Making the Most of Your Club’s F&B Department

It is often said that the kitchen is the heart of any private club. A club’s food and beverage department is one of the most important aspects of the private club experience—the one amenity that every member in the club utilizes. And while increasing F&B revenue isn’t a magical solution to improve a club’s financial position, it can certainly help.

When it comes to the bottom line, there are two clear ingredients: revenue and cost. The obvious goal is to increase revenue while reducing costs wherever possible. But this doesn’t necessarily mean increasing prices and cutting back on labor costs or hours of operation. Instead, clubs must implement dining practices that cater to member needs and encourage increased utilization (thereby increasing revenue), and carefully study F&B operational costs to determine opportunities for greater efficiency. Oftentimes, this inefficiency can be found in energy costs associated with the equipment itself.

In the end, augmenting increased utilization with energy savings can make the difference, helping clubs maximize the potential of the F&B department as a whole.

Increasing Utilization

Today’s private club members are on-the-go, spontaneous, well-traveled. Their careers and vacations take them to cities all over the world where they encounter a vast array of cultures and culinary alternatives. It makes sense, then, that they have come to expect a taste of this variety and hub of activity in their own private clubs.

Clubs often feel challenged when they are located in or near a vibrant city where great restaurants seem to be on just about every corner. They wonder how they can compete with the ambiance and latest culinary trends the “downtown” area has to offer.  But those restaurants are missing one very important thing. Something private clubs have that they don’t—a tight-knit membership.

What makes private clubs special is their sense of community and the ability for members to stop by for dinner knowing they’ll bump into a dozen or more of their closest friends and have a great time. And when the staff knows their name and what they like to order, it’s the icing on the cake! The key, then, is to supplement the club’s sense of community with the energetic atmosphere (and exceptional service) they would find at the latest and greatest downtown restaurant.


Responding to Local Restaurants

Take Cosmos Club, for example, located in our nation’s capital. “The country is experiencing a regrowth of the American City,” says general manager Mitchell Platt, “and Washington, D.C. is no different.” He goes on to explain, “There has been a culinary renaissance in this city. In response, we needed a fresh dining experience to be more current and meet our membership’s needs.” As cities continue to grow, private clubs must respond to the evolution of food and beverage offerings by offering more sophisticated menu options, diverse food palettes, and flexible dining spaces.

Mark Tunney, General Manager of the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), agrees. “We are located in a great restaurant city,” says Tunney. “We do not expect members to come to the Club to eat every night. Instead, we try to complement the other restaurants in town rather than compete with them.” To do so, ULCC makes a conscious effort to provide members with options. Menu selections are dynamic and appeal to different age groups. They are also rotated with each season. These tactics help keep members interested and engaged, anxiously waiting to see what new dish the club may have to offer each time they visit.

By creating an ambiance and experience that members desire, the club moves to the top of the members’ “list” of places to consider for dinner, thereby increasing utilization—and revenue. How, then, can clubs reduce their operational costs to help the bottom line?

Utilizing Sustainable Equipment

Anthony Short, Director of Foodservice Design & Equipment at Boelter, advises clubs on the importance of sustainable operations. “Energy isn’t free,” says Short. “It’s a cost of doing business, just like food or labor costs. Often, if we ask a Food & Beverage Manager or Chef how they plan to run a more sustainable operation, they’ll say by ‘reducing food waste’ or ‘sourcing alternative menu ingredients on a just-in-time basis.’ Ask them how to use energy more efficiently, though, and we may see blank stares or suggestions to use more CFL or LED lights. It’s so much more than that.”

Short explains that according to an annual National Restaurant Association survey, the top 10 trends in foodservice for 2017 include concepts such as creating in-house restaurant gardens, using natural or locally-sourced ingredients, incorporating environmental sustainability, and reducing food waste—but not conserving energy. In reality, becoming more energy efficient can add up quickly.

While it is easier for larger clubs (with access to larger budgets) to make full-blown commitments to sustainability, energy efficient strategies can be implemented gradually and in smaller pieces. “Take water and waste water usage, for example,” says Short. “Clubs can conserve water by using low-flow pre-rinse sprays and faucets, dish washers that reuse water from their final rinse tank to the wash tank, or ice makers that use 98% of the water for ice making.”

Other leading energy saving equipment includes on-demand ventilation hoods, auto-closing doors on walk-in coolers, and single back-bar walk-in cooler with sliding windows instead of individual refrigerators—all of which Short advises can be installed at relatively low costs compared to the amount of money they help clubs save.

Incorporating technology in the club’s energy management efforts is another way to save on costs. By integrating club systems and implementing energy-saving tactics such as programming heating and air-conditioning units or installing automatic lights in restrooms, locker rooms and outdoor spaces, incremental savings will begin to add up.


Identifying Energy Saving Opportunities

Some energy-saving methods are as simple as implementing new policies, such as washing only full racks in the dishwasher, reducing the number of burners in use whenever possible, turning lights off in areas that aren’t in use, etc. Other savings opportunities can be detected through regularly scheduled facilities reviews.

“Conducting regular foodservice equipment audits is a great way to identify ‘easy fixes’ that translate into huge savings,” says Short. Food service consultants can help evaluate existing systems and advise of energy savings equipment and methods. Some examples he cites include saving gas by installing charbroil burners with smaller orifices, turning the set point of water heaters from 155°F down to 140°F, and replacing traditional dipper wells that use 45 gallons of water per day with electrically-heated dipper wells that only uses 6 gallons per day.

In addition to auditing and revising policies, Short notes that clubs can contact local utilities to inquire about energy saving incentives that may be available. Many local authorities have energy-focused departments that can offer clubs guidance and advice. According to Short, certain energy trusts may also offer to pay a percentage toward equipment replacement that will save energy or water.

Short also cites Energy Star as a great resource for clubs to identify which pieces of equipment may be in need replacement, and the Green Restaurant Association as a source for club leaders and theirs F&B teams to learn more about ways to save energy. In the end, anything a club can do to incrementally reduce its carbon footprint is a good thing—every little bit helps.

Communicating Goals

There are many ways to reduce energy costs and increase member utilization; however, in order to reach the full potential of your F&B department, it takes a team effort. Club leaders must be sure to communicate their specific F&B goals for quality, service and efficiency with the staff and involve them in collaborative decision-making processes so that everyone is working toward a common objective—an extraordinary member dining experience that keeps members coming to the club time and time again.

If members are served an exceptional meal but it is accompanied by lackluster service, or they enjoy a vibrant and energetic atmosphere but the food quality doesn’t live up to the same standard, they may begin to dine at other local restaurants where they have more confidence in the food quality and atmosphere. Instead, club leaders must encourage their teams to work together—in the dining room and behind the kitchen doors—to deliver a member dining experience that positions the club as a ‘top-choice’ destination.


How are you working to maximize your food and beverage department? Comment below!

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