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Focus on the Fundamentals to Improve Your Food & Beverage Operations

Focus-on-the-Fundamentals-to-Improve-Your-Club's-Food-&-Beverage-Operations

It is the most common complaint I hear working with private club board members. “We need to improve the food and beverage service at our club.”

Notice I did not say the “profitability,” although that benefit is sometimes inherent in well-managed club dining facilities.

How can you improve the food and beverage operations at your club? The answer is easier than you might think and begins with the fundamentals.

A few years ago, a national survey of restaurant patrons revealed the three primary reasons customers returned regularly to their favorite restaurant. The results will probably surprise you, but if you consider your dining out experiences, I think your habits will corroborate the data.

Private clubs can certainly find good applications from the survey results. These three fundamental findings should be the basis for every good private club’s food and beverage operations:

A warm greeting. The number one reason people cited for returning to a particular restaurant was a warm greeting upon arrival. This greeting is not the standard “canned approach” from a well-intentioned but robotic host or hostess but a sincere and warm greeting, usually by a senior manager or owner of the establishment.

Additionally, the greeter usually knows the party’s name and will be perspicacious enough to recognize if the regular patron has guests accompanying them. Can we replicate this in the private club business? Absolutely. In spades.

Since most clubs request reservations, the greeter and seater should know not only the members’ names but also if they have guests. What an opportunity to make an impression upon the member with a very warm and engaging greeting which includes the use of the members name; and if done in front of guests…wow!

A fond farewell. The second reason people gave for supporting their favorite restaurant was knowing that their business was appreciated. This is accomplished while the patron is leaving the restaurant and the greeter, manager or owner thanks the customer for visiting the restaurant and expresses the desire to see them again.

This is not the usual “goodbye now” that most of us experience (if we are lucky and catch the hostess on a good day) in the chain restaurants as we fumble for a toothpick and mint. The best restaurateurs take a few minutes while their patrons are leaving to ensure that their experience was enjoyable and sincerely extend the invitation to visit again when their special table will be awaiting them.

Clean restrooms and good food. There was a tie for third in the survey. Customers were adamant about dining in “clean facilities,” and their primary way of evaluating the “housekeeping” in a restaurant is usually a result of a visit to the restroom.

My rule of thumb when frequenting fast-food restaurants during my travels is to walk into the men’s room before I order food. I know that the same person who cleans the restrooms also cleans the kitchen and, more importantly, the “cleanliness philosophy” of the manager who oversees that restaurant is evident in the restroom.

Good food tied for third with clean restrooms. Surprised? Not me. I like good food, and I tend to go to restaurants where I know the quality will be consistent. But I will avoid the establishments whose rankings in our local paper don’t earn an “A” ranking from the city health department.

In the private club environment, consistency and quality will provide a strong magnet to attract members to your club. If you combine consistently good food with the top three fundamentals of a warm welcome, a fond farewell and clean facilities, you can’t help but increase the use of your club dining rooms. This much I know for sure.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINEMay/June 2024

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.

Focus on the Fundamentals to Improve Your Food & Beverage Operations2024-06-04T20:39:43+00:00

Membership Privileges? WHAT THE #@*$%& ARE YOU THINKING???

Membership Privileges? WHAT THE #@*$%& ARE YOU THINKING???

In the course of working with club boards and search committees to identify and retain professional executive leadership (GM/CEs) for their clubs, our firm typically conducts a market compensation analysis and assists in the final agreement negotiations with the successful candidate.

I’m continually amazed at how many seemingly competent managers expect membership privileges for themselves and often their families as part of the “normal” benefits provided to them. Where does this entitlement expectation come from?

Some years ago at a club I was hired to manage, one of the first operational standards defined for management and the employee team stated in no uncertain terms that “no employee of the club, including management, will be allowed to consume alcohol on club property.”

Our golf professional staff had been in the habit of playing golf with the members and then having drinks and sometimes engaging in card games after they finished playing golf.

There could be no good end to this story, so I explained to the head pro and his assistants that they should continue their golf games with the members but there would no longer be any consumption of alcohol or participation at the gin table. This standard was endorsed by the club’s board, as board members had realized that some golf employees were acting more like members than employees.

A recently terminated general manager who contacted us had lost the board’s trust not because of his lack of ability but because of the activities of his wife and kids at the pool.

It seems that with his family’s daily use of the pool, his spouse had earned a reputation among employees as “the most difficult member.” Additionally, his two children were entered in all of the swim club events and expected to travel to events at other clubs as though they were children of club members. There could be no good end to that story and there wasn’t. 

Sometimes a club president will suggest to the general manager that they should participate in the golf and social events at the club with their spouse. The subliminal message to the manager: “You are one of us.” Well, the reality is the manager/spouse is not “one of them.” Likewise, there can be no good end to this story.

In one instance, the club general manager and his wife won a couples golf event and then the problems really began.

A perspicacious general manager will politely decline invitations to participate regularly in club events and instead play golf on Monday or whatever day the club allows employees to play.

That doesn’t mean that, on occasion, the general manager should not participate if asked to play with a group of members or at the annual board tournament. However, there should never be a perception that “our manager is on the course again today” or, even worse, “they’re playing with their regular group of members on Saturday morning.”

There can be no possible good emanating from general managers and their families becoming active participants and users of club facilities. Not only do employee/member lines become blurred for the general managers but there can also be frustration at the staff level as employees struggle with the “are they employees or members” issue.

This entitlement thinking can undermine any of the positives that a quality general manager may be providing the club because of how emotionally charged this issue can become. It provides fodder for the “bridge ladies” and is the hot topic at the “round table” in the club grille.

Successful club general managers have set clear standards for themselves and their employees when it comes to socializing at the club. These standards recognize that while general managers may, on occasion, enjoy club privileges, they are not entitled to the same membership privileges purchased by their employers, the members.

If they don’t understand that distinction, there can be no good ending to this story.

This much I know for sure.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINEMarch/April 2024

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.

Membership Privileges? WHAT THE #@*$%& ARE YOU THINKING???2024-04-26T19:12:15+00:00

It Was a Rocky Start But It Ended Well

Country-Club-It-Was-A-Rocky-Start-But-It-Ended-Well

Legend has it that trouble often comes when you least expect it. And that’s what happened at our annual meeting, where the new slate of board members was elected.

Our board members were selected the old-fashioned way: They ran for their positions against two or often three other candidates for each open seat on the board. Thankfully those days are past, and the majority of clubs now select their leaders through a nominated slate of qualified club members.

Earl, known in the club as a “problematic” member, was surprisingly elected the new club treasurer even though most current board members favored the other candidate. I was also disappointed since I thought the other candidate would have been much easier to work with.

My concerns became a reality when the day after the annual meeting election, Earl walked into my office at 8 a.m. Upon closing the door, he said that since he was the new club treasurer, there would be some immediate changes in our operations.

He told me that he wanted all bank statements mailed directly to his office and not to the club. He also said he was directing me to freeze employee increases or promotions. And he also wanted to see the past annual written reviews I had given all of our department managers. Somewhat in a state of shock, I asked Earl to sit down and immediately called our club president, who happened to live a few blocks from the club. Since he was still at home, I asked him to come to the club to address a rather urgent situation that had developed with Earl and me. He said he was on the way.

Ray, our club president, arrived within 10 minutes, and I briefed him on Earl’s directives to me as Earl listened. Ray then turned to him and said, “Earl, none of that is going to happen. You need to understand that you are a part-time volunteer and Dick is our full-time general manager who directs all day-to-day operations. As treasurer, you are certainly welcome to make recommendations to the board, but you will not involve yourself in operational issues. Understood?”

I could tell that Earl was a little miffed as he left my office, and Ray then gave me some good advice. He said that Earl would be the club treasurer for the next two years. Following that, he would serve as vice president for two years before assuming the role of president for two years. Ray counseled me to educate Earl on how his role as treasurer could benefit the club by tapping into his vast business expertise. “Dick, if you get to know what makes him tick, I know you can turn him into a supporter of yours rather than a detractor.”

I took Ray’s advice to heart and started the following week by calling Earl and asking to meet him at his office. He said he would be happy to meet. He was going to be at the club later in the day, and we could meet after he played golf. I told him it was important for me to meet him at his office and not at the club.

As I sat down in his office, I asked him what I call the “can opener question.” I said, “Earl now that you are the new club treasurer, I was wondering how I might improve my communications with you?”

He sat back, paused for a moment and then began to tell me a few of the issues that had been bothering him at the club. That was exactly what I needed to know. All relatively minor yet important to him and his wife, and easy to resolve.

I then noticed his Notre Dame diploma hanging on his office wall. My brother-in-law graduated from Notre Dame so we immediately started talking about their storied football program.

Earl then said, “Let me show you around our little company.” As we walked the floor through his rather impressive printing and graphics business, he introduced me to every employee along the way. It was obvious they respected and genuinely enjoyed working with him. That was the “soft side” to Earl I had never seen.

Our relationship improved dramatically after that meeting. I assisted Earl in his role as treasurer, and he relished the spotlight as we had a couple of very good years financially during his tenure. He was a great vice president and became one of the best presidents I ever worked with. After I left the club, he continued to reach out to me every so often to see how I was doing.

What I learned from my experience with Earl is that if you take a proactive role in finding out what makes your critics “tick,” as Ray suggested, you can often turn a rocky start into a positive, productive relationship. This much I know for sure.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINEJanuary/February 2024

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.

It Was a Rocky Start But It Ended Well2024-04-09T21:12:16+00:00

The Three Worst Career Tips I Have Ever Heard

The Three Worst Career Tips I Have Ever Heard

The first bad piece of advice I heard was: “Find a job you are passionate about, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

What a crock that is. And yet, how often do we hear it from misguided charlatans who have more experience hawking their latest “self-help book” than actually working in any profession?

Please, be passionate about your family, your friends, your health, your home, your hobbies, your vacations, and your faith, but keep your job in perspective. Yes, there are days when we all love what we do, but let’s be realistic and understand that some days are not great. At times, we become frustrated, irritated, upset, and ready to “walk away,” which is normal.

I have enjoyed many days of managing private clubs and often celebrated with my employees, and at times my members, when all was going well. But there were also downtimes. Having to terminate a popular employee and not being able to share the reason with the membership comes to mind. As does wrangling with that unreasonable board member who had a personal agenda. And I can’t forget the times when some members would never be happy no matter how we attempted to solve their imaginary problems.

Working in the private club executive search business the second half of my career has also been rewarding most of the time. I like helping great candidates succeed with their careers and club search committees find the best executive talent for their clubs. However, there can often be the search committee “outlier” who never believes any of the candidates possess the talent necessary for their “unique club,” so why don’t we just start the process all over? Oy vey! Those are the times when I thought about going back into club management. Well, maybe for a moment or two.

The second worst piece of advice is one that I ignored late in my career, and as a result, I learned a painful lesson. It suggests that when you ponder new career opportunities, always take the job that offers the most money.

While I was working happily in a great job, with an outstanding management team, at a world-class facility, an executive recruiter approached me with a “once-in-a-lifetime offer.” I was reluctant to look at the opportunity, but the financial and benefits package was significantly more than my current position provided. Even though there were flashing caution signs about the culture of this new company, the dollar signs dancing in my eyes were too strong to ignore. What a mistake.

It didn’t take more than a few weeks to realize the magnitude of my misjudgment. There was a total misalignment of my values and what my boss believed. My management philosophy has always been member-centric, and I firmly believe that high member satisfaction will translate into a healthy
financial result for the club. That concept was foreign to my new employer, who focused on driving bottom-line profits with little or no regard for member experiences. Thankfully, I exited on terms acceptable to both of us. After that debacle, I clearly understood that no amount of money can compensate for a miserable work environment, and I didn’t make that mistake again.

The third piece of bad advice I hear too often is: “Once you find balance in your work and personal life you will be happy.” Forget it. There will never be balance in private club careers. I always tell general managers that instead of looking for balance they need to create “harmony” with their career and personal life.

Some workdays may stretch beyond what you anticipated, and others might allow some unexpected time away from the club. The key is to ensure that you and your family understand the nature of the business, what it requires and when your family members can expect you to give them the quality time they deserve. If you have alignment with the expectations of your employer and with your family and friends, you can withstand the demands of your work life and truly enjoy your time away from the club. Harmony is the goal.

Don’t get me wrong. I have built great friendships with teammates and members over the years, and many have become lifelong friends. I was fortunate to experience many projects and turnarounds that I was excited about, and there isn’t a club where I worked that I don’t hold dear. These fond memories have become part of the fabric of my life.

The private club world can provide you with an outstanding career if you remember to focus on your priorities. You should reserve your passion for family, friends and what is truly important in your life. Don’t ever seek a new opportunity because of the flashing dollar signs, and always strive to bring some harmony into your work and personal life. This much I know for sure.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINENovember/December 2023

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.

The Three Worst Career Tips I Have Ever Heard2024-05-16T21:20:47+00:00

The Three Biggest Myths About Private Club Governance

The Three Biggest Myths About Private Club Governance

A club president recently asked about common practices I observe at clubs that I would correct if I could. I told him about three typical behaviors I call the “myths of good club governance.”

The first: The board needs an “executive session” at the end of every board meeting, with the general manager excluded. Bad practice, a terrible idea and unsustainable in the long run if the club wants professional management.

Either board members believe they have a trusted partner in their general manager or they don’t. You can’t be half-pregnant on this issue. When you hold a portion of each board meeting without the general manager/COO, you signal to everyone in the club a need for a “secret discussion” without the key paid leader present. No good end can come of this.

Most capable general managers/COOs will begin to update their resumes if that happens at their clubs, with good reason. Why would they want to work with board members who do not trust them completely?

The private club is filled with “he said/she said” gossip. This feeds the rumor mill and gives fodder to the “barking dogs” in the club to undermine the general manager/COO. It is a bad practice. Get rid of it.

The second: Have multiple candidates for several open board positions. The days of “popularity contests” should be over in private clubs, and nominating committees should present the same number of recommended candidates as there are open seats on the board.

Most successful private clubs with which we work have adapted the model almost every successful business uses to nominate board members. This practice allows clubs to benefit from the best talent rather than take a chance on electing “barking dogs” because they have campaigned effectively.

The third: Expecting club amenities to produce a profit for the club. I often quote Phil Newman from the RSM accounting firm, who once said, “Private club budgets need to be driven from the top down in the sense that there is a collected group of people with common interests who want to enjoy certain amenities and they decide what they are willing to pay to enjoy those amenities. Contrast that to a typical business where the budget is driven from the bottom up or totally reliant on selling a product or service to produce revenue.”

Private club boards often expect food and beverage or pro shop merchandise or swimming pool fees to “carry” the budget for the year and take pressure off the dues line. Flawed thinking. If those amenities can contribute to the bottom line, that’s a bonus. But don’t plan your business or operational budget based on those departments producing revenue that should come from the dues line.

The club wasn’t created to make money. It exists to provide certain amenities for like-minded people who understand that the financial basis for the club resides in the dues and fees charges, not in how much money the kitchen can make on a hamburger.

If I could only wave the “magic wand” and eliminate those three myths in the private club world, I think some clubs would focus on what is truly important. Board members, general managers/COOs and club members would do better if those three myths went away for good. This much I know for sure.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINESeptember/October 2023

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.

The Three Biggest Myths About Private Club Governance2023-10-19T19:49:29+00:00

Gravitas – If You Don’t Have It, You Can Learn It

Gravitas: If You Don’t Have It, You Can Learn It

It was one of those hot, humid nights in Minnesota when the air conditioning in my small office was simply not capable of keeping me cool.

My sleeves were rolled up and I was sweating (literally) while working on the budget projections for next year.

I suddenly realized that it was 6:30 p.m. and our Tuesday Twilight nine-hole member group would be in the middle of enjoying dinner. It was also one of the weeks when members would invite guest couples to join the event.

I walked into the dining room…directly to my club president’s table and he introduced me to his guests. I then worked my way around the dining room and greeted members and their guests at all of the other tables.

As I walked back to my office, I felt certain that I had made a good impression, not only because I greeted every member table but also because I took the time to talk to their guests. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

When my club president, Mr. Rosenbaum, walked into my office for our typical meeting the following Saturday morning he was rather direct.

“Dick, do you understand what the word gravitas means?” he asked. I told him I did not. He then explained to me that the word was from the Latin word gravis, meaning serious and that Webster defined the word as dignity, seriousness or solemnity of manner.

But, he added, “I also think it represents how someone will comport his or herself and whether they demonstrate ‘class and grace’ in their social and professional interactions.

“When you walked into the dining room last Tuesday evening, your tie was loosened, your sleeves were rolled up and you were perspiring, which was even evident on your shirt. You appeared totally disheveled; the exact opposite of gravitas and I was actually embarrassed for you and for the club when you introduced yourself to my guests.

“While you clearly demonstrated a lack of gravitas last Tuesday, you can certainly learn how to develop that executive presence in the future.”

Then he shared three characteristics with me that he believed were key to exhibiting gravitas. While I might have heard some of these and other tips before, I decided that I would focus on the three he suggested.

The first is personal appearance. “Dick when we see you at the club, we expect to see someone professionally dressed who looks like they are in control,” he said. From that day on I never appeared in the club dining room without my sport coat or suit coat and the rest of the management team followed my example. Mr. Rosenbaum also said that part of appearance is body language with good posture and slow and measured movement.

The second is how you speak and the language that you use. He told me the best way to communicate was to ask questions and listen, instead of talking about myself.

“The best conversationalists learn more about the person they have just met than they share about themselves,” he suggested. “It is a great way to honor and respect the person you are talking to. When you slow down your speech you can say more by saying less and your comments will carry more weight,” he continued.

The third is how you act. Instead of moving around a room in an agitated fashion, slow down and take your time as you leisurely yet purposely stop to engage in conversation with people.

“Quite frankly, Dick, the way you were rushing around the dining room last Tuesday we thought maybe something was wrong. You seemed nervous and out of control,” Mr. Rosenbaum added.

I think we have all encountered people who seem to have that special “charisma” or “gravitas” and through the years I’ve observed that they will typically exhibit all three of the characteristics that Mr. Rosenbaum shared with me.

They will always seem to be the best dressed person in the room. They tend to ask more questions and listen attentively while speaking succinctly when it is their turn. And finally, since people tend to gather around them, they seem to move around a room at a very measured pace.

I’m not certain that I will ever achieve the level of gravitas that I see in so many people I admire but I will always work on the three tips Mr. Rosenbaum shared with me.

This much I know for sure. 

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINEJuly/August 2023

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.

Gravitas – If You Don’t Have It, You Can Learn It2023-09-13T18:49:50+00:00
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