Letter #3

As promised, this week’s letter is about our Café and, more specifically, is an outreach to the membership. In the first letter to the members two weeks ago, we learned that there will be a concerted effort coming from the Club’s Board to engage the membership in the decisions that shape the club as it evolves. The management of the Café is about to change, the Board would like to hear what you’d like from your Café in the future.

Brick & Bottle – Gone

Blake’s Restaurant Group, TPC’s outsourced management group for its Café, informed the Club this month that they wanted out of their 2-yr contract after a little over 7 months of operation. After yesterday, they will no longer be overseeing our Café. From any point of view, this was a failed effort with plenty of disappointment on both sides of the partnership agreement; there always is when results fall so far short of expectations in any new enterprise. Let’s dispense with any finger pointing and try to identify the lessons learned through this experience. That doesn’t mean you should stifle the I TOLD YOU’s – they’re always a welcome treat.

It’s best to view this as an opportunity to improve the food & beverage experience at the TPC. Under steady-state circumstances with no management change, the Café was scheduled to reopen in mid-January. That’s off the table right now as a target date. We’ll gather information over the next two to three weeks, holidays notwithstanding, make the appropriate changes and launch an improved solution with February as a soft target for now. Events, the scheduled ones as well as the anticipated ones (i.e. Super Bowl), will be held without interruption – catering is easy; it’s the day-to-day operation that’s the challenge.

Lessons

In our exit interview with BRG, we asked where we (TPC and BRG) went wrong. The following are their observations (unedited and in no particular order) and while I don’t agree completely with all of their comments, perhaps there’s something to learn here:

  • It’s not a restaurant, it’s a coffee shop
  • Members do not want Chef-inspired food
  • Members mix message – say they want healthy but buy junk
  • Catering may be the only mildly profitable area of the business – member expectations are now appropriately set in terms of cost
  • A 20 child party is max for in-house catering (fewer if adults)
  • Café’s main audience: under 18
  • Facility highly constrained
    • One doorway to kitchen – total bottleneck
    • One Room (more multi-purpose than dining room)
    • Kitchen small (least problematic but a problem nevertheless)
  • This is no restaurant facility for a 900 member club
  • Build outdoor BBQ poolside

Their observation: members arrive to do activity (swim, tennis, fitness) and leave, “no social fabric at this club” and members don’t consider the TPC Café as a restaurant.

Structure

The outsourced business model for the café was a new idea exactly one year ago. It’s entirely possible that the model was right but that we chose the wrong partner; these are not mutually exclusive causes of failure. For the record, I wholly supported the new model and the partner choice, so I’m agnostic as to the failure’s roots, I was wrong under any interpretation. With that disclosed, let me share with you my hypothesis around the model and member behavior and see if it resonates with you. I suspect there is an almost elemental experience a member has when approaching their private club’s food bar and the order taker is on another (competing) team. Whether acknowledged or not, as subtle as this may be, at a minimum, it does not encourage the kind of change in member behavior we’re striving for (stronger social interaction) – it may actually discourage it. With that in mind, I’m advocating that we, as a Club, repossess our P&L for the Café and not outsource the operation of our café to a for-profit management group.

Whatever the new incarnation of the Club’s Café, the Club will control the P&L and by extension, its hours of operation, its menu, prices, etc. What do you think? Please leave your comments.

Next week we’ll tackle the Club’s operating business model and see if it still makes as much sense now as it appeared to make the last time it was overhauled (2007). Happy Holiday’s everyone.

All the best,
Mike

Speak Your Mind