5 Tried-and-True Best Practices for Club F&B Programs

A recent presentation by Club Benchmarking highlighted food and beverage as the top member-value proposition for most clubs. But as illustrated by other articles in the Fall 2023 issue of Club Trends (see p. 6), F&B is also the leading source of dissatisfaction registered in member surveys.

This conundrum is exactly what differentiates club F&B programs from golf or tennis. Club members expect they can arrive without a reservation and still be seated, or that the way they would like a menu item to be deconstructed will always be remembered. But these expectations—or as the members see them, requirements—to meet personalized needs can often compromise the delivery of the product.


In hotel management, these are called an anticipation of needs, and recorded as individual preferences before or after a stay at a property. They are also documented in a company-wide reservation system. Experiencing the benefits of these practices as they travel the world only adds to members’ expectations to get the same treatment at their clubs.

Unfortunately, clubs don’t traditionally have the same sort of systems in place as major hotel chains, or the ability to make the needed capital investments to install them. This leaves the reality that member preferences and needs are often not recognized or addressed until the diner is standing at the hostess stand, or after they’re already seated.

The greatest conundrum is that while food is a very powerful emotion, what a member wants isn’t always reality. The good news, though, is that most of what club members want and enjoy as they dine really hasn’t changed in years. Much of what’s expected and seen as individual preferences can be defined and anticipated through a proper combination of traditional norms and emerging cultural realities.

Here are five tried-and-true traits that will serve every club well if they are properly embedded in their food-and-beverage programs, to consistently meet and satisfy the range of preferences and expectations that exists within their memberships:

  1. Authenticity

    It’s no longer good enough to just have a “global” dish on the menu. Clubs need to describe and present that dish or service through authentic ingredients and service touches in a theater-like structure. You must make the member feel as though they are actually visiting the location and sharing its culture.

    Even classic items like curry have taken on new meaning. That yellow spice sitting in the back of Mom’s spice rack can now be green, red, blue or have other regional-specific characteristics. Using the proper mixtures also defines what protein might be used, which vegetables have global origins and even from where the dish originates. This same sort of lineage has moved to every ingredient, from cheese to chocolate.

  2. Consistency

    This is the most humbling and challenging trait to achieve. While it’s not the leading factor in defining what makes a great meal or dining experience, consistency, which frequently emerges in surveys as the top source of member dissatisfaction with F&B, is key to developing trust and moving a dining program’s acceptance to greater heights.

    Consistency applies to more than having the temperature and taste of soups or steaks satisfy the right sensory expectations. Every diner also has an expectation of the right portion for the price. While clubs will never move to including pictures with their menus, a reason behind the sustained success of Denny’s or The Cheesecake Factory is the expectation their picture menus create, as well as the guidance those photos provide for the staff that must prepare and serve those items.

    Clubs need to find ways to satisfy what a member will expect to be served without regressing to pictures. Precise menu descriptions and very knowledgeable servers will help meet members’ expectations for whatever dish they choose.

  3. Repeatable Learnings

    Everyone enjoys being exposed to new things and getting educated on their own terms. When dining at a club, members love coming away from something new they learned about the source of ingredients or the origin of a dish that they can then share with friends. The F&B world is filled with such learnings, and it’s the responsibility of club professionals to uncover those unique stories and keep them front and center as part of a club’s dining agenda.

    For example, while some may know how grapes are grown, do they know the story of the farmer who buries quartz into the ground around the vines of his bio-dynamic offerings? Learning more about the process of how something is made, how it has evolved and how it has become part of a specific culture can help give ownership to how food feels, tastes, smells and is experienced. Many of these learnings can also become the basis for launching do-it-yourself or children’s programs that further engage members.

  4. Simplicity

    One of the most unique aspects of a club membership is that it spans such a wide range of age groups and generations, but that same characteristic poses special challenges for the F&B program. When the range of ages stretches from four to 94, simple norms like house salads, club sandwiches and regional soups take on added importance.

    Regardless of what dietary mood a member may be in, keeping a few club classics that are readily available and consistent in their appeal will always present a strong backup plan. And if they’re twists on old favorites for which a club has developed a unique presentation or flavor, that can only add to their value as a storytelling opportunity and special source of pride for members.

    Another key aspect of simplicity is making sure classic dishes arrive at members’ tables in familiar, recognizable forms that don’t jar expectations, unless new descriptions or titles have been assigned to them to describe how they’ve been changed. That’s why burgers now merit their own category on menus, stretching from all-beef to vegetarian with various sides. But one should never serve the hamburger bun on the side or with baked fries instead of fried, unless those distinctions have been made clear.

  5. Timeliness

    Thanks to wireless connections, speed is valued currency in many lives. Especially as their membership ranks have swelled in recent years, clubs must figure out ways to feed large amounts of people quickly, in great style and with extreme quality.

    This has ramped up interest in how to integrate more grab-and-go and self-service options into club dining without compromising member satisfaction. To accomplish this, clubs must be uber-organized to properly cook, package and deliver items in this fashion without disappointing expectations for proper variety, quality and speed.

    With its individualized packaging, beautiful display counters and efficient touches such as condiment sourcing, Starbucks has created and sustained a great example of self-service options that meet performance expectations. Clubs have the opportunity to build on the concept by also turning yesterday’s tired buffets into action cooking spaces that are set up across dining venues to offer individualized culinary portions. In this way, grab-and-go doesn’t really have to be viewed as a new trend, but as an upscaled extension of the type of self-service that has been around since we first ate at our own dining room table or moved through a school lunch line.

Beyond these five traits, staying at the forefront of member expectations also calls for clubs to remain ready to respond to other trending fads, as well as new dietary or even social movements. The foundation for members’ dining satisfaction, however, will always be formed by accurately delivering F&B products as promised, with quality ingredients at an expected price or portion, and through service that affords proper respect to diners and their time. Clubs that can build and maintain this foundation will gain the trust and loyalty from members that will be reflected by the proper measure of satisfaction with their F&B operations.

Club Trends – Fall 2023

Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC, ECM is a Certified Master Chef and Search & Consulting Executive for KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE. He is also Executive in Charge of the Club Leadership Alliance Food & Beverage Experience Network. Prior to joining KK&W and CLA, Lawrence served as General Manager/COO of the 146-year-old Union Club of Cleveland. His impressive 30-year career spans the globe with roles in Hong Kong and Singapore as well as some iconic operations state-side, including The Greenbrier, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, The Ritz Carlton Company and The Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Annette Whittley, is a food and beverage training consultant and search executive with Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries.