October 1, 2013: The Eastport Yacht Club’s Annual Meeting is just around the corner. In preparation for the meeting the Board, Finance Committee and club management have been holding Town Hall Meetings to provide information and solicit responses from the membership. The meetings are always insightful and the feedback that is garnered helps us navigate the club in the most suitable direction for our diverse membership.
One of the most talked-about subjects in the meetings has been the topic of food service. Although on the surface this may seem like a simple subject, the complexities and interconnectedness to other parts of our business run deep. Make no mistake: the challenges that have been presented to the Board, management and staff have been herculean over the last two years. Move an entire food and beverage operation out of its long term home, place it in a couple double-wide trailers and then move it back into our beautiful new facilities. All the while planning, preparing and, most importantly, defining what we would be going forward.
When the Board requested that I improve the food and beverage operation quality to rise to the standards of our new space as well as the expectations of a membership that had been eating off of plastic plates for a year, we took the challenge seriously. The first step was to improve the quality of the food. Where frozen pre-prepared food was the norm in the prior clubhouse we decided that we should acknowledge the ongoing requests of our membership to utilize fresh ingredients. We felt this would also keep pace with culinary trends in a market that continually competes for our members’ dollars and patronage.
This green sustainable model has the residual benefit of aiding our local economy and places an emphasis on the quality of ingredients that are placed on your plate. This fresh ingredient approach relies on the skill sets of a knowledgeable and trained culinary professional.
The club hired Chef Henry Romanowski to accomplish this goal. His years of experience and formal education at the Culinary Institute of America and his diverse professional background in quality pub food, creative freshly prepared dining room menus and extensive private event management made him a clear choice.
Chef Henry and the rest of our management team and staff clearly had our work cut out for us as we tried to navigate our way toward what exactly our membership was looking for in a menu. Our goal was to maintain the causal roots of the club while still providing value and broadening the offerings to include a better dining experience. It was up to Henry and his team to execute that plan. As most are aware, after some trial and error and much member feedback (pardon the pun) we settled in on a menu that offered casual, freshly-made pub fare at a value on our Galley menu while trying to carry that theme into the dining room and adding unique freshly prepared dinner entrees that rival anything served in our hometown.
So, some might ask, how is it going? Well, the response has been extraordinary! The sales and activity in the clubhouse have been record-setting. At no time in the club’s history have we had the number of people using the clubhouse we have now. The sales figures are significantly higher and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. BUT, this approach is not without its costs.
As is the case with all hospitality businesses there is room for improvement. Our service can be improved. Our menus can be fine-tuned as we try to accommodate those who like the old items with those who feel that the club menus get stale and need continued new recipes. This balance is a challenge and it will always be the case. We will continually work to improve upon our current service levels in all areas of our business. But there are challenges that should be communicated and understood by the broader membership.
So what are the challenges we face?
Did you know? … That we spend thousands of dollars in advertising to recruit staff? This significant expense often yields NO APPLICANTS! Our kitchen has been one staff member short for the last 3 months because not a single applicant has walked through our doors. The two who were in the position prior were released within a matter of weeks and they were the only two who had applied. We are often forced to hire servers who are below the standard for which I demand because there is no other alternative. It is a challenge in a competitive labor market with many food and beverage operations.
We market to schools and use other creative approaches to simply get viable candidates. It is an ongoing problem that is unlikely to change so we must be competitive in our wages and create a positive work environment to attract and retain staff.
Part of our challenge is the value on the menu. Better pricing to membership translates to lower tip percentages to staff and that is not lost on potential employees.
Did you know? ... that the Board, Finance Committee and management determine the mark-up on food and beverage. A cost of goods percentage is used as an efficiency factor to determine pricing and how efficient food and beverage managers are doing regulating waste, portion sizes, shrinkage, etc. These figures are reviewed every month by our Finance Committee and I am proud to say that we have regularly achieved these efficiency percentages. In other words, the operations are being run efficiently by these widely accepted industry standards for defining management competency.
Did you know? ... That the current food service model requires more labor but that despite this increase in labor our food and beverage operation has been profitable to date? Yes, it is true. BUT, it should also be known that it throws off much less than before and that is contributing to some of our financial challenges.
Did you know? ... That according to the national club benchmarking institution that 75% of clubs lose money on food and beverage? Yes, that is also true since value and quality are paramount in clubs. Club members typically demand more for less in a club food and beverage operation and ours is no different. It is member dues that typically offset this shortfall in the most standard models. BUT we have never lost money in this department. For some time it has been a “cash cow” running efficiently and throwing money to the bottom line. BUT to change to the improved fresh ingredient food model there is an increased expense to create and process the food.
This choice to offer this service is subjective one. Some members may have been fine with the old menus and the old clubhouse and really don’t see any need to change while others have preferred an improved food quality and clubhouse and are obviously currently voting with the wallets as our sales reflect. Membership will ultimately dictate the direction we go.
An important note to consider as you digest these comments is that these changes effect areas such as the wait list, banquet business, gross volume of food and beverage sales etc. and that also will effect the bottom line. As I previously stated the interconnectivity is broad reaching.
So what is the point to all of this? Well, the quick answer is to better inform our membership of the choices and challenges that are present in our little club’s (that isn’t so little anymore!) food and beverage operation. Like anything else these services come with associated expenses whether they be quantitative or qualitative.
The food and beverage is but one component as you have seen in the recent letter from the Commodore and the information provided to membership from the Finance Committee that appears on the website. I encourage you to read these pieces and reach out to me to answer your questions since this long winded article barely scratches the surface. I encourage you all to make your voice heard at the Annual Meeting and come support your position. This is a pivotal point in our club’s future and a broad consensus will best position us going forward.