A General Manager's Perspective
Club Food and Beverage Operations Alert: “The Future has arrived, are you ready for it?”

By Bill Wagner
Bob Wagner Profile
William “Bill” Wagner, CCM, is the Club Industry Advisor at Northstar.  Bill, a Past President of the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) was previously the GM at Shadow Wood Country Club, Riviera Country Club, and other prominent Clubs.  In this blog series, Bill shares the General Managers’ perspective about Club Life & Operations. Bill can be reached via email at

Back in the day, Private Clubs were all about fine and formal dining. Coats and ties were mandatory, and tables were reserved for the entire evening. Serving and cooking tableside was not uncommon. Life was good in the world of clubs. The member’s names and preferences were known to all because the staff rarely turned over.  That was then, and this is now.

In many clubs, there is a more severe dress code on the Golf Course, than in the clubhouse and dining areas. Smart phones are seen and used on a regular basis. Members don’t dine as much as they tend to “eat and run”.  Takeout food has become increasingly popular. Even private clubs are not immune to the multi-tasking culture of today’s world.

The number one dining complaint at many clubs is “the slow speed of ala carte service.”  Even if a club hires more staff, there are practical limits to increasing both service and production speed in the kitchen while still maintaining a high quality. A buffet is also not always a good solution, depending upon the club’s culture.

So, what is the solution?

High Volume Chain restaurants have had monitor screens in their kitchens for several years and a growing number have hand held ordering modules to speed orders from the table into the kitchens.

Private Clubs are more complicated and much more personal than chain restaurants.

What about a system that is created just for the Private Clubs of the World? 

A system with built-in business intelligence that would contain the information of every member and their family. That information would include billing preferences, allergies, menu preferences, pictures of the family members and would fit in a server’s palm. The system (a 7” tablet) would contain the complete menu including a scrolling wine list with descriptions that would make a Sommelier proud, plus the bar menu. The drink and food orders entered into the tablet would be transmitted to the bar and the kitchen instantly.

The kitchen monitors would display the order and track it until it leaves the kitchen on its way to the table. Each order would be timed in and out of the kitchen and the data could be displayed individually and cumulatively by meal period. This system would save many steps and increase the overall efficiency. Less time, fresher food, increased accuracy equals happy members.

Imagine a scenario where a member complains about the previous night’s slow speed of service at the dining room. The club staff would have access to the exact time the tableside order was placed to the time the order left the kitchen.   That is an instant comparison of “member time” to “real time”. If the member is correct, the club staff have a problem to solve.

Northstar has the above described Complete Dining Operation System with the Tableside POS and Kitchen Display System (KDS).  This game changing technology has been successfully deployed in many clubs and is helping clubs reduce ticket times by 4-8 minutes per order, increasing the accuracy of orders and enabling the club to make better decisions about dining operations with the help of analytical tools.

To get to know more about Tableside POS and KDS and I recommend signing up for the Northstar Solution Cafe Webinar that will be held on April 17th at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Eastern time.  Sign up for the webinar with the registration links provided below.

Click here to register for the 11 a.m. EDT webinar 

Click here to register for the 2:00 p.m. EDT webinar

I look forward to the next edition of A General Manager’s Perspective.

Bill Wagner

The best clubs in the world are a warm welcoming place where you are surrounded by people you care about and truly want to be with. In short, “You want to be where everybody knows your name”. In today’s mad always-on-the-go world it is difficult for members to maintain that connection with each other, for new members to easily assimilate and find members with similar interests and for the club staff to maintain the personal connection and rapport with members.

The imperative therefore falls on the club to ensure that a support system is in place that enables and fosters an environment in which the members are connected with each other and to the club. To this end clubs have to demand that their club software suite not just tick the boxes of accounting, POS, tee times, etc. but really have the tools and functionality that the club staff can use to foster communication on multiple levels with the members and between the members. Additionally, software solutions should not be complacent once they have a couple of methods of communication but be on the forefront, constantly pushing the envelope to make certain that they are keeping up with the rapidly changing technology and modes of communication.

A robust campaign management system that allows clubs to communicate easily with the membership through emails and newsletters is one of the most basic and essential tools. The next step of evolution on the communications hierarchy would be the club website where members can access multiple club calendars so that they can easily find activities and events they are interested in. Members can also indicate on the website areas of interest so that they receive customized newsletters or updates. Websites are also a great way for members to make reservations, access real time charges and make online payments. Social networking portals and buddy list management features on the website allow members to form deeper connections and sign up easily for events at the club. In 2018, it should be a given that the club website is responsive so that it can be easily accessed on the laptop, tablet or smart phone.

Since 2016, the number of users who access the internet on their smartphones is more than those who access it on their desktop. Mobile phones and the best way to utilize them to improve communications and connectivity brings us to the next level of the hierarchy. Mobile Apps are 1.5 times faster than a mobile website and members are likely to check in much more frequently with an app than logging on to the website. Users love personalized content for an immersive experience and mobile apps make it easy to offer tailored communication. One of the most important features of the mobile app is the ability to send instant notifications to an individual or a group of members. Push notifications are received regardless a user opens the app or not and again statistics show that people are more likely to read a push notification than “yet another” newsletter or email from the club.

The above discussion has primarily been centered on communications between the club and members and between members. However, the value your club software suite brings should be over and above this. Technology should be used in service of improving the member experience and ensuring they have personalized, customized service at the club. Mobile Apps with location-based services can alert staff about pre-booked resources like a golf cart so that it is ready when the member arrives at the pro shop.

Staff centered applications on the phone or tablet are the next level of communications hierarchy. These apps give the staff key data about each member so that they can be greeted by name or wished if they are celebrating an anniversary or birthday. The staff app has the ability to capture information about guests at the club and send the information to the Membership Director along with the sponsoring member details. Staff can also enter notes specific to a member in the app so the next time 8-year Joe comes in, the staff remembers to congratulate him on his game winning goal that dad was proudly bragging about 2 days ago. These are the moments that make a club – it makes the member a lifetime cheerleader who recommends the club to their friends as the Place to Be!

1. Member mobile activities and consumer habits are no different than your own – member smartphone usage mirrors your own mobile behavior, especially when you are not at the club (work).

2. Rethink the way you are collecting and managing your member data - create a centralized resource in an easy-to-use environment where your members can manage their profile and club preferences, and that in turn will provide you the most accurate and relevant information about them.

3. Understand what is currently NOT working in your existing marketing & communications landscape – examples include; capturing club interest data, communication lag-times, low response rate, identifying demographics, too much or irrelevant content.

4. Mobile app vs. mobile website - realize there is a big difference! A mobile app is native to an IOS or Android operating system that is easily downloaded from an app store or marketplace. It’s a cleaner, condensed user interface that is easier to navigate, faster and more effective in communications with additional features like push notifications & beacon enabled location based services; which a mobile website cannot provide.

5. Choose an app that conforms to your club brand values that is easy to use and manage – determine what functionality you want to offer your membership today and a couple of years from now i.e. push notifications, location based beacon technology, mobile payments, event & activities registration, club dining and tee-time reservations, mobile food ordering, member roster, automated door access, member check-in, etc.

6. Implement a "facebook like culture" among your membership – your member app should be an extension of your Club's brand by making it a utility in your member’s everyday lives. Make it a social experience for your members to see what's happening at the club with news feeds, inter-app messaging or simply knowing who's attending what event.

7. Define member interest tables for target marketing that will increase club traffic & revenue – general demographic information, club within a club interests or any other special identifying matrixes.

8. Capture transactional data that will categorize member behavior & spending analytics – “past performance predicts future behavior” - a member's club usage can help you create loyalty programs for the more frequent member, generate incentives for the member at risk, or identify new club events and activities that will cater to your entire membership.

9. Determine the most effective and preferred type of communication with your membership – subsections of your membership may have different preferences (email vs. text messages, push notifications, etc.). Normally, smaller packets of information are easier to process and deliver personalized and more relevant content.

10. Educate your membership on the benefits of using the mobile app – "help me, help you"! How, what and why as a member an app will benefit them by increasing the level of service and communication within the club and its staff.

Top 10 Topics of Conversations you should be having at your Club right now:

1. Here's Why Your Business Needs Its Own Mobile App - November 17th, 2014 By Melanie Haselmayr

2. Benefits of a Mobile App – Why You Should Invest - February 16, 2017 By Promatics

3. App Download and Usage Statistics 2017 - October 16, 2017 By Artyom Dogtiev

4. Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile Apps – Which Is Right for Your Business? - September 20, 2016 By Cheryl Dykstra

5. A Four-Fold Strategy to Achieve Success with Mobile App Marketing - September 07, 2017 By Priya Viswanathan

6. How Mobile Technology Is Changing the Hospitality Industry? - September 29, 2016 By Varsha Kumari

7. 28+ Powerful Facebook Stats Your Brand Can’t Ignore in 2017 - September 11, 2017 By Maddy Osman

8. What's the Difference Between Push Notifications & Email? - June 26, 2017 By Megan Marrs

9. SMS vs. Push notification vs. Email: When should your app use what? - February 9, 2015 By Jamie Tolentino

10. Mobile Usage Facts and Figures 2017 - January 8, 2017 By Jackie Goldstein

Like many others, I experienced what is now known as “Irmageddon.” I was fortunate that I live north of Naples and Hurricane Irma downgraded to a Category 2 before her arrival to Venice, FL (my hometown). However, many of my industry friends and clients were impacted both personally and professionally when Irma unleashed her wrath on our beautiful state. It is during these natural disasters that we all realize the importance of communications, whether it’s with our families who live away or with our members. It is also important to focus on the business impact during a natural disaster. Before Hurricane Irma, skies were blue, birds were chirping, and we were going about our normal, daily routines. We woke up to the news, had warm showers, and could blow dry our hair. We went to the club, and members were dining, golfing, and playing tennis. Some members were up north perhaps on Cape Cod drinking a Cape Coddah (said in Boston Accent) and discussing plans on how they will head south soon for the winter. All was good right? Yep, until “Irmageddon” hit.

All the fun came to a screeching halt! Those members who were once sipping cocktails, enjoying life - they turned into Irmageddonians! An Irmageddonian is not always someone who lived through the Hurricane; it can be someone who experienced it from afar, and has been impacted by it. This kind of Irmageddonian can actually be the more panicked out of the two. They have not personally witnessed the damage, their minds are racing, and they immediately think their house is now at the bottom of the ocean (even when they live in Central Florida). You will know when your membership has turned into 90% Irmageddonian when you experience the following:

1.) A million emails from the away members requesting a status on the situation immediately. It does not register that you do not have access to email because you do not have the internet. Let’s face it, even if you had the internet, you have no power to get online. See you understand this, but the Irmageddonian who is in full panic mode, does not.

2.) They expect an immediate explanation why Irma hit their beautiful community, and they want it NOW. They want to know what the club staff is doing about it? It does not matter to an Irmageddonian that you had to chainsaw your way out of your driveway to get to the club and assess the damage. It does not matter that you risked your life to get there as quickly as you could with downed trees, live wires, flooding, etc. The Irmageddonian believes you somehow should have been able to achieve this minutes following a major disaster.

3.) An Irmageddonian will also call even though they can’t get through to the club (because again you have just gone through one of the biggest hurricanes that hit the region in ages) but they will continue to call. There will be panic, and the panic will grow because they hear NOTHING back…only CRICKETS.

4.) The Irmageddonians are now forming a larger group of panicked members. The pitchforks out…oh they are coming…they are heading up the hill and heading straight for you…look out! Oh, the horror, the horror of it all!

Ok. Did I scare you? I was obviously overly dramatic in #4 but, if you find yourself in this situation, there are ways to avoid it in the future.

Here’s what we do to avoid 1-4 the next time if you find you have been going through exactly what I outlined above. I share this with you because not only am I an “Irmageddon” Survivor but I’ve been helping my clubs through it as well.

In my 17 years providing member communication and club management solutions, I’ve held a few hands through a few hurricanes and found the following is the recipe for success:

Top 5 Ways to Communicate with Your Membership During a Hurricane:

1.) Engage your Technology Partner: Before the Hurricane, engage your technology provider (the company who provides you with the ability to email and/or website hosting). You share with them that you will need a “go to” person that you can utilize to get the message out to your membership.

2.) Prepare Communications: Have a draft ready for what you need to communicate (yes you may be writing it by candlelight during the storm but get it done). This communication should be a reassurance to the membership that you and your staff are safe and will be assessing the situation. Set a reasonable expectation on when the membership can expect another status from you.

3.) Club Website – Any communication that goes out via email should be posted on the club website (again rely on your technology provider to do this on your behalf).

4.) Member App – If the club has a member app you can send push notifications via the App as another way to keep members informed. Anyone with access to the app (your technology provider) can do this on your behalf if you do not have internet access.

5.) Social Media – If you use FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. update with all the same information. Again, utilize a third party for this method. If you do not have these communication vehicles, this is a wonderful opportunity to create a twitter or facebook account, just to keep members informed.

I hope we don’t ever have to experience another “Irmageddon”, but if we do, I hope some of this information helps you to prepare for the next time!

Stay Safe!

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