When it comes to profit centers outside of personal training, food and beverage (F&B) can be one of the most difficult for health club operators to master. To be successful, a lot of moving parts have to work in unison together, including menu creation, proper inventory management and storage, staff scheduling and much more.
With this in mind, we spoke with Jeff Riney, the vice president of operations for Fitness Formula Clubs (FFC), about how they master F&B operations at their 11 locations in Chicago.
CS: What food and beverage options are available at FFC?
JR: We have two primary options for our F&B options: Juice bar and café. The primary difference is food. At our juice bars, we only make smoothies (in addition to bottled drinks and bars). The full cafés also offer food items such as sandwiches, wraps, salads and flatbreads.
CS: How did the idea for the local’84 Café at the Park Ridge location come about? How is this offering unique?
JR: We traditionally outsourced our F&B, knowing we aren’t the experts on this. However, as the service offering declined with many providers, we decided to bring it in house and see what we could do with it. While we have three other full cafés similar in scope, Park Ridge was the first one we built out specifically with the intent of self-operating. The name is a homage of our local roots and the company being founded in 1984.
CS: It’s important for clubs to have profit centers outside of just membership dues. Is a food and beverage offering a great way to bring additional profit into a gym?
JR: F&B is not an easy business, and without the right circumstances it’s hard to turn a profit. We view the offering as two fold: first, it needs to be accretive to the overall member experience. If it better engages them and extends their membership, it’s a win. Secondly, it needs to be profitable. While it’s not typically a big money maker for us, we don’t want to spend all the time and energy it takes to do this to also lose money.
CS: What are the challenges that come with operating a food and beverage offering in a health club, and how have you overcome those challenges?
JR: The two big costs are labor and waste. Without a tremendous amount of traffic or revenue, it’s often tough to staff with more than one to two people. To mitigate, in certain circumstances we focus heavily on smoothies and grab-n-go. Preparing food in down times and filling the cooler prevents the need to have someone making items to order.
CS: What do members like about having a café, juice or smoothie bar within the gym?
JR: From a branding standpoint, local’84 focuses on “Tasty. Healthy. Convenient.” In our urban setting, our members are often eating on the run, and they don’t want to discard all the effort they put in from a quality workout by refueling with poor options. A tasty, healthy option that’s also convenient adds value to the time they spend in our clubs. There’s also a social component for those in less of a hurry.
CS: What best practice tips could you share with other club operators looking to run a successful food and beverage operation?
JR: Focus on smoothies and bottled drinks first, then expand to food if you feel you can make the jump, but do so carefully. Restaurants are closing all the time that are being run by full-time restaurateurs. Don’t be so arrogant that you can do it yourself by throwing something together. Know your customers and tightly manage costs.
CS: What vendors/partners do you work with to supply any supplements, smoothies or other food products?
JR: We use Performance Food Centers for our smoothies and they are fantastic. They have great products that fit our “Tasty. Healthy. Convenient” profile and the service is even better. Our regional café manager, Stephanie Hagemann, is always researching bars, drinks and other options to ensure we’re providing the best for both the members and the brand.
Check out these photos from Fitness Formula Clubs Park Ridge. Images by Eric Decker.