Evolving Member Expectations & the Expected Shelf Life of today’s Club Chef?

Evolving Member Expectations & the Expected Shelf Life of today’s Club Chef?

…here is what a group of Chicago area Club Chef’s had to say

(Pictured starting top left are Chefs Tim Rios, CEC, Knollwood Club, David Meyers, David Jarvis, Conway Farm Golf Club, Austen Ono, Westmoreland CC, Matthew Hinkle, Exmoor CC, JR Thomas, Valley Lo Club, Don Doubek, Sunset Ridge CC, Mark Pettyjohn, Shoreacres Club, Christopher Jacob, The Onwentsia Club; not pictured David Daniot, CEC, Indian Hill Club and Christopher Macchia, Evanston Golf Club)

Earlier this month I enjoyed hosting a group of local Club Chefs for lunch at a popular trending restaurant on the North Shore of Chicago. Our gathering served as an opportunity for me to introduce a few of our placements and get them connected with other local Club professionals. Selfishly I thought to ask few hot topic questions that were on my mind as they are mentioned daily in conversation and email exchanges. Many of those same questions, our clients ask and I believe it’s our duty to get the answers to questions from reliable sources. So, I sought the group’s input on several topics …

1. What is reasonable in fulfilling member special requests & menu modifications? How flexible should the Chef be? (This is the always a question that is impossible to fully answer other than YES, as you can, with fact be told, most POS Systems don’t have all the modifiers required to input special requests).

2. What is the anticipated shelf life of today’s Club Chef?

The conversation began with introductions and welcoming Dan Danoit, CEC, the newest to the area and Executive Chef at Indian Hill Club, Winnetka, IL. The Greater Chicago area includes approximately 125 Clubs coupled with Chicago’s world-class restaurants keep local Club Chef’s on their game to maintain current operations.

Discussion followed enjoying some great food at another former Club Chefs restaurant; Michael Paulsen’s – Abigail’s American Bistro, Highland Park, IL. The information flowed with the general consensus being that the typical shelf-life for an Executive Chef in today’s market is five to seven years. I challenged the group’s thinking as to why some Chef’s may be at a Club for ten years or longer while other Clubs change their Chef more frequently. Some thoughts on the subject include:

  • Member expectations are relevant to the club culture and management’s vision toward programing evolution. These factors are critical to assure a sustained match of culinary talent and vision. Being too creative in a more conservative Club or showing little or no change to a more progressive membership doesn’t work. Club Chef’s need to do their homework before accepting a position. I call it “Knowing Your Market” Make sure your style is compatible with the position you seek and truly aligned with the clubs requirement’s.
  • Take advantage of dining allowances and self-development funds. Clubs that desire to foster a dynamic culinary program financially support continuing education. Be sure to USE IT! However, it is a good idea to share what you have learned and put it on-the-plate and in practice as it to enhance the member experience. Discuss new ideas with the General Manager and/or F&B Director; include new items on the menu and communicate. There is no shame in stealing ideas and incorporating them in your repertoire.
  • Clubs no-longer want a Chef secluded in their kitchen; they want inclusivity. With the advent of the Food Network, Chefs have gained considerable credibility and stardom. Members want to see their Chef and know him/her on a personal basis (and magically, their food always tastes better as a result of a relationship connection!) This is critically important; be visible, approachable, friendly and caring. Get out and participate!
  • Someone once told me if you don’t toot your own horn no one else will. One of the drawbacks of working in Clubs is Club Chefs do not have much opportunity for publicity or self-promotion. We seldom see write-ups or posts about a Great Club Dining Room but we continually see publicity on restaurants. Make sure you promote new products, participate in writing articles for the Clubs newsletter and if you participate in a Culinary Completion make sure someone knows. Volunteer and be known in local circles and associations. Promote yourself and you likely will find recruiting made easier too as a result of your involvement!
  • Be consistent! One of the most difficult aspects of working in a Club is to maintain consistency. Club members are not transient, they are captive; you serve the same members daily often eating their same favorite menu items. It is imperative that the great hamburger a member has one day is the same great hamburger when he has it again. Everything you serve MATTERS! and consistently great matters most.
  • Make certain your numbers are on budget. Control is power and it will benefit greatly if you maintain financial control of your operation. General Managers want department heads who manage their departments. Keeping your eye on budget targets and meeting them is important. If you foresee a deviation; for example a sharp product price increase that will prevent you from meeting a target, make sure you communicate this to the GM in advance. Then, offer solutions to get back on track.
  • Make friends with the Golf Pro. Okay, this sounds corny but let me explain. The Golf Pro is in contact with the members throughout the day either playing a round of golf or on the practice range. Would you rather have the Golf Pro supporting you and telling members how great you are and defending you when members express a bad experience? It is vital to be an active team member with all department heads. Go out of your way to take an interest in their department and make yourself available to them.
  • Be the Go-To Chef. That’s right; become the person in your operation that staff can go too for assistance beyond the kitchen threshold. Help and support and lend an ear when appropriate. Get entrenched as an important link within the operation.
  • Remember the Golden Rule; “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” well not so fast! Try to elevate yourself to a higher level. Take the high road; if someone makes a bad comment choose to say good things about them in return and it will benefit you in spades. Keep positive. Don’t put people down; elevate them!

The next subject hit home with the entire group of Chef’s in attendance. What is reasonable in fulfilling member special requests & menu modifications? How flexible should or can the Chef be? The Chef’s spoke about their experiences in regard to special requests and variations to menu items. The bottom line was agreement in that Chef’s need flexibility to accommodate their membership.

I want to give you my own individual thoughts on this subject. I call it “The Destination Restaurant Chef Mentality” (which seldom works in clubs).  An out of state friend of mine attempted being a Club Chef before opened up his own restaurant. At the Club this particular Chef was somewhat of a prima-donna, often refusing special requests and insisted the members stay on course with the menu. Ala carte dinners larger than a ten-top, forget about it; too many to serve ala carte. Giving members multiple choices on their private parties, forget about it. Menus were regimented to one starter, one main course and one dessert.

Well…how fast things changed when he had total financial responsibility owning his own restaurant.  Remember that old Burger King jingle “Special Orders Don’t Upset Us?” Well, welcome to my Chef friend’s restaurant. He has grown flexible and accommodating of customers having it their way and choices at private parties are now common practice. Oh yes….when twenty customers gather on their patio for a group dinner it’s no problem to order ala carte from the menu.

Don’t get me wrong, a Club is definitely different because you try to avoid allowing the demands of one member or a group of members affect the other members but I say, Chef’s must use good judgement, build systems and failsafe’s so you can be more flexible in your kitchen (it matters!) The reality is there is now so much competition, we must stay current, understand and anticipate member expectations and sometimes bend doing things that is not always ideal just to keep the business and peace in the family community we call Clubs. Never forget, Club Members talk amongst themselves and to their non-Club friends. Make sure they are saying nice things about you and what is coming out of the kitchen.

We value your feedback with particular solution suggestion to this and any of the topics we touch on with hopeful timeliness to industry and professional needs.

Posted in Editorial
7 thoughts on “Evolving Member Expectations & the Expected Shelf Life of today’s Club Chef?
  1. Chef graham says:

    Great article

  2. Todd Stoner says:

    Nice article David.

  3. Richard Lareau says:

    Nice article – on point and relevant. How have your Chefs responded?

  4. Dan Callender says:

    Good summary of present day, relevant culinary challenges in clubs.

  5. David Chenelle says:

    Great article. Touched upon many issues facing a club chef. I am one myself. A chef at a yacht club. And now that has more more challenges than a country club chef. For one the ones we called the liveaboards tend to be extremely cheap we’re as the ones that have been successful in business like to spend money. This I have learned over three yacht clubs I have managed has proven to be the most challenging issue. Would love to discuss with you my achievements and challenges with yacht clubs.

  6. Philippe Reynaud says:

    All true David. As Clubs dinning scene continue to evolve Club Chefs must stay fresh and evolve too. More Club members expect their Club restaurants to be run like a restaurant with the recognition and personal touch of a Club. When you have the right Chef in the right Club longevity increases, it makes for product consistency and continuity. Club Chefs MUST continue shopping Restaurants, Hotel continue to do R&D, read trendy magazines, stage or visit other Club Chefs, stay up to date with articles like this!
    Thank you David for your research and article, great reminder, great read.
    Philippe, Ocean Reef Club

  7. Jerry Schreck says:

    Nice job David. Every bullet point was spot on. The one that stood out most for me was the “Knowing your Market”. It’s not your club, it’s theirs. The “My way or the Highway” attitude left a long time ago. Finding the appropriate ways to integrate your creative skills is the secret to longevity.

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