How to convert your golfers into golfers AND diners

By mile September 5, 2016 04:33 Updated

Food and beverage expert Steven Brown analyses why the vast majority of golfers do not regularly eat and drink at the club – and what can be done to turn this around

So, having completed my consultancy review at the club and, upon reviewing the evidence, I said to my client: ‘Why is it that 80 per cent of your members don’t use your food and beverage facility on a regular basis?’ He said ‘That’s amazing! How did you know that?’ ‘Well’, says I, ‘the Pareto principle would suggest that you, like so many golf clubs, suffer from the same malaise, which is that golf clubs can fail to convert a golfer into a diner following completion of a round.’

When I repeated the question his response was ‘Well, I think that…’ at which point I politely interjected and said ‘THINK! What did your latest membership survey on the subject reveal?’ His response: ‘What survey?’

And therein lies the root of the problem. Many clients are asking me how they can both build and maximise the revenues from their food and beverage operation.

Their belief is that, in order to achieve this objective, their only option is to find new members to fill the void. Now, whilst I have no issue with that premise, they have totally overlooked the obvious objective of converting those existing and seemingly disenfranchised members numbering in the hundreds that, whilst they avail themselves to the delights of the golf course, apparently chose not to take advantage of the well appointed and safe environment of the clubhouse that may well provide a wide range of heavily discounted products.


Why is that? If this sounds familiar to your club’s current experience, do you know why they don’t choose to visit with you or are you, like my client, simply guessing at why they don’t?

It is six times cheaper to make a sale to an existing customer than to expend time and money on finding a new one.

If 80 per cent of your existing members do not give you their patronage you need to know why.

The reason they don’t may of course be for any of the following reasons

  • It’s too far to drive for a drink and a meal unless I am playing golf
  • I’m too busy
  • I always eat at home
  • I can’t afford it
  • I don’t like what the club has to offer in terms of product range, product quality and service standards.

If you decide to ask the question, I bet you will hear the first four reasons on a regular basis but, as human nature dictates with them not wishing to tell you what may be the real reason lest they offend you, you may not hear the last one at all (apart of course from Mr & Mrs Grumpy who got some bad news in 1965 and have never gotten over it and who will delight on heaping more misery on you!)

Before you expend energy on creating a new customer for your food and beverage outlet, you need to be absolutely sure that you have exhausted every avenue of business maximisation with your existing customer base.

There is a line of thinking that suggests that you simply follow the easiest and cheapest of business maxims, namely, sell more existing products to existing customers, as opposed to the most difficult and expensive policy of

selling brand new products to brand new customers.

That is not to say that you should ignore the latter, of course not, simply that you must focus on the former before you even think about the time consuming latter option unless of course, you can run both in tandem and at the same time without overstretching your resources!

So how do you get beyond ‘I THINK I know what my customer base thinks about my food and beverage operation’ to ‘I KNOW what my customer base thinks about my food and beverage operation’?

You need to know the specific reasons as to why your existing, committed clients choose not to use you. It’s not as if they don’t eat and drink or spend lots of money on dining and drinking at other establishments, of course they do – so why not with you?

The only way you can know the answer to this question is to ask them, and I don’t mean one or two of them in passing, I mean in a structured and meaningful way.

In the past I have been given access to data from clubs that have undertaken a customer survey with their members in an attempt to know them and better understand what makes them tick and in so doing enabling them to be in the market their customers want them to be in.

The customer surveys I have seen tend to be all encompassing, soliciting the members’ views on the club, the course, the pro shop, the driving range, the food and beverage operation, communications, customer service and so on, all of which is useful information – if acted upon.


My focus of attention is obviously on food and beverage and in that respect I will now address the issue of the hows, whys and wherefores of data collection via a customer survey.

If we assume that you buy into the idea that information on your customers’ lifestyle and routines is useful, then you might consider how best to obtain that detail.

Customer surveys have been in existence for many years and are an intrinsic part of our everyday life. Many people find them intrusive or even pointless, especially if from an unsolicited source. Your advantage is that the recipient of your survey knows who sent it and, as long as you ‘sell’ them the benefits of participating in the process, you stand a much better than even chance of achieving your key objective of collecting meaningful data and then acting upon it.

There is a structure that any survey must take from its construction to its delivery, its collection, its collation and finally on reporting the outcome, and I have taken the liberty of illustrating what the process might look like

  1. Clearly establish what you want to know.

If you simply want to know why your customers don’t, or rarely use you, then focus all of your questions on that topic.

  1. Plan the questions that will help you to obtain your objective.
  • Use specific questions that relate to your objectives
  • Keep the questions simple
  • Use a mixture of open-ended and appropriately phrased, closed questions
  • Avoid leading questions
  • Use a logical sequence
  • Don’t confuse the respondent
  • Use short sentences / key words
  • Use basic language
  • Avoid stereotyping
  • Allow freedom of expression by encouraging them to share their thoughts.
  1. Understand your demographic make-up and how best to communicate with each of them.
  • Newsletter
  • Post
  • Email
  • Web site
  • Twitter and all forms of social media appropriate to your customer base
  • Face to face

Note: You must decide which of the above is the most appropriate medium but don’t limit yourself to one option alone. You may need to utilise several of the options in order to communicate in the most appropriate way with your entire demographic.

  1. Design the form.

Will it be a simple tick box format, require them to circle an answer, or ask the respondent to verbalise their thoughts (keep it simple but in truth you will probably need a mix and match approach, of both ticks boxes and a degree of written responses)?

As an example you may favour a form that requires the respondent to select from one of the following options:

How do you rate our levels of customer service?

Poor : acceptable : good : excellent

I tend to not include the choice entitled ‘average’ as many people will take that route as an easy option when unsure.

You may choose to ask a question requiring a written response such as:

If choosing not to use the food and beverage facility at the club, which other local establishments do you visit?


  1. Instructions on how to complete.

Always begin by ‘selling in’ the process highlighting the following.

  • It will be easy to complete
  • It won’t take long to complete
  • It can be anonymous if you wish
  • The information will be secure and protected
  • The data gathered will be collated and a report on the findings published.
  1. Sell in the benefits of completing the survey.

You must highlight how the respondent will benefit from completing the survey. Perhaps they will:

  • Have an opportunity to air any grievances
  • Make some radical suggestions on how to improve the service
  • Help to identify new opportunities for the operation.

Naturally any comments here will have a personal bias and that must be taken into account when collating the details.

  1. Consider incentives.

We already know that the history of surveying reveals that obtaining less than a 10 per cent response to general surveys can be deemed to be a success and provide some meaningful data. It wouldn’t do for me however as it leaves too many questions unanswered, but perhaps your members need some form of encouragement to give up their valuable time in completing such a form. Here are a few suggestions that clients of mine have adopted to encourage member participation:

  • Every completed return ‘wins’ a drink (single serve) of their choice
  • A meal for two for the first 5 drawn from completed forms
  • A voucher for (say) £50 from the pro shop.

And how about this that elicited a 70 per cent plus response from the members surveyed at a club:

  • Free membership for the next year for one lucky winner drawn at a social evening at the club

Too rich for your blood? I love this approach and remember this, if you think that that costs a lot – what will ignorance cost you?!

  1. Test your questionnaire

Before you circulate the completed questionnaire you must test it out on a selected few. Perhaps the house committee, office staff or food and beverage staff, but in essence anyone whose opinion you respect that will help you to improve the finished article.

  1. Set a timescale for completion

Don’t leave it open ended but then don’t make the time for completion too tight. A maximum three week period may be appropriate but any longer may lead people to forget requiring you to follow up with a reminder thus using up valuable time.

  1. Make it easy to respond

Allow people to complete online, if your system can accommodate that, or enable them to complete a hard copy and encourage them to return the form to the club in person in a box situated in the bar allowing anonymity, and who knows, you might even sell them a drink and a sandwich whilst delivering the document!

  1. Find a simple way to formulate the data

If you use a simple tick box form then, in an online survey, you may be able to download and collate the data. If however you have members who have downloaded a hard copy and completed it, then, unless you can scan that data, you will have to manually compile the information, a task you could delegate to a member of staff.

  1. Publish the findings

It is, in my opinion, absolutely critical that you publish your findings, warts and all, and for some clubs, the warts and all comment is the single biggest barrier to wanting to undertake a survey in the first place. ‘What if they tell me things I don’t want to hear?’ The bad news is that they will! Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer.

What is the biggest concern in the world (apart from haemorrhoids that is!) – the one you never hear, so don’t be afraid to ask the question and don’t take any negative responses personally.


How on earth can you improve your food and beverage offering if you don’t know what the problem is? All you are trying to do is to improve the lot of your members and, whilst the journey to that final understanding may be painful, the only thing that matters is that you take the comments on the chin and work to achieve the objective which is to increase your profitable market share in the most cost effective way possible.

  1. Form an action plan

One of the most oft repeated reasons for respondents not completing the form is: ‘There is no point in me doing this because nothing will either change or be done’. Now, whilst you would be foolish to guarantee that you would action every point raised from the respondents’ replies, you would be wise to report that you have not only listened to the views expressed but then be in a position to illustrate that you have complied positively with their reasonable requests. Highlight what has been changed since the collection of the data and the impact that those changes have made and then illustrate how your action plan for change will be rolled out over the next three, six or 12 months. Finally thank everyone for taking part.

  1. Repeat the process

If you have undertaken an extensive review, you don’t need to do it again next year. You may of course wish to conduct a much smaller review the next year to sample people’s responses to the changes you have made and that makes sense, but in any event revisit the process within three years.

So where do you go from here?

Given the importance of this exercise, and the pressure that you as secretaries or managers are already under, you may consider employing a local agency to conduct this process on your behalf.

If this process is your bag then go for it. If you have a member of staff that has the potential to compile and manage the process then delegate the task to them (or a committee member) but i would urge you not to find an excuse for not undertaking this valuable exercise.


In my privileged position of being invited to visit clubs in my consultancy role, I have been able to access a number of such surveys and am even now in the process of designing a universal survey form for use by the golfing community and thus I am aware of the general subject matter that needs to be covered when soliciting the views of the membership, namely their thoughts on:

  • Appropriateness of the product ranges provided
  • Prices charged
  • Times services are available
  • Environment (cleanliness / furniture / ambience)
  • Service standards
  • Menu make up (range / descriptions)
  • Service styles
  • Discount levels
  • Functions / events
  • Quality of product
  • Communication of products (merchandising)
  • Attitude / approach of staff
  • Payments method
  • Value for money
  • Communications used to promote the service and their effectiveness.

Each of the above headings, and any others you think are relevant, will sub divide into other areas and you may not of course wish to include all of them in your survey but simply those there that you feel are important to you.

You can of course, and should, make space available for the respondent to raise any issues or suggestions of their own choosing which may identify what their food and beverage concerns are, thus enabling you to respond appropriately.

The bottom line is this.

If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got!

If you are not happy with the performance of your food and beverage unit and are not fully maximising its potential you need to know why. You cannot be guessing at what might be right or wrong. You need to know how to make your success happen by design and not by accident and communicating with the market place is key in helping you achieve that, so take the guess out of success and talk directly to the people that have all the answers- your members.


Steven can be contacted on:


Office 01604 843163

Mobile 07785 276320



By mile September 5, 2016 04:33 Updated
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