract more weddings and larger gatherings. By revamping the kitchen, the staff now can handle weddings outside, further expanding the clubhouse’s marketability. “The functionality means we’re able to compete with larger venues,” says Steele. “We’re able to offer a lot more now.”
Moreover, the new ambience puts Bonnie Brook in another league in terms of the marketplace, Steele adds. “It’s opened some new doors. It’s allowed us to expand our menu to be more sophisticated. People come from the North Shore, just 12 miles away, and say, ‘We didn’t know you were here.’ It’s a hidden jewel. We have a country-club environment at a much more reasonable cost, yet still with all the bells and whistles people want.”
“Working with PHN, we transformed a basically dysfunctional banquet area into one that’s extremely flexible and functional,” Petry says. “It captures the views of the golf course beautifully, and allows us much more flexibility in the use of the space. We’re very happy with what’s been designed and built here.”
Beth Bales is a writer associated with PHN Architects, an award-winning architectural firm that specializes in the design of recreational facilities, including aquatic centers, recreational centers and golf course clubhouses. Her story, “Off-Season Greens,” on ways to increase revenues at park- and forest preserve, district-owned golf course facilities during the off-season, received Illinois Parks & Recreation’s award for “Best Facilities Management Article” for 2003. She lives in Geneva, Ill., a western-Chicago suburb, and may be reached at (630) 232-7912.