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Club Grub: Running a Successful Restaurant

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Running a profitable in-house restaurant or café can be quite challenging for some club owners. While some may just see cafés as another project to keep track of, they can be a great revenue stream and an added bonus for members. 

One club reaping the benefits of an in-club restaurant is the East Bank Club in Chicago, Illinois.

East Bank has five different food and beverage options for their members, including Maxwell’s at the Club, a sophisticated, fine dining restaurant; The Grill, a more casual and convenient eatery; The Juice Bar, offering refreshing beverages for before or after workouts; The Food Shop, for food on the go, as well as a gourmet grocer featuring local and artisan products; and lastly, The Sun Deck Café for pool-side meals. 

“This is really at our core,” said Mel Kleist, the president and executive director of the East Bank Club. “Over time we have developed a fabulous food and beverage offering and the department is really large at this point. It’s a [profitable] and large part of our club.” 

While the feat of having multiple restaurants can seem daunting, it is best to start small.  

According to Nikki Glekas, the CEO of Nikki Glekas Events and the food service vendor at Chelsea Piers Fitness in Stamford, Connecticut, in order to run a successful restaurant or café you must first understand your customers. 

“Knowing your audience and customer base is huge,” said Glekas. “Each club setting is different, which requires us to create the menus based on what activities are happening in the building. Our café at Chelsea Piers serves employees, members, parents, children, gymnastics, tennis and hockey players, and swimmers — all looking for a different variety of foods.” 

Once you know who you are serving, it’s important to have the right staff serving your members. 

For Chelsea Piers’ in-club cafe, All Star Cafe, they attract talent through behavioral interviews focused on ownership mentality and guest service. “Once we attracted the right talent, training and developing staff attracts additional talent with a growth mindset for future leadership roles and tenure in the workforce,” said Glekas.

Like other offerings at your facility, it’s important to ensure your restaurant or café offerings are on-trend and meeting member needs. “We have a more fine-dining restaurant at the entrance of the club and we are envisioning a new model for this space,” said Kleist. “We’re looking to incorporate more of a market-feel, food on the go, really health-conscious feeling of the offerings instead.”

In order for your restaurant or cafe to excel, you must first tackle maximizing your ROI and sales.  

Glekas said setting clear goals and communicating daily and weekly sales plans with actual results will help your team members drive business. All Star Cafe makes sure their employees have proper education and training on the importance of portion control, impact of over-making food, and managing excessive ordering of supplies. Glekas said it is crucial to treat all team members as business owners.

Another tip includes taking inventory levels daily and weekly based on upcoming events and traffic — this is a key way to reduce waste. Additionally, utilizing business trends and calendars from the previous weeks and year can help your club plan appropriately for upcoming business.

If you are wanting to attract more business to your in-club restaurant or café, consider adding a marketing strategy to help attract new customers. Glekas said the business is all about communication. “Our food service and Chelsea Piers work as a team,” she said. “We communicate daily as well as have a weekly meeting to ensure we are delivering a clear message to our membership. Our marketing is aligned together so we can maximize our ability for profits.”

Regardless if your club has a grab-and-go cafe or a fine-dining restaurant, in order to be successful, you must prioritize educating your staff and strategically marketing to members. 

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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is a staff writer for Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com

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