New and improved services move Quadrangle Club into new centuryBy Josh Schonwald
The green awning is gone. The landscaping is different. The facility has been deep cleaned, and many of the rooms have been replastered and painted. There is a new menu, with a new kitchen ethos toward fresher, more seasonal offerings. There are new plates, silverware and tablecloths. Even the servers look different; they still dress in black and white, but will wear bistro aprons at lunch and the trademark vests at dinner.
And it’s all just the beginning for the Quadrangle Club.
The venerable club at 57th Street and University Avenue is undergoing a multi-year makeover. Not only will the infrastructure be improved, the food retooled and staff refocused, but also there are plans to add building-wide WIFI and an automated billing system and eventually lower rates.
“This is an important responsibility the University has accepted,” said David Greene, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives in the Office of the President, and President of the Quad Club. The goal, said Greene, “is to make the club a vibrant part of the University” —a place for conferences, lunches, after-work drinks, a place where faculty and staff can feel proud to invite visitors to stay. “We believe the club is an important amenity for our faculty, in particular, but also for the whole community. That’s why it’s so important that faculty and staff see the Quad Club as a great place to be,” said Greene.
Some longtime club members are applauding the changes. “The service is already more efficient,” said Raphael Lee, Professor of Plastic Surgery, who chairs the Quad Club Members Council. “I really like the new menu. There are lighter, fresher food options. And the quality has improved,” said Lee, who has been a member for nearly 20 years.
The makeover of the Quad Club began in August, when the professional hospitality company FLIK International began managing the operation. The choice of FLIK, though, was the culmination of a long process. After years of discussion, and after an advisory committee appointed by former Provost Richard Saller examined the club’s role, the Quad Club members voted in late 2006 to restructure the organization. The University owns the land it occupies, while the club—an independent organization since its incorporation more than a century ago—owns the building. Now, however, the University has responsibility for the club’s governance.
As an independent organization, the club was financially limited, recalled Lee. The 1922 building, designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw in the Arts and Crafts style, was old, costly to maintain and needed expensive remodeling. The most direct option was to shift the corporate governance to the University; after all, Lee said universities support most faculty clubs.
“The University had both the need and resources to implement the changes needed to revitalize the club. Remarkably, the club was originally structured to enhance University interactions with Chicago business and social communities. Today, this role has expanded as universities become ever more centrally positioned in national, economic and political development.”
Not long after the University began managing the club, Greene began seeking ideas for improvements from current and former Quad Club members. Greene said it became clear that the University needed to bring in a vendor to manage the club.
The University issued a request for proposal and interviewed several potential management firms. Greene cited several reasons why the Quad Club board selected FLIK.
“We like their commitment to fresh and high-quality food, their reputation for excellent service—they have a training program based on the Ritz-Carlton model—and their impressive record in running a successful business model for faculty clubs,” said Greene.
“They also have attentiveness to detail. All of their properties were absolutely immaculate,” said Greene, who visited several FLIK managed facilities in the Midwest and on the East coast. Perhaps most important was FLIK’s versatility. “They don’t do cookie-cutter work. They can run a program that will reflect the unique culture we have.”
FLIK conducted a national search before choosing Ryan Kingston as general manager. Kingston is a hospitality industry veteran with experience managing premier hotels, resorts and luxury private clubs in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do over the next year and a half, but I’m excited to get this ship moving in a positive direction,” said Kingston. While major changes are under way, some things will remain. “The culinary focus will be on maintaining some of the traditional classics with a high degree of freshness and a unique flair.”
The WIFI and an automated billing system are much anticipated. “It will bring us into the 21st century,” said Kingston. For years, members have complained about inaccuracies in their bills and the painfully slow process of getting errant charges corrected. The new system should correct those problems, Kingston said, and increase the speed of service. “The dining room staff presently uses manual systems for ordering and processing food orders. Very soon, they will be able to use an automated system that will allow them to place the order from the dining room, and it will print at the cook’s station for preparation.”
The new general manager emphasizes there is much work ahead, including a major overhaul of some structural problems in the hotel rooms, but Kingston has an ultimate goal. “I know that a lot of faculty and staff have their guests stay at hotels downtown now,” he said. “I think that some day we can be a great boutique hotel. We’re so close to campus, so convenient.”
“It won’t be a year before we’ll be able to make a meaningful comparison,” said Lee, but “there’s a heightened enthusiasm among members. We feel we’re going in the right direction.”