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How do you build a powerful F&B brand?

Airbnb or Marriott?

The difference: Luxury. In its purest form, luxury is defined as grandeur and extravagance. But in the case of vacation rentals as compared to hotel accommodations, it’s about having access to, or the luxury of, service and amenities. Hotel perks include housekeeping, room service, valet parking, restaurant and bar access. Whereas, extra space, affordable rates and home-like features (backyard and couch) are on the list of Airbnb benefits.

Many private clubs market themselves as Airbnbs. A familiar catchphrase in the club industry is: “You and your family will feel right at home.” But, as club professionals, we must ask ourselves the question: Is our ideal member really looking for another place to call home?

At many clubs, staff is adept at anticipating members’ preferences and ensuring personal attention. Members enjoy a high level of service and often have access to an abundance of amenities. At many clubs, it already is about so much more than encouraging members to “feel at home,” but that’s not how we portray ourselves.

This is why defining your brand becomes so important. Developing a brand helps clubs move beyond catchphrase marketing headlines to the deeper essence of what a membership truly values. Digging deeper, we will uncover the unique aspects of the club experience; and if clubs take the time to develop their brands, they can shape stakeholders’ perceptions.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic was an everyday reality—private club members were rating their food and beverage experiences at a higher importance than any other club amenity, including golf. Country clubs were learning they had to compete with F&B experiences being offered outside the club gates. As the consumer mindset shifts in the age of social distancing, the country club environment is being highly sought after, and in many cases is preferable to the downtown restaurant scene. In addition, F&B is likely the only club amenity that is used by every member.

Herein lies the opportunity: Food and beverage is an articulation of the larger club brand. 

When building or refreshing an F&B brand, there are three central components to designing and delivering an experience that is authentic, relatable and marketable.

  1. Conceptual Identity: This is the strategic plan that makes ideas tangible and forms an identity for a new or existing operation. This framework defines target audience, competitive landscape and unmet market needs. The concept for a F&B outlet requires data, market research and deep introspection. It is the business plan for your hospitality experience.
  2. Mapping the Experience: The goal of the journey mapping process is to identify high-level aspirational goals and granular elements that differentiate the member and guest experiences. Key areas of focus are the physical environment, style of service, food and beverage offerings, and the language used (and to be avoided) by the staff and in communications. Within these areas, the experience is mapped from pre-arrival (website, reservations, parking, etc.), through the entirety of the meal and post-departure.
  3. Brand Strategy: Brand is the perception of the experience in the eyes of its stakeholders—the staff, the members, their guests and the community. Brand encompasses the concept, the experience, the signature elements and touchpoints defined above; and brand is expressed through the outlet name, the visual look and feel, and related messaging. Branding done well forms a memorable impression in consumers’ minds.

These strategic pillars are the foundation for successful F&B operations; they inform budget allocations, systems and procedures, training and even the smaller details like uniform selection and tabletop decisions. This proven process guarantees the delivery of an extraordinary hospitality experience.

It’s time to drop the clichés, move beyond the familiar grillroom, and deliver hospitality experiences that really work. Afterall, it is low-hanging fruit; clubs are so much more than another place to call home.

Joëlle Creamer is brand development lead at RealFood Hospitality, Strategy and Design,A Troon® Company. She can be reached at [email protected].