Avoiding the ‘same-old-same-old’ day after day

April 26, 2024

The restaurant business is all about branding. We hear “1776” and we think of steaks and brûlée’d cheesecake. We hear “Confucius” and images of salt and pepper shrimp and whole crispy fish dance (or swim) in our heads.

When a potential restaurateur comes up with a concept, the primary concern is simple: Will there be enough potential customers out there who will find that concept enticing? Given the number of people who regularly dine out, it seems like a safe bet. Even if mistakes are made – and it happens – there’s enough turnover, especially in a resort, to guarantee that new patrons arrive without preconceived attitudes.

But, imagine a food service establishment that dishes up lunch, dinner, happy hour, late night snacks, catering services, wine tastings and cookouts for the very same people every day. And not only do those people talk to one another, but they also have high expectations of innovation and personal attention.

Even on a cruise ship or in a hotel, new faces regularly replace the old, affording a fresh opportunity to satisfy and impress. Such is not the case at country club restaurants, where membership includes couples, singles, families and weekend visitors. A country club food and beverage department has to be many things to the same clientele—day in and day out.

Phil Lambert, longtime executive chef at Kings Creek Country Club, knows many of the members by name, and he stays attentive to their individual likes and dislikes. French trained in the classic style, the Irish-born toque worked in Germany, Ireland and Bermuda, even spending seven years as head chef at 1776 Steak House in Rehoboth. (His legacy there is the above-mentioned brûlée’d cheesecake.)

We love to watch TV chefs “push the boundaries,” but Chef Lambert faces a different challenge. In his words, he has to “do regular food well”; mixing standards like pot pies, burgers, crab cakes and club sandwiches with classic French fare like baked stuffed salmon and halibut en papillote.

At the same time, the menu must be dynamic, lest the members get bored. Every day, he and the KCCC powers-that-be craft menus and specials aimed at pleasing the palates of the members. It isn’t unusual to see the chef’s signature shrimp po’boys, steak au poivre and crab burritos rotating with Buffalo wings, hot dogs and Caesar salads. Members speak reverently of Steak Night, where Lambert applies his 45 years of culinary experience to the broilers.

Kings Creek may be exclusive, but this is still the beach. The challenge is to keep the food casual, but with a hint of elegance. Summer events, cookouts and treats for the kids are always on the schedule. It’s like one never-ending catered affair.

Chef Lambert knows that the members are his bosses. They pay to belong, and they expect first-class treatment for their money. In fact, many local members consider the club to be their second home.

So, rather than focusing on sushi, pizza or seafood, the “brand” at a country club is simply to please the customer. The menu must include something for everyone, with a few surprises thrown in to keep things interesting. In fact, Lambert often creates his specials while making the dinner rounds in his dress whites and asking the members what they like.

When I asked him to list the three most important aspects of country club food service, he replied without hesitation: “Service, service, service.” Chef Phil Lambert and his team at Kings Creek Country Club seem to have a good handle on all three.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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