JOHN COCKAYNE: A good day on the course can be spoiled by missing the putts in the bar
Doing more with less in the food and beverage area requires management of expectations
We continue our discussion on golf’s management challenges with Pearl Valley’s Country Club GM Damian Wrigley.
Previously we touched on problems faced as a result of the revenues’ “hole” from the lockdown. Visiting Sandton City for the first time since February, the extent of this was clear with a number of conspicuous casualties, including the large Prada store in Diamond Walk, although the owners report footfall at 85% of 2019 levels. Hospitality is service intensive, but is trying to deliver at normal levels with reduced staff complements and all the obstacles this presents.
Samantha Croft, who oversees Tsogo Sun’s KwaZulu-Natal region and the group’s resorts portfolio, explained the thinning out of staff layers in its operations and illustrated this by not having supervisors and department managers on site simultaneously and by training staff to multitask across key operational areas.
JC: At Pearl Valley what service challenges are there in the food and beverage areas and how are you coping?
Damian Wrigley: Creativity, adaptability and operating cost effectively will be key. Our service offering was simplified, expenditure minimised and trade times reduced while running a one-shift operation instead of three. We also reduced serviced areas to manage with less staff and introduced new self-service options. Achieving more with less will require that we manage expectations, while staff numbers slowly return to levels that will not compromise service standards. Normally we have a larger permanent staff, but going forward the plan is to reduce this by employing fixed-term contract workers to assist through the busier summer months.
JC: The acknowledged attributes of successful restaurants include quality food, a good range of beverages, correct pricing, good atmosphere and well-trained staff. While staff levels are being reduced, in general expectations and prices have not, so what are you doing to ensure there is no compromise to the core experience for guests and members?
DW: We cannot be everything to everyone, but our offering must complement the brand and have a clear identity. We cannot provide a superb retail and course experience and then “miss” in the restaurant and bar area. Food trends change, so we must stay relevant and sell what appeals to our clientele. Craft beer and gins are a must-have, while our being in the wine region, requires us to stock great wines, particularly those we produce on site.
Our menu is an effective combination of deli/bistro meets family style with a good mix of health-conscious meals, which are mindful of vegetarian and vegan needs. Any food and beverage operation must get the basics such as lighting and music style right and it must be consistent. I feel the current blend of areas we offer appeals to the eclectic mix of tastes that we cater to.
JC: Retail poses different challenges, in terms of stock types and inventory levels. Within your retail operation how do you see the shop’s role going forward?
DW: Losing two trading months in the season and then two additional months was significant. Stock values are high and our team has been very creative in moving the inventory through the online store and regular sales activations. Retail is challenging, because it is essential to remain relevant and up to date on styles.
While golfers like to see stocked what players are wearing on tour, I have had to make some changes to future stock purchases when it comes to size ranges and styles. We have moved away from stripes and crazy patterns and will be stocking more timeless designs that carry the club logo well with one pop piece in a range. Premium brands’ orders are on hold for now as we need to stock what can be purchased year-round at prices locals can afford. These adjustments will be key to getting through the next year and a half, while the ongoing “trick” will be effective stock rotation.
JC: The golf course is the heart of your operation. It is used by golfers, but also plays an integral role in the value of any property in your section of Val de Vie Estate. How are you refining the maintenance protocols and staff levels, can mechanisation help and how will you continue to provide golfers with the high-level playing experience that they have come to expect?
DW: The brief was simple — reduce expenses without compromising on the standards. This required careful planning around cutting schedules, changing some of our chemical practices, combined with a smaller team that is a balanced mix of low- to high-level skills, having senior staff active in operational roles, while the creative use of machinery helps get the job done more quickly.
The real test is coming. The summer months can be brutal and we shall need a 12-man irrigation team to hand water and target irrigate the greens and heat stress areas. We have got by with less this year as we shelved various projects and planned improvements. Going forward with the current staff levels, both maintaining and improving the course will require outsourced assistance.
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