Before he became Club Manager at Victoria (Tex.) Country Club, Chris Stewart worked for one of the large club management companies. There, he was trained to believe—training that was reinforced through a lot of report-writing and spreadsheet-keeping—that the key to success is keeping a firm grip on operating costs.
But now Stewart has discovered what he thinks is the new coin of the realm in the club business: the power, and payoffs, of great ideas.
The out-of-the-gate success of his club’s “Iron Chef Victoria” event, held for the first time last fall, has convinced Stewart that the best way to energize and engage club staffs and memberships is to foster a culture that eliminates traditional barriers about what can and can’t be done in a club setting, and instead encourages bringing more of what’s popular in the “real world” into club activities.
“The idea for our event came from watching the ‘Iron Chef America’ show,” he says. “We knew we could do the same thing at our club—especially after we realized we had two very accomplished chefs among our membership.”
A format was devised to bring the two member chefs, Penny Gietz and Scott McHaney, into the club ballroom on a Friday night (the kitchen was closed for regular dining for two hours). Each chef would be given four assistants and one hour to create three dishes, all using a secret ingredient (corn) that was revealed as the competition began.
Commentators (Stewart and the club’s Executive Chef, Matthew Reid) described the action and engaged the crowd as the competition unfolded. A camera crew was on hand to film everything, enhancing the “live TV” feeling. Following the TV format also made it possible to fill the dead periods when the crews were in the kitchen—and create additional revenue opportunities—by cutting to “commercials” to show messages from sponsors (local banks, auto dealerships and real estate developers) that had been lined up for the event.
As dishes were created, they were brought out to be sampled by three independent judges, and also added to the buffet dinner that attendees were enjoying.
“The members’ reaction to the event was spectacular,” Stewart says. “They couldn’t believe we had speakers, judges and a camera crew. Over 180 people attended [at $50+ a head], and we can’t wait for next year, when we’ll have the winning chef [McHaney] come back to defend his title.”
The event also generated valuable outside exposure and buzz for the club, with coverage in the local paper—including a comment from a club member that “the event brought a feeling of youthfulness to the club, [and showed how] Stewart and Reid are moving the club forward.”
Taking plenty of cues from popular culture has also been the key to the success of what’s become one of the most popular and well-attended member events at the Peninsula Yacht Club, which sits on Lake Norman in Cornelius, N.C.
The club’s “Pirates of the Peninsula” weekend is held in conjunction with its annual Peninsula Cup regatta. It begins on a Friday afternoon with a wide range of activities, including radio-controlled boat races at the pool.
|Victoria Country Club’s “Iron Chef Victoria” event matched two members who are accomplished chefs; 180 people paid $50+ each to watch the competition and sample the resulting dishes.|
|At Peninsula Yacht Club, General Manager Lorraine Ellis Vienne and staff get into the full spirit of the popular “Pirates of the Peninsula” weekend that has greatly increased the bounty to be gained from the club’s annual regatta.|
“Our most popular pirate-related activity is the ‘Golden Treasure Hunt,’ which includes a directional map of the grounds that sends young pirates on a hunt for gold coins,” reports Loraine Ellis Vienne, General Manager.
During the early evening hours on Saturday after the regatta, a “Best Dressed Pirate” costume contest is held, following a hearty and well-displayed “Pirate’s Feast” that includes such exotic dishes as rock shrimp ceviche, conch fritters with pineapple dipping sauce, jerked chicken, curried cod with coconut nage, roast suckling of pig, and whole-spit roasted goat.
Like other clubs, Peninsula has found that the most successful events involve full and equal engagement of members and staff alike. “The staff dressed [in pirate-themed garb], along with the members,” says Vienne, who handmade all the staff’s costumes (see photo, pg. 16) from various thrift store finds, and plans to reuse them in future years.
And, like Victoria CC, Peninsula also found that the excitement surrounding the event made it easy to also generate interest among potential sponsors—in this case, a company that paid for the right to be the exclusive supplier of rum used during the weekend (including for a secret signature drink created especially for the festival, the Stormin’ Norman, that became an instant hit with members).
“This is a great all-around event that could easily be implemented at any club,” says Vienne. “The weekend helps create an awareness around the regatta, which is one of the most important parts of our club’s history. The two events combine to get members involved in a ‘new-old’ tradition, with creative food and drink menus, fun and well-attended activities, and something to do for all ages and demographics—not just sailors, not just kids, and not just adults.”
More compelling testimony on the power of ideas comes from a master: Paul Kornfeind III, General Manager/COO of Tippecanoe Lake Country Club in Leesburg, Ind., who recently completed his Master Club Manager certification to become only the 15th club manager (and the youngest) to earn that designation.
Kornfeind showed his management savvy last fall with a “Build a Scarecrow” contest that boosted a dead period for golf and F&B revenues. “This turned out to be a very low-cost, great family event,” he reports. “The concept was, ‘We supply the hay and the frame—you bring everything else.’ We picked a Sunday afternoon when the Chicago Bears weren’t playing and had families come for a brunch buffet during which kids and their families could build scarecrows, using materials we supplied and frames that our maintenance man had built.
“It didn’t take long for the families to jump in and let their creativity take over,” Kornfeind reports. “And once the scarecrows were built, we arranged them outside the main dining room windows, making a terrific fall display.
“For the following two weeks, every one of the 20 families came back in for dinner with guests, to show off their scarecrows to friends and family members, and especially grandma and grandpa,” he adds. “This really helped us drive up revenues in a month when golf rounds were basically next to zero.
“Great, low-cost family events like these—the materials cost us less than $200—are what can help us attract new members,” Kornfeind adds. “This will now be an annual event here at TLCC.”
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