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By: Dr. John T. Self

Private Club Food Service Management

A private club is simply defined as any club that is not open to the general public. Generally, new members are accepted by the club's board after being "sponsored" or recommended by other member. The new member usually pays an initiation fee in addition to monthly membership dues.

Within the club management industry, clubs are predominately country, golf, athletic, city and yacht clubs. Within these categories are sub-sets that may include seasonal operations or cater to a specific culture or ethnicity.

Typical career path
There is no typical career path. Some transition from Kitchen and Bar management into full managers. Individuals with strong formal and practical backgrounds with an emphasis on food and beverage seem to excel. Fewer managers seem to transition from the accounting side.

Depending on your background you might start as an Assistant Banquet or Dining Room Manager. The next step might be Catering Manager or Assistant Clubhouse Manager.

Four to six years as a Catering Manager in a club grossing $1.5 million plus in food and beverages alone would probably make you a contender for a Club House Manager spot or a Manager in a small club. A lot will depend on the quality of your mentoring.

In many respects the successful manager is a chameleon. He or she takes on the persona of the club. Casual, formal, discrete or visible members of the local community. It just depends on the club culture.

The successful manager also remembers that he and his family are not members. Many successful club managers have fallen into the trap of acting like members and attempting to become the social equal of the folks who provide the paycheck. When the chips are down, the members stick together and the manager gets to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Five to six days per week, usually 10 hour days. In actuality you schedule yourself to the activities of the club. If it's quiet, you leave. There is no such thing as regular hours for most Club Managers.

Best feature
High quality environments and facilities abound. Club management can afford you a professional income and many opportunities for advancement to larger clubs and facilities around the world.

Worst part
Private clubs are most often directed by boards and operated by managers. Boards have high levels of turnover (usually 1/3 of the directors' turn each year). Members get elected to boards. You could be faced with an incoming President whose son you kicked out of the pool 5 years earlier.

Perks and benefits
In addition to base compensation, most managers receive some type of performance bonus ranging from 5 - 15% of their base and many receive a holiday bonus also.

Other perks can include:

  • Usage of the facilities, meals, and tremendous working environment.
  • Budgets for continuing professional development.
  • Annual conferences with peers via the Club Manager's Association of America.

About the author:  John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academe, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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