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With our clubs in the south easing into their slow season and clubs in the north ramping up for their busiest time of the year, it’s safe to say that spring is a time of transition for clubs. Transition periods aren’t always easy, but they offer the perfect opportunity for growth and renewal. In fact, spring is the ideal time to think a little more deeply about your club’s F&B operations. This prospect may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
I’ve said it a lot in this column, but it’s worth reiterating: Managers don’t need to have all of the ideas, but they do need to know where to find them. One of the best ways to do that is to turn to specialists, both within the club industry and outside of it.
Here are a few resources that will help you make the most out of your F&B department and reinvent the way your club creates a fabulous dining experience for members.
You don’t have to look far for F&B inspiration. Developing strong relationships with other clubs in your area is important—even if you’re competing for the same membership. Local clubs have a special understanding of your area’s unique characteristics and how to meet the regionally-specific needs of members (both current and potential). Get a feel for the kind of events they’re hosting and what kind of menus they’re creating. Talk to other managers to better understand how they handle operational challenges in their F&B departments and how they keep things fresh. Picasso once said that “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” This piece of wisdom applies to the art of running a club as well. Look to other clubs in your area and identify menus, events, and facilities that you can use in your own F&B department. Once you’ve found some ideas you like, adapt them to your membership’s specific needs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $3,008 dining out per year. Now more than ever, it’s important to keep your menu unique and interesting. It’s not just about rotating your menu on a regular (and preferably seasonal) basis—it’s about reaching out to all of the culinary specialists you have at your disposal. One way to keep your menu interesting is to invite guest chefs to the club that will create a special menu for a night or two, giving your club’s F&B offerings a different kind of flavor and atmosphere. Reach out to seasoned chefs with whom you’ve developed good relationships with over the years, or even offer opportunities to beloved chefs at local restaurants in the area.
Running out of seasonal menu ideas? Look to the gardening enthusiasts among your membership and pick their brains for seasonal menu ideas that can be plucked straight from the ground. You could even start a garden on the club’s property if you have the resources to maintain it. This has the added bonus of piggybacking on growing sustainability trends. Andrea Curthoys, Assistant General Manager at The Beach Club in Santa Monica, even recommends making a club garden into a junior program activity. In a sense, starting a gardening program at your club is the gift that keeps on giving!
Although the chef may be your culinary expert, they don’t need to design the club’s menu alone. They might understand how to create stellar seasonal selections that showcase the latest trends, but they may not be an expert in design. To create a truly show-stopping menu, recruit graphic designers and professional writers to help. Want to get even more specialized? Find designers and professional writers that have an intimate understanding of culinary marketing and fully grasp the science behind designing menus.
For example, an expert menu designer will understand that many diners skip appetizers to make room for dessert. This is why it’s best practice to put dessert selections on a different menu. It creates an element of surprise and encourages members to order a full three courses during dinner. While it may not always be a manager or chef’s area of expertise, a seasoned menu design pro will understand how to craft a menu that not only sells more plates, but also creates a better overall dining experience that works in conjunction with your club’s overall brand.
Your wine and spirits vendors are a must-have resource in your F&B arsenal—and not just for supplying libations. Wine vendors will often offer education courses to wait staff that artfully explain the science (and art) behind wine tasting and selling. These education sessions can be essential for helping staff be successful in their careers and helps create a more comprehensive dining experience for members.
On a similar note, you might have heard that craft cocktails are all the rage right now. The more your drink menu is in-tune with these trends, the better offerings you can provide to members. Giving bartenders specific training on how to mix better cocktails using fresh ingredients will create a more diversified drink menu while developing your staff professionally. Many liquor distributors and wholesalers can also help you design on-trend craft drinks to add to your club menu. Some distributors even offer mixology courses for club staff, helping them become more well-rounded and advance in their hospitality careers.
Bringing in a team of private club service specialists to develop your F&B staff is a great way to develop your team and expose them to new ideas. Many club service specialists like RCS Hospitality Group offer one-day service boot camps that provide on-site training to stimulate new thoughts and ideas about working in hospitality. This can be especially useful when trying to unify cross-purpose F&B teams or multi-generational teams. It’s important not to forget about your back-of-house staff as well. Members may not interact with back-of-house staff as often, but dysfunction inside the kitchen impacts service outside of the kitchen. There are numerous consulting services that can help you improve back-of-house service, operations, and collaboration. Mike Holtzman of Profitable Food Facilities leverages his F&B experience to train back-of-house staff, teach them about growing industry trends and best practices, and enhance club F&B operations overall.
Whether you’re focusing on front-of-house or back-of-house staff, many service boot camps focus on “internal service”; a concept rarely touched on in the average private club’s training and onboarding process. Internal service training allows your staff to better understand how all of the club’s departments impact one another and work together to accomplish common goals. When your staff members understand how each department interconnects and how they can better serve each other, they will naturally begin to work together in a more respectful and coordinated way to create a better service experience for members.
Club associations like CMAA offer loads of club-specialized resources for managers and their F&B staffs. CMAA members can have access to a Club Resource Center for around $1,000 a year, which provides numerous training and certification programs for everyone ranging from wait staff to club managers. The Club Resource Center even has a staff training feature that allows managers to monitor staff members’ progress in each course, which not only helps your staff develop professionally, but also creates a general sense of camaraderie outside of a few on-site training sessions or one-day service boot camps. In general, CMAA puts valuable, club-specialized tools at your disposal and allows you to easily access a network of other club managers and specialists that can help you get creative with operational solutions in your F&B department and beyond.
No matter what business you’re in—whether it’s club management or club planning and design—you can always utilize the specialists around you to take your ideas to a higher level. This fact is top-of-mind for me, personally. As a veteran club manager, I collaborate daily with Chambers’ planners, architects and designers; working together to combine my club management experience and knowledge of club operations with their expertise in designing spaces that meet member needs and incorporate industry trends. We continuously look to each other for advice, and our ideas are always strengthened because of the different angles each of us bring to the table. Even to write this article, I’ve worked with our Director of Creative Services and a freelance writer to help convey my ideas.
My point? You always want to be building your future in the right direction, and often that involves building your team in the right direction. No matter what industry you’re in, take the time to reach out to the right people—the kind of people that can take your ideas and make them sharper, stronger, and more effective.
What kind of specialists would elevate your F&B operations? Have you found a certain kind of specialist helpful?