A reservation policy that is properly implemented becomes a useful tool in providing members with the best possible dining experience.
Members typically have two options for dining at the club: Make a reservation to secure a spot in the dining room, or show up and hope they can snag an open table. Managing the mix can be challenging, but a growing number of clubs are stressing to members the importance of calling ahead.
At the Coral Bay Club in Atlantic Beach, N.C., dining reservations are required in all but one of the member dining outlets. “Being prepared in both the front and back of the house helps us ensure member satisfaction and better service,” says Clubhouse Manager Courtney Billiar. “We can’t be completely prepared if we don’t know who is coming.”
Reservations give Coral Bay important advance notice to ensure proper staffing levels, and also allow the culinary team the opportunity to purchase and prep accordingly.
At the Knollwod Club in Lake Forest, Ill., Clubhouse Manager Vincent Daversa relies on reservations to personalize the dining experience with special requests or special dietary needs.
“Our new-member orientation includes information regarding the club’s dining and reservation policies,” says Daversa. “Existing members are also frequently reminded to respect the reservation system via committee e-mails. When they do, the dining experience is better for all of us.”
Respecting the Rules
Getting members to respect reservation policies can be challenging, but good communication helps to ease that struggle.
At Coral Bay, the staff communicates the reservation policy when discussing events with members over the phone, and offers to make reservations for the member if that proves to be simpler.
“It all comes down to good customer service,” says Billiar. “We have often sold-out events that go on waitlists, so the more we can remind our members to make their reservations early, the better it will be.”
At Cherry Creek Country Club in Denver, Colo., Director of Events and Member Functions Jackie Stewart set up a stationary desk specifically to take reservations for dining and club events. The desk is staffed with a designated reservation agent who helps members with the process.
The reservation agent’s business card also includes directions for how to make reservations for dining and club events. Any time a member has a question, they can pick up one of these cards, which are placed all over the clubhouse and also given to staff members to distribute, to learn more.
Dealing with the Inevitable
Even in the best of situations, circumstances will prevail that sometimes lead to no-shows.
“The staff must be confident in their ability to enforce reservation times and policies,” says Coral Bay’s Billiar. “It’s equally as important to follow through, to make sure no-show fees are charged accordingly, as well as cancellation fees if the member cancels outside of the cancellation window.”
Cherry Creek CC’s Stewart agrees and shares information about any potential fees in advance as part of the reservation process, so members are not surprised. The club also sends out confirmation e-mails for every reservation that’s taken, to maintain a backup system in case a member disputes a reservation or charge.
“We impose a 48-hour cancellation policy premium for club events,” says Stewart. “And for events in the dining room, there is a premium charge for reservations made within one week of the event.”
Both of these policies have helped Cherry Creek to train the membership to make reservations in advance and be more mindful with cancellations.
Staying Ready for the Overflow
One of the advantages that private clubs have over restaurants is the extra space, typically in banquet areas, that can be made available for member dining. Some clubs even have a designated room to accommodate overflow from members who do not have reservations.
Coral Bay has a designated “Sandbar” room where reservations are not required. During busy dinner services, wait times can range from 15 to 45 minutes for a table in this room—but having the option helps to ease the tension when the main dining room is full.
At Knollwood, Daversa reports, “Once all tables are reserved, we cannot guarantee a table. Instead, we remind members that they are welcome to eat at the bar or at one of the hi-top tables on a first-come, first-serve basis. We also utilize a waitlist.”
This tactic serves as a reasonable solution for Knollwood members and also helps to train the members to make reservations if having a table is necessary. As a result of all of its policies, Knollwood now sees approximately 70% reservations, to 30% walk-ins.