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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Reflections from the 92nd Annual CMAA World Conference

The entire RCS Hospitality Group team descended upon Nashville recently for the 92nd Annual World Conference on Club Management. We had so much fun meeting new friends and visiting with our colleagues and friends we’ve met over the years—and we even got to see one of our good friends, Phil Green, from OB Sports take the stage with Jake Owen at the Networking Event! We were also lucky enough to be there when Randy Ruder, CCM, was announced as the CMAA Chairman of the Board. Congratulations to him and the entire elected Board – we look forward to what the future brings!

Last year we debuted our virtual training platform RCSU, and this year we were delighted to share successes and best practices, and introduce Rachel Carter as our go-to RCSU guru. We also introduced our new way of recruiting – the Collaborative Search, to rave reviews.

Lastly, we picked up our three Excellence in Achievement Awards for Consulting Company of the Year, Club Service Firm of the Year and Staff Training Company of the Year. I was also humbled to receive the Gary Player Educator of the Year Award. Thank you to BoardRoom Magazine for the recognition of our efforts, ideas, and educational offerings. To say that I am ecstatic and honored is an understatement. When I started RCS nearly two decades ago, I never imagined the path RCS would take – looking back I was thinking too small. The evolution of our industry, the RCS team and our colleagues have pushed both RCS as a company, and me, personally, to think much bigger, which is a wonderful thing! And we are bringing these big ideas to our customers and the hospitality industry in many ways.

I feel grateful every day for the amazing and talented group of professionals that have joined RCS and for the wonderful customers and clubs whom we are honored to serve. We are thankful to have the support of our colleagues, friends and families as we endeavor to provide modern solutions for today’s biggest challenges. We have responded to our customers’ needs and those of the industry where we felt we had a solution to share. It is gratifying to be recognized along with the other award winners, for whom I have great respect and admiration.

RCS has grown beyond my dreams and taken turns that I never could have expected. When people ask how I am doing, I often answer, “I’m living the dream!” – and it’s true – every day. I’m so proud of the RCS team and the contributions we can make to the club industry. Thank you for allowing us to be part of what you do and for continuing to provide feedback and ideas that keep us innovative and ever-evolving.

We have had time to reflect on the state of the industry and we had a few takeaways from our time in Nashville that are worth sharing:

The Club Industry is Strong and Growing

Participation by managers of all experience levels seemed stronger than ever. Most education sessions were standing room only and social events were at capacity and energized, which is always a promising indicator of the state of the industry.

Many of the clubs that were struggling have changed ownership, closed, or re-imagined themselves so that they can thrive in the future. Clubs today face similar challenges to years past: an aging population, remaining relevant to the next generation, a shrinking labor force, and using capital budgets to please current and potential members. The industry experts – associations, consultants, educators, etc. - are providing clubs with the tools to solve these challenges.

Staffing and Training is a Hot Topic

Two areas that seem to garner the most attention are training and staffing. As the nation’s economy stays strong, unemployment remains low, and society continues to turn away from a service industry jobs. Because of this trend, finding and keeping staff to work in and/or manage clubs becomes more of a challenge. Some of the most well attended education sessions focused on staffing; from J-1 and H2B visa employees, to other sessions focused on new strategies that progressive clubs are using to train, reward and retain existing staff.

Something interesting we noted when it came to Food and Beverage staffing is the trend that sous-chefs with administrative abilities and training in this arena are in high demand. This topic piqued our interest because at RCS, we place emphasis on the importance of cross training as a strategy to develop and retain employees.

Through many conversations between sessions, during the Club Business Expo, and during social events, we found that managers are facing unprecedented challenges with staffing. Many are increasing their club’s budget for training and hiring incentives. Managers that are accustomed to conducting training in house are now looking for outside help. Some managers are even allocating internal staff to actively recruit new employees year-round, not just during peak season. Many managers at seasonal clubs are looking outward for recruiting help.

It appears this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. The best clubs are adapting to the changing forces in society and the economy - trying to stay ahead of the curve. However, recruiting/training remains an area upon which many clubs feel they could improve. (hint, we can help!)

Members Expect More from their Dining Experience

Our Chef Mary spent considerable time during conference talking with club managers about the member experience as it relates to dining. A common theme emerged: a focus on bringing the family to the table. While this is not new to the industry, it has certainly become more commonplace. Members want to use their club dining outlets in all ways: for an adult-only experience, social gatherings with friends and members expect that their children will be welcome in any dining setting. “Being welcome” extends past turning the other cheek when the occasional child forgets to use their inside voice and into creating nutritious well-thought out dining options in which children will be excited to indulge.

In the same breath as creating a family-friendly dining experience, we found that the trend of fast casual has arrived in full force to the club industry. Members are looking for their clubs to provide healthier grab and go options—gone are the days of members looking to take a hot dog and soda at the turn; the trend has shifted to a salad and a seltzer water or a heart-healthy smoothie, among other things.

Cheers to another fantastic conference, and in true Nashville fashion, I tip my hat to CMAA and the entire team for a job well done! We’ll see you in Dallas…


Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services) is a celebrated management consultant, educator and speaker. RCS, the creators of the Food and Beverage Boot Camp™, specialize in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs.

For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at

#CMAA #CMAAConference #CMAAmanagingdirectors #networking #professionaldevelopment #events #rcsu #rcsuniversity #RCSU #executivesearch #executiverecruitment #collaborativesearch #employeetraining

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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