If the club is children’s dining destination of choice, it’s a win-win across the board—and you’ll have dinner reservations for six.
By any standard, our 6th annual Chef to Chef Conference (see “The Toast of Texas”), where we had 260 club chefs and general managers in attendance at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter, was a runaway hit.
During one of the breakout sessions there was a discussion of dining—casual, formal, and, to a degree, fast casual. One of the comments that came up was “What do you do with the kids?” While most said they were very proactive about kids’ programs, some said they “sort of put them in a corner,” not unlike the kids’ table at Thanksgiving dinner.
If there is one thing a club can do to improve its food-and-beverage program (and, ironically, membership marketing), it is to make family-friendly dining a centerpiece of club operations. Since no child can make dinner reservations, much less drive to the club, if the club is the children’s dining destination of choice, it is a win-win across the board.
I’ll give you a personal example. My club (Birchwood Farms Golf & Country Club, Harbor Springs, Mich.) has a very family-friendly food-and-beverage operation, and my grandchildren love to have dinner there. When given the choice, they always choose the club. But since they can’t make the dinner reservations or drive to the club on their own, their parents (my children) and us (the grandparents) go with them. Because the young children love the club dining, the club now routinely has dinner reservations for six people. Multiply this by your membership and it’s fairly easy to see why average club annual F&B is now over $2 million.
Often overlooked is that family-friendly dining is crucial to new member marketing. If a prospective new member can see kids all over the club and not just in the pool, they will get the impression that not only do clubs do good things for kids, but that they love having them there. This weighs heavily on the decision to join, as the old notion that the country club is a place where Dad can get away from the family, play golf, and sit around drinking with the guys is all but gone.
Given our current age demographic, the obstacle to all of this is the “old guard” that will want to keep things the way they have always been. This has to be actively combatted, but in a positive way. A lack of new members may preserve things the way they are, but only for a while—it’s ultimately destructive to the club because of shrinking membership and the necessity of increasing dues among a static or shrinking dues base. None of this is good.
Happily, the feeling I got from the chefs in attendance at our Conference, along with what we see in our travels to clubs across the country, is that you get it. We see evidence that kid-friendly dining is ascendant, as it should be.
Keep it up—there is no downside.