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A Recipe for Private Club Member Retention & Attraction

This article originally appeared in BoardRoom Magazine, July/August 2017. If you didn't receive your copy, you can subscribe here.

When you want to bake a cake, do you follow a recipe?

The answer is likely “yes” unless you are an experienced chef or baker. Recipes help us put together the right combination of ingredients in the right order, and give us an idea of cooking time. In other words, when will your masterpiece be done?

However when we want to retain (or attract members), many of us either follow a recipe that worked in another location (or time period) or we abandon the recipe all together in the search for a quick fix. These quick fixes may be programs to attract new members offering discounted fees and dues, the equivalent of a store bought cake.

But does this really give you the quality membership that you desire? Do these members become long-term or do they come in on the cheap (cash and carry), drive up your costs, and leave? Or are you simply postponing the inevitable? Eventually, you are going to have to bake that cake from scratch in order to make a lasting impact.

The same recipe doesn’t always work similarly in a different kitchen so why would you use a cookie cutter solution in your club?

Until you discover the differences of a new “kitchen” (club), the “recipe” (membership marketing plan) may need to be adjusted and customized. The same concept applies for membership retention. Member retention = membership attraction because 50-60% of your new members will come from existing member referrals. If you are targeting Millennials, this group in particular relies on personal recommendations more than any generation before.

Wavering strategy +

low employee morale +

lack of consistency/accountability +

high turnover +

lack of capital investment +

communication issues +

inability to compete +

financial underperformance =

loss of members.

So why wouldn’t we work on all of these collectively to retain members in a thoughtful, systematic way instead of expecting one “ingredient” to do the trick?

Here is my ‘Recipe for Retention and Attraction’ and much like baking a cake, there are ingredients that must go together for the plan to work:

  • A Current Strategic Vision and Plan considering demographic changes and current industry trends. (Casual, technology, family needs)

  • An Engaged, Professional, and Dynamic Leadership. In other words – the Board governs, the Management manages, and the Committees advise.

  • Interlocking Systems and Procedures that work for the benefit of the members.

  • Identify Responsibility and Accountability Standards at all levels. The ‘blame game’ should not be allowed within your team. Actions, solutions, and progress should be rewarded.

  • Invest In and Maintain Facilities. Like selling a house, if you have an outdated floor plan, appliances, or kitchen, it will be a tough sell. Stay current with club trends today and keep your facilities in good repair – members notice the details, especially women, who are known to have a more influential role in family decision making than ever before.

  • A Current Communications and Marketing Plan outlining key messaging strategies internally (newsletters, e-blasts, website) and externally (social media, membership marketing campaigns). ​

  • An Ongoing Training Program. Food and beverage as an industry has the highest turnover and there is a noted chef shortage. Beyond that, entry level or seasonal positions throughout the club demand the need for training/coaching opportunities daily. Employees who do not understand that their members are customers and owners in the same body (for a member equity club) are missing the service nuances of a private club. If they do not all do ‘it’ the same way, you will lose consistency.

  • Manage your Culture or it will manage you. Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs. Therefore hiring for values, training for success, and consistent performance management will keep your culture strong.

  • Rewards and Recognition. If you have cut your employee benefits and perks, it will be difficult to achieve the member satisfaction levels you desire. There is a reason we have the cliché; “You get what you pay for”. As J.W. Marriott famously said, “Take care of your associates and they will take care of your customers.”

  • Learn from Failure and Celebrate Success. Adjust after failure. Create buzz around success.


Whitney Reid Pennell, president of RCS Hospitality Group, formerly Reid Consulting Services (RCS) is a celebrated management consultant, educator, and speaker. RCS, the creators of Food and Beverage Service Boot Camp™, specializes in strategic planning, operations consulting, food and beverage management, executive recruitment and training programs. For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at

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Whitney Reid Pennell
 Founder & President

Whitney Reid Pennell is the founder and president of the award-winning RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services). She is a published author and widely praised seminar leader, with over 20 years of club operations management and consulting experience. 

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