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For decades, private city clubs have been establishments that are well-regarded and admired by successful individuals all over the world. At the same time, city clubs have sometimes earned the reputation of being secluded or secretive, leaving many to ponder what they’re really all about.
The wise Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Just as businesses cannot expect to survive without adapting to changing markets, private clubs cannot expect to thrive without adapting to modern lifestyles and changing demographics. So how can clubs continue to attract members and appeal to multiple generations while still maintaining their reputation and prestige? From policy updates, to facility trends, to program enhancements—private city clubs are making changes to help them do just that.
The topic of ‘dress code policies’ is often a controversial one in clubs. Many members of older generations are accustomed to ‘coat and tie’ dress policies. These members are often reluctant to relax dress code policies for fear of becoming too casual and damaging the club’s reputation. On the other hand, today’s younger generations are not required to dress formally in their careers and day to day life. This means that stricter dress code policies tend to deter them from utilizing the club in ways they’d like.
“Members—especially younger members—want to be able to use their club spontaneously,” says Rick Snellinger, President and CEO of Chambers. “If they have to think about packing a bag with a change of clothes while they are getting ready for work in the morning, they’ll likely decide that it just isn’t worth the hassle. Instead, they’ll decide to go elsewhere for dinner or drinks after work. This takes the club off of their radar, which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The key is to find a balance between the two—one that upholds the stature and prestige of your club, while also encouraging members to feel comfortable and welcome. The esteemed Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC) is one example of a club who has reformed their dress code policy without negatively impacting its reputation. ULCC’s general manager Mark Tunney notes, “We have a dress denim policy—that means no rips, holes, or tears are allowed.” This enables members to dress “down” slightly compared to years past, while still maintaining a smart, polished look.
Tunney admits that stricter dress codes are easier to enforce because there is less room for interpretation; however, as dress codes are relaxed, he also stresses the importance of upholding standards—respectfully. “If we notice someone is violating the dress code, there is a gentle way to say, ‘Excuse me. You look terrific, however, our policy states…’ There is a way to enforce the rules without being offensive.”
If you aren’t sure if this type of dress code reform is quite right for your club yet, consider an interim step to test the waters. Consider allowing dress denim in certain areas of the club like the Pub or Casual Dining areas, or on particular days of the week. Perhaps this will be enough of a change to appease members looking for a change. Or they may prefer it and encourage a full-scale change to the dress code policy. Every club is different, so find what works right for you and your members to help them be more comfortable without sacrificing standards.
Many city clubs—and private clubs in general—have come a long way with regard to cell phone policies. Though some clubs still prohibit the use of devices, many are becoming more lenient with regard to cell phone use—or, at the very least, adapting them to be a little more tech-friendly. “There are only three areas in our Club where members cannot use cell phones,” says Tunney of ULCC’s facilities. In fact, the Club has embraced cell phone use by making outlets readily available for the members.
“In our recent renovation of the Rendezvous, we took great care to incorporate outlets throughout the dining room and under the bar for easy access,” says Tunney. Today’s technology has given rise to various options for offering discrete charging solutions that offer convenience without being aesthetically offensive. The Cosmos Club in Washington, DC has taken a similar approach by adapting their cell phone policy so members can look at their phones or send a text. “We had to respond to the smartphone generation,” says general manager Mitchell Platt. “Cell phones are no longer prohibited on the property, but they must be kept on silent and cannot be used in public spaces.”
Platt explains that there are designated vestibules and work spaces throughout the club where members can use their phones. Even so, the club is still working to add more. “We are in the process of creating smaller spaces where members can make a quick call or let someone know they are on their way. It’s friendlier and a bit more forgiving than in the past, though we still have strict enforcement of the rules.”
As with dress code policies, clubs must be mindful of consistent enforcement of the rules—with ‘consistent’ being the key word. Members will appreciate the ability to relax rules in some cases, but also want to uphold particular standards in their club environment. Delivering a consistent message about cell phone use will help members understand their options, providing them with an enhanced club experience.
If cell phones are being adapted into regular club life, we must then look to other ‘smart’ devices that our members are accustomed to using. Global Workplace Analytics (June 2017) reports that not only does 50% of the U.S. workforce have a career that is compatible with at least partial telecommuting, but regular ‘work-at-home’ practices have grown by 115% since 2005—nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce. Today, working private club members are increasingly mobile and constantly connected. As a result, they are beginning to expect the same capabilities from their club.
“More and more, we are incorporating business lounge style spaces into our private club designs,” says Charlie Turner, VP/Director of Interior Design at Chambers. “Members want to be at home or at the club—and if they can “work from home” in the comfort of their club, it’s a win-win.” Chambers’ recent renovations at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh include an Executive Lounge complete with WiFi connectivity, individual computer carrels and an open work space with lounge seating and a community table for collaboration. “The space caters to members’ varying business needs. It provides separate secluded spaces if they need a quieter type of work environment, or an area where they can conduct a small meeting,” says Turner. “It gives them flexibility to be productive and at the same time enjoy a truly beautiful atmosphere.”
Similarly, ULCC and Cosmos Club have both made special efforts to identify areas in the Club that members can use as a type of business lounge with internet access. “We’ve taken some of the open areas that were less-utilized and adapted them into areas where members can plug in,” says Tunney. The spaces are heavily utilized and ULCC is continuing to study its facilities to actively identify additional areas that can be converted into this type of work space.
Recently, the team at Cosmos Club saw an opportunity to enhance their connectivity as part of their first-floor renovations. “We realized the ceilings were already going to be exposed due to the construction and felt this was the perfect time to install Wi-Fi on the first floor,” says Mitchell Platt. Cosmos Club already boasts a Writers Room and a Member Work Space that offer members wireless access. Since these spaces are often filled, the club has made it a long-term goal to increase the available square footage in the club for these activities.
Embracing technology in this manner is not only a bonus for current members; it is also an attractive feature for prospective members—especially for the younger generation. ULCC has touted their willingness to adapt to changing times in their club magazine to appeal to a wider audience. “In a recent issue, we included a cover image portraying younger members in their 20s, 30s and 40s who were using tablets,” says Tunney. “This shows that we are adapting to modern times and piques the interest of younger potential members.”
Whether your club is in the midst of renovations, has recently completed capital improvements, or is in the early stages of planning, it’s never too late to start thinking toward the future—and incorporating some of the latest facilities trends in city clubs. “The club has become a place where members want to live, work and play in the same space,” Mitchell Platt wisely states, noting that Cosmos Club is continually analyzing facilities to offer more opportunities for members to do just that.
The recent renovations at Cosmos Club (pictured above) highlight the existing architecture with a fresh aesthetic, neutral paint scheme, and rich millwork. The Main Dining Room has been updated with new finishes and flexible seating, creating an intimate dining experience. A new 1878 Grille Room features a specialty bar with the Club’s own unique craft cocktails, beer and wine on tap, as well as a new wine storage feature and mixture of lounge, dining and communal seating. “It’s become a destination unto itself,” says Platt. “A place where members want to hang out even if they aren’t at the club for a specific program or event.”
The new age of private club design lends itself to looking creatively at club spaces to find ways to reinvent them. “We are always studying areas critically to determine if there may be a better use of a particular space,” says Charlie Turner. “Some changes may be relatively small but can have a huge impact—like introducing bar height communal tables in dining spaces or adding a roof top fire pit.” These additions provide members with an area to congregate and socialize, adding substantial value to their club experience for a moderately low cost. Other times, more substantial changes are required to re-purpose areas for more modern uses.
“Our recent work at Duquesne Club includes a new coffee shop-style lounge area,” Turner explains (pictured below). “This is the perfect place to grab a cup of coffee and pastry in the morning, or meet friends for a cocktail in the evening before dinner. Members didn’t have these options previously and are thoroughly enjoying the flexibility of this multi-purpose space.”
Similarly, incorporating ‘grab-n-go’ facilities can also elevate the member experience by adding to the convenience of the club. This way members have a place to grab a quick bite to eat when they have limited time, encouraging them to ‘stop by’ more often. Many clubs also offer overnight accommodations to provide members with the option for overnight stays for themselves while on travel or for their guests.
And while offering members a wide variety of experiences within the club walls, we must also remember the outdoors! “Members love to be outside,” says Rick Snellinger. “No matter what area of the country, members want to dine and socialize outdoors, so we look to discover unique ways to incorporate those types of spaces.” This could mean featuring open-air courtyards, sidewalk cafés, rooftop dining terraces, garden patios and more.
“We even created an outdoor terrace at The Petroleum Club of Fort Worth, which is located on the 40th floor of a high-rise building,” Snellinger remarks (pictured above). “Our team worked with an engineer to remove the windows from one area of the exterior wall to create an open-air dining terrace overlooking downtown Fort Worth—it’s incredible.” Creating an exceptional outdoor experience is just another way to help your club stand out.
Private clubs are truly special places with unique and deeply personal spaces—but remember, it is a ‘private’ club, not a ‘secret’ club. And though city clubs once had a reputation for being secretive and secluded, many have realized the benefit of being more visible, especially within their community.
ULCC is one such club that has done just that. “Our building is positioned along two very busy streets in Chicago—Jackson Boulevard and Federal Street,” says Tunney. “There are a lot of people who walk down those streets every day and previously had no idea what ULCC was all about. A few years ago, we changed our windows along those streets to incorporate large photos of our events, athletics and involvement with charitable foundations so they know what we do.” This small change has made a big impact in reducing some of the ‘secrecy’ surrounding the club and increasing its exposure without damaging its exclusivity.
Similarly, ULCC will soon be embarking on first floor renovations that will enhance the ‘curb appeal’ of the club. The renovations will open up the Lobby to incorporate more light-filled spaces, allowing more views in from the outside. “The first floor will still be private, but will be more visible to those passing by,” says Tunney. “They’ll see some of what goes on inside and can start to picture themselves having a good time here.” By adapting the club to be more visually inviting, prospective members will continue to become more aware of—and increasingly interested in—club activity, leading them to inquire about what it takes to become a member.
Philanthropic initiatives are also incredibly important for shaping a club’s identity. ULCC is involved with three foundations, including the Boys and Girls Club, which serves over 12,500 Chicago children each year. “These foundations are an integral part of our community and culture,” says Tunney. “Members are involved in contributions and if someone is considering membership at ULCC, they can see we do so many things here that really make an impact.” This offers members an opportunity to give back and support foundations they are interested in, which bolsters the sense of pride members have in their club and its impact on the local community.
The key to longevity for private clubs of all types is to continually adapt to create memorable and valuable member experiences. Whether this takes the form of new programs, amenities, facilities, or policies, the most important aspect of any private club is, of course, its membership. By adapting to meet the unique needs of your particular membership, private city clubs can not only maintain relevancy within members’ lives, but also continue to enhance and enrich them for years to come. Get started today!
How has your club adapted to meet the modern demands of your members? Comment below!