How will automation affect the private club world?
A constant conversation with board members and management staff at all levels is the challenge of providing consistent levels of service in an increasingly difficult employment environment. There is much discussion regarding increasing the pay for existing staff, hiring a better-quality employee or importing employees from outside the United States (H2B or J1 visa). Those are short-term solutions for a long-term problem. Boards and senior managers looking strategically 5-10 years in the future should be discussing automation.
Self-driving cars are not that far off in the future. Automatic, self-driving greens equipment is already a reality. Many cutting-edge superintendents are managing their property with drones. How soon until this technology reaches into the kitchen or the dining room? Many club leaders respond with, "our members won’t stand for it, we provide a higher level of service, our members won’t accept the perceived decrease in quality." I remember when the same was said about jeans, kids, cell phones, accepting credit cards, tablets, and on and on…
Many fast food and quick serve restaurants are operating successfully in this space and many of your members accept, and even prefer an automated process outside of your club. It will not be foreign to them, and in my opinion, can provide a higher level of member satisfaction. The proper use of technology can, and will, raise the bar of hospitality in the industry. The reality will soon be that the most redundant operations will be automated to provide a consistent, timely product. This will leave your best employees the ability to spend MORE time with the members (and the clubs will have the ability to compensate them properly). If the best employees spend their entire shift covering for weaker employees and ‘putting out fires’ on the property instead of spending more time with members, the members ultimately leave the club for a “better run” organization only to find the same scenario plays itself out in most clubs daily.
The same concept exists in the kitchen. What if the signature soup or crab cake was put together in an off-site commissary and then delivered and cooked on property? There are a lot of conversations (pro and con) regarding the recent boom in restaurants, and it is thanks to this innovation in automation. For example, most major metropolitan areas have at least one regional chain. This chain may consist of 8-10 similarly-themed restaurant concepts in a related geographic region. They are usually the main competition to the private club member for dining. Most would be surprised to learn that an ever-increasing number of the dishes on the menus at these regional chains come into the restaurant pre-mixed or even pre-cooked, thus leaving final assembly and/or cooking to the kitchen staff. Many of these restaurants have sauces made and bagged in an offsite commissary and then warmed onsite. This is the key to consistency for these restaurants. Consistency is the “secret” to their success; patrons know exactly what they are getting regardless of if they have eaten at that specific location or not, and therefore it is a safe choice and they know they will be satisfied. We all know how prevalent the conversation regarding consistency is within a private club. Who will be the first company to offer this service to the local club? It is a pretty simple concept to implement: the executive chef creates a signature dish, writes the menu, and works with an outside company to standardize the preparation. This concept can be carried to most items in the kitchen. Recently, Haidilao the largest hotpot restaurant in Japan announced they will open the "world’s first eatery with a fully automated kitchen."
Looking even further down the road, we see Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the not-too-distant horizon. This will be another game-changer to the club industry, but that is for another discussion…
Private clubs are not necessarily known to be on the cutting edge of technology or society, and that is what has made them special, unique, and coveted. Clubs have always served as a bastion from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. I believe automation; if used intelligently, can INCREASE member satisfaction and provide members more of what they want: consistency and personal attention. The market is over-saturated with private clubs and many struggle on a daily basis. As the industry evolves these private clubs must evolve or die. How many clubs are capable of embracing the evolution and paving the way for the club of the future?
Brian Armstrong is RCS's primary recruiter, and a Certified Club Manager with over 17 years of management experience in all types of clubs. Brian's industry knowledge is vast and extends to every area of the club. This well-rounded expertise combined with a forward-thinking perspective enables Brian to effectively and strategically guide clubs and their Boards into the 21st century while still respecting the traditions of the past. He was elected President of the National Capital Club Manager's Association in 2012 and 2013, served over 5 years on the Board and countless others on various committees, and shares RCS's passion for giving back to the industry.
Contact him at Brian@consultingRCS.com or visit the RCS website at www.consultingRCS.com.