When members express a desire for menu change based on personal preference, The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, has learned to listen and respond thoughtfully.
The quote read: “Fundamentally, members do not want choice. They just want exactly what they want.”
The duality of this statement stuck with me long after I read it. “Choice” has certainly become a battle cry for club menus with members often requesting Cheesecake Factory length documents with options that touch all ethnicities, dayparts and dietary restrictions.
Last week, while in our Finance Committee meeting, the subject of restaurant covers came up. Our performance this year increased and revenue went up in the a la carte restaurants. While the revenue numbers showed growth year over year, covers were only slightly up only at certain meal periods.
As we discussed this data, a committee member said, “I don’t eat at the club. In fact, I go out of my way not to eat at the Club.”
His ethnicity is Indian, and his religion has influenced a vegetarian lifestyle. He continued with, “The menus are outdated, all meat and potatoes. The chef doesn’t consider national origins or personal desires.”
He concluded with, “Our Club menus don’t have enough choices.”
Interestingly, the following day another member approached my office and said, “Lawrence, what happened to the fried walleye and tartar sauce?”
“It’s still on the menu,” I said.
“Well, I didn’t see it the last time I was in the club and haven’t been back since,” he said. “It seems the club menus are catering to all the young people, but I’m 85 and I live on fried fish. The menu needs to have more choices for all the member age groups.”
I assured him that fried walleye is still on the menu, in fact, I told him that it is served both as a sandwich and as an entrée. He then added, “Why would someone have all that sandwich bread when the fish is breaded?”
No sooner had this gentleman left my office, before I received a call about a member who was looking for me in the lobby. As I approached, she began telling me how she is now a practicing vegan and that she believes there are not enough choices for her or others like her on our menus.
Quickly engaging her, I asked, “Is your diet plant-based or strictly vegan?”
She stepped back and said, “You know the difference?”
As I nodded to her, I asked, “How long have you been practicing?”
“Two months,” she said. “I would like to request the menus be changed to reflect of all your members’ changing lifestyles.”
She went further to say that that salt is no longer part of her diet. She asked that that all the soups be prepared without salt “so people have a personal choice,” she added.
There was that work again: choice. And it was used on behalf of all, yet the requirements are pointed directly at one individual’s preferences.
I smiled and said, “You can simply let us know when you’re at the club and we will try to accommodate your dietary needs or if you give us advanced notice, preparations such as soup might be offered without any sodium.”
The key phrases here are obviously “try to” and “might be.” We must use these words and then rely on our team to move heaven and earth for one member’s satisfaction.
With these interactions fresh in my mind, we hosted our monthly board meeting the following week. In attendance was a member who had spoken with me in October about a recent health and wellness retreat he and his wife attended. After it, he suggested we label and/or omit certain ingredients from menus so that member could have more healthful choices.
Recalling this discussion, I said, “Mr. Brown, how is the new lifestyle diet performing for you?”
He softly responded, “Lawrence, it’s really hard work and while I know I should eat better, I’ve gotten off track.”
I thought to myself, “good thing we didn’t change all the menus.”
For lunch that day, he ordered the fried walleye. (Problem solved on the Walleye dilemma.)
All these interactions got me thinking, how does an engaged club or Executive Chef respond to the request around choice versus preference? And is membership simply having the privilege to speak with someone who listens to a member’s latest diet fads and views?
Problem resolution experts stress how important it is to allow a customer the time to vent or describe their needs. As a result, the individual will feel satisfied that someone is listening to his/her concerns. He or she will then be more open to discuss resolutions or appropriate next steps.
All four of these members’ opinions were valued, and necessary for our club’s continued success. Acknowledging trends and feedback is crucial. Only then can a progressive leader reflect on both general needs versus individual requests and make a secure decision on behalf of the membership.
Perhaps my role as General Manager isn’t always about forcing change. Perhaps it’s about supporting my team and lending a kind ear to my membership.