Sending a frank and proactive message to members about the realities of today’s staffing issues has gone a long way in setting a supportive stage for a Florida club’s new season.
By Robert D. Podley, CCM, CAM, Club General Manager, The Club at the Dunes in Naples, Fla.
The oft-said “motivator” in our industry is that we are only as good as our last shift—or in F&B, only as good as our last meal. There is a tendency among people in general (and not just members) to focus on the negative. We can do 100 things right, but we will be remembered more for the one thing we did wrong—and especially, in our business, if that one thing happened to a high-profile member.
Current world dynamics have flipped much of what we know on its head and forced the industry to adapt at a record pace. With no end to the COVID-19 crisis seemingly in sight, and its toll on the mental well-being of all becoming increasingly apparent, perhaps it’s time we go to work on not only improving the tangible aspects of our operation, but also driving change in the way situations are approached by our club leaders and by the members themselves.
When a difficult interaction occurs, it can be easy to be dismissive and imply that those on our team just need tougher skin—because after all, that’s how many of us came up in the industry, and perhaps even part of why we excelled. But that brings us dreadfully close to the “That’s the way it’s always been” path. Does it need to continue to be like that, or is there a better way?
Here is a recent letter that I sent to our membership as our new season began, to reinforce the commitment that all of us at The Club at the Dunes have already made to go about changing this dynamic.
“‘Practice Kindness.’ It’s the simple motto Troon has preached over the years, and it’s placed at the bottom of all our club associates’ e-mail signatures. It’s simple, yes—but one of increasing importance in today’s environment. It is also a virtue that tends to be forgotten quickly in times of heightened stress. Too often the people we care about the most are not spared; even worse, they may even be the first to feel the wrath.
We are all humans, and currently we are all experiencing arguably the strangest times in over 100 years. The “C word” has not only impacted a breathtaking number of lives physically, but it continues to exact a mental toll on the population of the world that will likely never be fully understood or appreciated.
If “Ghostbusters 2” (a solid 3-out-of-5-stars movie from 1989) were non-fiction, the Earth would conceivably be covered in that spooky, stress-fed, pink slime by now. And as an industry that is reliant on people and is heavily impacted by their moods, hospitality would likely be contributing to the growth of that pink slime significantly more so than any other.
We have all seen article after article and news clip after news clip talking about the hiring shortages across the country—and in particular, within restaurants. The hiring environment is more challenging than ever.
At The Club at the Dunes, we are hiring every body that walks through the door. We are seeing approximately 10% of our applicants show up for interviews. A record number of people have left the industry completely, and the younger generation is finding more reliable, less-stressful work alternatives. For so many, it is no longer considered a viable career path or even considered as a temporary option. This isn’t meant to be a sob story; these are the facts.
So what is a food-and-beverage operation to do? Many restaurants, including places like Starbucks, are reducing hours or shutting down for entire days. Other places are restricting reservations and creating longer wait times. Some facilities have chosen to increase the average number of guests per employee, creating experience challenges.
Others, such as The Club at the Dunes, have managed to (mostly) avoid these operational adjustments thus far. But this can always change, and it can change quickly. We have to stay ahead of this as much as is reasonably possible. I have been asked twice in recent days by seasoned hospitality professionals what our “secret” is. It’s simple—practice kindness, for culture is king.
The hospitality associates that have remained in the industry can always make more money somewhere else. There is always a job that is closer to home. There is always another restaurant that has more of their friends working there. There is always a new spot that is trendier. But in our industry, there aren’t many places that focus on the happiness of the associates as much as on that of members and guests.
When we remember that no one here is necessarily better than the next person, we treat humans like humans. When we coach our people through mistakes and treat them as learning opportunities, rather than as cause for scorn and shame, incredible things happen. You start to see people truly become happy at their workplace—or at the very least, more likely to stick around. And when the associates are happy, your experience is better.
Our days are filled with showing appreciation for the team, be it through a round of applause, verbal expressions of gratitude, random acts of kindness, public praise, etc. But there is always more that can be done. One aspect of club employee culture that is rarely discussed is that the kindness from the members is as important, if not more so, than anything else in contributing to every associate’s decision to remain here.
We are infinitely better today than we were at this time last year. And while we want to continue improving (and certainly won’t stop trying to work our way up the pyramid), just opening up with enough bodies is the real struggle in the current environment.
We ask for our members’ and guests’ help in welcoming each and every associate this season, new and old, and helping them feel like a part of the Dunes family. The majority of individuals who are working at our club chose this line of work because they genuinely want to make people happy. Enthusiastic gratitude from each of you motivates them beyond anything we could say or do internally.
It is inevitable there will be times where your burger might not be cooked just right, the drink may take a bit longer to refill, or an item takes a few extra minutes to get delivered. When this occurs, as one member likes to say, “Just remember, we live in paradise.” This goes for the leadership team, too.
We’ve got the right people in place—now let’s give them the encouragement and support they deserve to continue the process of making The Club at the Dunes the best it can be. This doesn’t mean feedback should never be delivered. But taking the time to think it over and make sure it is both constructive and kind will go a long way. The more ambassadors we have for the club, the community and the team, the stronger we will be.
Our associates are the lifeblood of our business, as are you.
See you at the club!
Rob D. Podley, CCM, CAM
Club General Manager
The Club at the Dunes is fortunate to have an incredible membership. So not surprisingly, reactions to this message after it was sent out were swift and overwhelmingly supportive. Nearly instant responses were received from current and past Board members expressing agreement with the approach and the message it conveyed. Other Board members conveyed their hope that we would continue to strengthen and expand the message through frequent reminders on the same topic.
Colleagues in the industry who read the message when I posted it online texted with enthusiastic agreement, and at times commented on the lack of kindness at their own properties as of late. In addition to sharing it on LinkedIn and sending it to over 1,000 members, each of our associates received a copy, so they too could see what we want to achieve culturally. Associates offered sincere expressions of gratitude and some mentioned sharing the letter with their spouses.
Perhaps the lesson here is that there isn’t a proton pack-wielding group of heroes that’s going to pull up at our clubs and change our industry’s staffing woes for the better (if they could even make it through the gate). Instead, it is up to each of us to practice kindness regularly, and to take the lead in encouraging members and staff alike to do the same.