Any club can afford cash bonuses and other training incentives that can lead to better service, more professional and motivated staff, and higher-quality food.
In my last editorial in the February 2018 issue of C&RB, I said it would probably be my last column discussing issues with club food and beverage. Well, it wasn’t!
I just returned from our 10th annual Chef to Chef Conference, held March 6-8 at the Westin Seattle, and came back filled with ideas, suggestions, and observations on overall club F&B operations, and some of them are worth repeating here (for full coverage of the event, click here).
First of all, it was almost universal among the chefs attending the Conference that the front of the house (FOH) has some serious problems, especially in today’s economy. Finding, paying, and training good wait staff has always been difficult, but it has become even more challenging with so many job opportunities now available in all foodservice sectors. The club industry is going to have to come to terms with the wages necessary to pay staff, and then pay it.
As I have said in previous editorials, a fixed gratuity or service charge is not the answer. But at the Chef to Chef Conference, I heard something I had never thought of: When the gratuity is fixed, there is no incentive among the wait staff to encourage upgrades of dinner orders to include more expensive specials, desserts or other add-ons.
Training (or the lack thereof) was a universal theme at the Conference. But I heard a great idea from Todd Walline, Executive Chef/Director of Food & Beverage at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Mo. To train his seasonal wait staff, Walline conducts ten sessions at four hours each on all aspects of proper FOH activities. The staff is paid during the sessions—but the kicker is that at the successful end of the process, all staff members who attended all of the sessions receive a $150 bonus for completing the training.
Let’s be frank: Any club can afford something like this, and the only thing that happens is that the service gets better, and the staff becomes more professional and motivated. Further, when the service gets better, so does the quality of the food.
Overall, the chefs in attendance in Seattle were quite upbeat about club dining. Quality is on the upswing and creativity is the best in the culinary industry. More than half (34) of the 67 Certified Master Chefs in the U.S. are club chefs, and increasingly, clubs are recognizing that they must be the dining destination of choice, not obligation. And they are doing most of the things necessary to achieve this.
With all the concern about the FOH, we at C&RB are considering creating a conference just for that segment, focusing on club F&B managers. We would like to hear from you about the need and feasibility of such an event. If there is enough interest, we would put together a steering committee of F&B managers, develop an agenda, and with enough interest, we could put it on as early as next year.
It’s worth noting that our first Chef to Chef Conference, in Las Vegas in 2009, had 54 club chefs in attendance. In Seattle this year, we had over 220. We think the same thing can happen for the front of the house. Let us know what you think.