One of Us: Darlene Riggs


Anyone who has ever volunteered at THE PLAYERS Championship has probably tasted the culinary talents of Darlene Riggs. For 30 years, Riggs has been the driving force behind what has become known as “Darlene’s Diner” – the food tent that provided breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks to the thousands of volunteers who make the tournament possible.

This is your 30th anniversary serving up food as a volunteer for THE PLAYERS. How did you come to be involved with the tournament as a volunteer?

Yes, this is my 30th year. I worked for SunTrust Bank and my boss, Robert Alexander, a tournament vice chairman in 1987, asked me to come out to help with the on-course concession deposits. After two years, I was asked to be an assistant on the food and beverage committee. Two years later, I was asked to be the chairman and I have had the privilege of serving in that capacity ever since.

Feeding thousands of volunteers is a pretty big task. How many volunteers assist you in “Darlene’s Diner” and what types of duties do they perform?

This year I have a staff of 86.  We prepare a full breakfast and a broad menu lunch for our volunteers. They do everything from grilling our meats, to preparing our salads and sandwiches.  Everything is prepared fresh every day, so they are quite a busy group. 

Describe a typical day running Darlene’s Diner.

I get to the diner every morning at 5 a.m. and I start by getting the water on for our grits. We serve a full breakfast made to order: hash browns, grits, bacon, sausage, eggs cooked to order, toast, pancakes, French toast, breakfast sandwiches and breakfast bowls. We start serving at 6 a.m. and people are already lined up when we open the door. At 10:30 a.m. we change over to lunch: We serve hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, sausage dogs, hot dogs, chicken fingers, French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, BLTs, our famous tuna and egg salad sandwiches. We also serve our popular bean and barley side salad, cole slaw, Marconi salad and snacks. All of our food is prepared fresh on site daily. We serve lunch until 4 p.m. Our meats and bread are delivered each afternoon. We marinate our chicken, store our breads and any other delivered product, clean up and get ready for the next day. We usually get out of the diner around 5:30 p.m.   

How much food will you go through during the week?

During the course of the seven days, we will cook 832 dozen eggs for breakfast. Each day, we average between 70 to 120 dozen eggs cooked to order, 200 large sausages, 35 to 40 pounds of bacon and several hundred “Darlene’s Specials” – a sandwich with two pieces of toast, two fried eggs, two slices of cheese, two slices of bacon and if requested we add a sliced sausage – “the ultimate.” They love these sandwiches. For lunch, we will cook over the seven days, 880 pounds of chicken breasts, 3,700 hamburgers, 12 five-gallon buckets of boiled eggs for our salads and several hundred grilled cheese sandwiches. Our volunteers love to eat, and my staff and I take a great deal of pride in making sure that we prepare our food quickly, so volunteers can get back out to their assignments and they go away saying, “That was really good!”  

What’s the most rewarding part about running “Darlene’s Diner”? 

I just enjoy interacting with the volunteers and have made lifelong friends and many memories. I have worked at other tournaments and I think that the diner at THE PLAYERS is a one-of-a-kind venue, a special place for volunteers. It gives them a place to sit together, enjoy a good meal and build lasting friendships. They can have their breakfast, come back and have lunch, then return at the end of the day and relax with popcorn and a beverage. It is the center of our PLAYERS volunteer community and I like to feel that it is as special to them as it is to me.  

When you’re not working or feeding hungry volunteers, how do you enjoy spending your free time?

I love to sew and work in my yard. I live on three acres and so I have plenty to keep me busy.  My 12-year-old grandson lives with me and he races dirt bikes. We travel every other weekend to somewhere in Florida to race.  It keeps me busy. I never thought at this stage of my life I would be hauling a motorcycle all over the state, mixing oil and gas, changing spark plugs and helping with pit stops! I do enjoy this and I still cook. All of my grandson’s friends come to our tent because they know Ms. Darlene always brings brownies, cookies and sandwiches.