There was a time when undertaking food and beverage in a club was very straightforward: a predictable menu served on beige laminex tables, one or two beers on tap, and a couple of wines poured from 20-litre casks. There was also a time when the Australian notion of ‘interesting’ food was the local Chinese restaurant…but as we know - all that’s changed.
Take a walk down any suburban strip today and you’re likely to find a thriving tapas bar, a themed burger joint, and a cluster of chic cafés offering single origin coffee and locally sourced fresh produce and craft beers. The local pub is serving something called a ‘Dr Shrub’ from a bar called ‘The Smelly Goat’, the shopping centre has become home to celebrity chefs, and visiting the venue down the road transports you to a food and beverage precinct that has a distillery.
Some call it the MasterChef phenomenon, though in truth it’s been sneaking up on us for at more than a decade with Australians becoming very food savvy. Eating and drinking are no longer adjuncts to social interaction but fully-fledged experiences in their own right.
It’s this ‘experience’ which is now being demanded of clubs. Food and beverage can no longer be afterthoughts; they’ve become part of the main game. The happy coincidence is this comes at a time when pressures on gaming revenue are increasing with a clear need for clubs to focus on their other income streams. So, while the need to jazz up your food and beverage offering may feel like a risk, it’s in fact a timely opportunity to re-energise and re-position your business to attract a broader clientele and drive traffic through your doors. That said, it does need to be done properly.
Clubs looking to take advantage of the vibrant new food scene have two hurdles to negotiate: firstly, overcoming the traditional mindset that sees food and beverage as a cost centre in which efficiency rules. While financial prudence is a desirable component of a business model, it shouldn’t be a total constraint on business development. The other challenge is finding a winning formula. The new world of food and beverage is very fluid because the rules are still being made up, so finding a real point of difference is critical but difficult in an increasingly crowded market. The right balance needs to be struck between capital spend, product innovation, provision of value, and maintaining a margin…and decisions need to be made about how much to do in-house and how much to outsource.
Food and beverage drives visitation to your club. It is a fundamental reason for member engagement so finding an approach that will excite is essential. Success depends on having a very good understanding of the broader food and beverage market from main street to food court as well as knowing what your members and the wider community really want. But to work it needs to be relevant, innovative and create energy.