The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, is guiding the club into the future with conservative planning and cautious optimism.
Thoughts about civic safety for the greater good of Cleveland and America juxtaposed with what should be an oasis of care for the members and staff of the Club pulsed through my head on my way home from work last week.
Within forty-eight hours the Union Club of Cleveland went from sending out a “We are open for business, let us take care of you” communication, to sending out one that said, “We must temporarily close as it is our community and civic responsibility to participate, along with all the other businesses in downtown Cleveland, in taking precautionary measures against the Coronavirus.”
This conundrum grates against the natural inclinations for those of us in hospitality. We are here for natural disasters. We feed the hungry on our days off. We cook at fundraisers all over the world for various causes. We care for our customers on their best days and on their worst days. We always say yes. And was always try to do more and be better.
Social distancing is simply not hospitality as we know it. Gathering, conversing, celebrating and conducting business together is the business we are in. It’s the business we know and love. But it’s not safe to do that kind of business right now.
Like so many reading this, social media is filling my brain with noise and viewpoints striking a combination of education and fear into next steps. But we must be patient. Each challenge will eventually present itself. Solutions will be found.
Having lived in China during SARS and the bird flu, I have a bit of a leg up on the noise and efforts from past outbreaks. I actually opened a property in Wu Han earlier in my career. I know the city. I have seen the first and third world neighborhoods bumping up against each other. I also know the remarkable controls China has on its citizens and the influence Beijing has over all.
In Cleveland, this crisis began on March 9th when I received a text from a key board member who mentioned that things were moving fast in his business circles. This text exchange then led to an ad hoc group of members reviewing the pros and cons of various actions we could take regarding the situation at our own club.
The days following were consumed with reviewing our procedures, our communication plan and focusing on safety and health. Member wellness is one of our key values, so this challenge spoke to all our actions. “Surgically clean” was a value I learned from a previous employer, and while it’s not obtainable, it gets you closer to sanitary with each step.
Ultimately, a decision was made to close the club effective immediately. We decided to continue to pay our staff during the closure of services. Both decisions met me with interest and reflection. My President asked if I was OK. My initial response was sadness. I told him that I am in the business to serve people, not close the door on them. But after some time, I was able to gather my feelings and I knew closing was the right decision for the safety of all. It’s also our civic responsibility.
Not since 9/11 have I been so undecided on next steps. I remember where I was and who I was with when we watched the second tower come down. Just as I remember all the details of that day, I will always remember this time. It will change me. It will change our business. It will inform our future planning and our crisis management skills. We will learn from this time and we will grow.
Since we announced the closure, the management of the Union Club continues to meet daily in an empty, dark club. But we have the spirit of next steps. We are working on future financial scenarios as well as on long term projects that will be delayed. We are working toward the future of the club and on what and how the club and the services we offer will be different in the next twelve weeks and beyond.
Having been in the hospitality business for thirty-five years, I have seen my fair share of downturns and natural disasters. But this one is different. You can’t see it. You can’t track it. You can’t touch it. It is new and it is challenging for all of us.
Even so, our values remain. Our employees are being taken care. Safety and respect continues to be our top priority. And all the rest of the business is being managed with the same energies. If we take care of our staff, we will bounce back quicker and better, while others find and search for that engaged employee they had released in the fears of financial costs.
That said, my heart goes out to public restaurants, my friends, and colleagues who have been asked to close their businesses for the safety of others instead of inviting them in for care and comfort. The decisions you’re facing with your businesses and your team members are impossible and heart-wrenching.
I know that our industry will get through this to the other side. It won’t be easy. There will be short- and long-term challenges. But one thing is for sure: We will open the doors to the club again and we will welcome our members and their guests back to dine, social and do business together.