Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Open Letter To (insert any private club here)

In 1988 I was pursuing my double degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. During a management class, the instructor, a knowledgeable man with a penchant for loud ties said, "...and you want to steer clear of 'animal clubs' (his simplification of Lions, Elks Lodges, Knights of Columbus, Yacht Clubs, Golf Clubs, & Country Clubs)." So apparently it's been common knowledge since the dawn of time that clubs are poorly managed facilities and therefore black holes for culinary talent. Seriously? Didn't someone send the clubs a copy of this memo? Wouldn't they realize that they're the laughing stock of the culinary world and want to whip themselves into shape? I didn't give it a second thought at the time, but I did spend the next twenty years of my culinary career successfully steering clear of clubs. Eventually it came time for me to find out the answer to the questions I posed above. I had what seemed like a can't lose opportunity to be part of a club that really wanted to re-build it's integrity. And since I'd be going into it with a General Manager that I knew, trusted, and respected, I felt safe.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The GM bailed on me less than three months into it; and it turned out that only 3/400s of the membership truly wanted things to be better bad enough to make any real changes; and even they couldn't agree on how. On my first day, I sat before the elected Commodore and the committee that I would directly report to and explained to them my philosophy, "I am a restaurant chef. It's what I know how to do. And in a restaurant you're expected to make money. If you let me run this operation like a restaurant, I will make you money." Sounds simple enough, right? Everyone at that table shook their heads and said that that was exactly what they wanted. And then spent the next three years not letting me do it. Everywhere I turned there were exceptions, 'yeah buts', stubborn staff unwilling to change, narcissistic old timers, and another 200 members that know how to do everything better. I was given all of the responsibility and none of the authority to see it through. Every month we'd sit back down at the table with seven trees worth of graphs, charts, and reports that all said the same thing: this isn't working. Then the powers-that-be would look at me as if to ask, 'We've been chasing our tails all month. Why haven't we caught it yet?'

Once a month there is a membership meeting. At this meeting the members that care the most (or are at least the loudest) gather to match wits and discuss who's to blame for the latest set of catastrophic numbers. At this meeting I set out a buffet which no one pays for. I was told of an individual who stood and ranted that my food cost should be this specific magic number. I wish I could have been there to charge him $8 for the sandwich he was eating. I can ultimately give them any number they want to see. But that would mean they would have to succumb to doing things my way. That, of course, will never happen. After all, owning a boat trumps a culinary degree and 20 years of experience any day in the mystical world of animal clubs. Whether it be tomorrow, next week, or next year; the smart money is on the talentless waitress will still be shooting off her mouth and doing whatever it is she wants completely unchecked and will still be working at the club while the intelligent, well-travelled, reasonable chef will be gone. Drained of his energy and motivation by arrogant members and spineless managing of resources; leaving another committee asking a another fool, 'Why can't we catch our tail?'