In the busy, demanding world of a club chef, his or her interaction with house committees, food and beverage committees and even members in general can, in some instances, create great anxiety and even resentment. Some culinarians might be indignant or annoyed about suggestions or recommendations made in committee meetings about a club’s F&B program. “What do they know?” an overly stressed chef might ponder--Turns out, a lot.
We think of long-tenured employees as possessing a vast amount of “institutional” knowledge about a club and its membership. They know members’ names, their spouse and children's names, what they prefer to eat and drink, where they like to go on vacation, their professional backgrounds, their hobbies etc. Ideally, their service is based upon the trust and accumulated knowledge of years of day-to-day interaction with a member.
Members have invaluable knowledge as well that can enable us to understand their preferences and allow us to be open to their views on how they experience their club. Considering that most club members have had a degree of business success, are well traveled and have had opportunities to experience myriad cuisines and cooking styles, it would seem evident that chefs and food and beverage managers should embrace the wisdom of a club member.
Generally speaking, members who are active in food and beverage-related committees and who may be most vocal about the goings-on in their club’s food and beverage program are so involved not because they are being “picky” but because of the great affection and pride they have for their club. They want to participate in the success and progress within those programs and are using their life experiences as potential counsel and direction. Many times, they are expressing individual and collective concerns about their expectations and how they are being met, or not. If we, as culinary professionals, can be open to member viewpoints, we can better meet and exceed those desires. If we listen attentively, take time to truly take in and learn to regard feedback and suggestions as insight, we will gain an understanding of expectations and be able to act upon them.
We may hear a member describe an exceptional dining experience they had on a recent trip and have them express a desire to somehow duplicate that experience within the club. Sometimes the reaction to such submissions on the part of chefs or food and beverage managers is to dismiss them (impossible! it’ll never work here! we already tried that!) as opposed to viewing them as an opportunity to begin a dialog that may lead to an enhanced member experience. These occasions provide a moment for food and beverage leadership to enter into partnership with members to fully vet an idea or suggestion and determine its relevance or potential for success.
What may happen next is that committee members who are being heard become advocates for food and beverage leadership to the membership at large as they see their proposals acted upon. They can see real effort and energy being made in bringing their ideas to life. These steps: listening, engaging, and acting create trust, the foundations for partnership and advocacy.
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events.