Food for thought (part one)

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 29, 2024 10:26

In the first of a two-part feature looking at how the UK’s food and beverage industry in golf clubs has evolved over the last 25 years, expert Steven Brown goes through some major issues and details what his advice now is and, in some cases, how this differs to what it was in the late 1990s.

After more than 25 years of advising hundreds of golf clubs on how to improve their food and beverage operations, it has become obvious that the advice has changed, and in some ways greatly. Sometimes the advice is exactly the same.

Here are my brief reflections on food and beverage operations in the UK and Northern Ireland golfing industry (in no particular order).

In-house v franchised operations

Nothing much changed here. I would always prefer to have the food and beverage units in-house but I fully accept that all golf clubs’ circumstances are different, and I have to advise each of them accordingly to ensure they get the right trading model for their club.

Clubs are finding it increasingly difficult to retain franchisees at this moment in time, or even to resource a new professional partner if you want to replace them, leaving clubs to consider bringing the operation back in-house.

But in order for that to succeed, you have to fully understand how to operate a bar or catering facility. You need tried and tested systems in place and experienced personnel.

Wastage records

Why do chefs keep insisting they don’t have waste? Approximately 22 percent of all food is wasted in a kitchen, and if this is not accounted for, then the expected margins will not be achieved.

If chefs don’t have waste, why have they all got a waste bin in the kitchen!

Ensure your chefs / cooks record all waste.

Cook v chef

Far too many clubs are employing expensive chefs when all their menu requires is an experienced and competent cook at half the wage cost!

If you are providing a lot of functions and events, then by all means hire a chef. If you provide a simple club fayre (such as a bacon bap) then employ a qualified cook. Let the menu decide.

Menu choices

Prior to Covid, golf clubs in general offered far too much choice on their menus, leading to excessive waste!

Because of the Covid restrictions, clubs were forced to reduce menu sizes and thus the waste levels receded. My advice is to learn the lesson that smaller menus can be more profitable and thus be wary of expanding the range back to the previous levels.

Costing the food dishes

Why do many chefs believe this is unnecessary?

Experience tells me that, whilst they won’t admit it, it’s because the process takes too long or perhaps they don’t know the formula for calculating it! Yes, it is time-consuming but unless they adopt and maintain this process, then they, and the club, have no idea which of the lines that they produce provides the club with the best contribution or profit, due to the ever fluctuating wholesale prices we are experiencing which rose by some 19 percent in 2023.

My advice is to insist that your chef / cook carries out this process and constantly update it.

Members’ discount

At one of my most recent roadshows, I asked all of the attendees what level of discount they were giving to their members.

Their answers ranged from five to 25 percent. No surprise there at all. One contestant then informed me that their discount level was 9.6 percent.

I applauded this response as it shows that someone at the club has taken the time and trouble to calculate, from the level of discount given by the supplier / wholesalers, the amount of discount they could pass on to the members while still retaining a meaningful level of contribution to the club.

Why the five, 10, 15 percent, levels and so on? Is it because it’s simple to work out?

How much money did your club lose on either the food or beverage operations? How much are you subsidising your food and beverage operation every year? Just how much discount can you afford to give away?

The members’ levy

The majority of my clients will place an annual levy on the member’s card ranging from £25 to £250, to be spent in the food and beverage units or even to be offset against their annual fees, which somewhat defeats the objective of getting them to use the food and beverage operation!

The great debate is whether or not this amount is retained by the club at year end or, if not spent, is then allowed to be rolled over to the next year.

The vast majority of members that rarely use the clubhouse facilities over the year will tend to visit the bar and order cases of wine at the year-end in order to spend their levy.

No issue with that, but I suggest that you limit their choice of wines to the unsold wines that you have in stock so as to move them out of your stock inventory.


I am a big fan of these, as it identifies to all concerned who the member or visitor may direct their enquiries to. In addition, you are able to exercise control over dress styles.

Dress standards

Why is it still considered impolite to wear a hat / cap in the clubhouse?

This debate rages on, but I know one thing for sure, clubs are having to relax their dress codes to reflect a younger golfing profile. Yes you need to maintain control over standards, but times are changing and people’s attitudes to traditional dress in golf clubs is under review by the people that matter – your paying customers.


Slightly concerned that some officials charged with completing rotas are ‘abusing’ the privilege by ensuring that they personally don’t work either weekends or late shifts!

Please keep an eye on this as it isn’t fair to those members of staff who then carry the burden.

Additionally, and if your wages seem to be inordinately high, then set a weekly or monthly target for your units which must not be exceeded without authority.

Staff drinks / food

At what point did a club official rise to their feet at the AGM and suggest that the members should take a vote on whether or not they are prepared to carry the cost of allowing staff to consume food and drink at no cost to themselves?

These products belong to the members and carry a cost – how much did you lose last year?

I am not for a minute suggesting that staff should be refused either food or drink, but there is a right way to allow this to happen and allowing staff to access the post mix coke / lemonade isn’t it!

Till technology

A variety of systems available and in use – or rather in partial use.

Many till systems contain upwards of 10 management reports, so why is it that a majority of bar managers ignore them and only use the X and Z functions?

Have they not been trained on how to use and access the valuable data to better help them control their unit? Are they not required to use this data by the club?

Please instruct your staff to access these vital data on staff performance for greater control.

Also ensure that products no longer stocked are removed from the till to reduce the possibility of cross ringing, thus skewing results.

Bar wastage records

Every outlet will lose product during the course of service.

How well do your bar staff record ALL waste? Not just pipe cleaning losses but every item lost to the club.

Far too many records that I see are incomplete and fail to identify the actual cause of the loss.

If you don’t know how the loss has occurred how can you stop it happening time and again or at least reduce it? (If you want to know what a wastage record sheet should look like that records ALL the relevant data, then email me on and I will send you a free copy).

Gross margins

Did you know that the average gross margins for members’ golf clubs averages some 58 percent for bars and only 55 percent for catering!

If you don’t start right by accurately setting the required gross margin to account for the level of members’ discount you are giving and the waste and all other related expenses, how on earth can you expect to obtain a 60 to 65 percent gross margin, which is where you should be after the members’ discount.

Staff wage costs

All golf clubs will have experienced rises in wages over the last two years ranging from five to 50 percent.

How is the club covering the increases? By how much have you increased food and beverage retail prices in this same period? Is it sufficient to cover the wage rises? Have you reduced operating hours to reduce wage costs or simply reduced the headcount?

You may well need to revise the budgets and forecasts regarding staff wages you have set for the years 2024 and 2025, because they are undoubtedly going to have a major impact on your profitability over the coming years (not forgetting the rise in minimum hourly rates and utility costs).

The franchisee fee

When I first came to work in the golf industry, very few of the golf clubs I was advising charged their franchisees a fee.

That trend has, and is, being reversed, and whilst there are still some golf clubs charging no fee whatsoever, many more are exercising their right to charge a commercial rent to their ‘partners’.

Typically, these ‘contributions’ range from five to 10 percent of the VAT exclusive sales generated by the franchisee, details of which are easily accessed from them recording their sales hopefully through your till, and of course by you obtaining a copy of their end of year accounts, which should be part of your franchise agreement terms.

Merchandising the backfitting

It is estimated that over 90 percent of our staff don’t sell – they simply serve! Does it say in their job descriptions that selling and upselling is one of the prime tasks they must complete?

If staff are not going to sell, then your bar backfitting, naturally armed with your most profitable products, must do the task of silent selling by displaying those products you wish to promote and not by displaying tills, paperwork, postcards, trophies, a pint pot with pens in it, music centres and so on.

Get your staff, in quiet periods, to reinvigorate these prime display areas – let staff own it and then measure the results of their efforts. You might even consider some form of incentive scheme.


Why should we incentivise staff for doing the job they are paid to do? Because the schemes we devise are self funding and ultimately reward the club – let people share the success. What gets rewarded gets repeated.

Pipe cleaning

The industry norm is for outlets to suffer between 1.5 and 4.5 percent loss dependent upon regularity of cleans, bore of pipes, length of pipes, number of lines and method of cleans. (Automated pipe cleaning systems will show less than a one percent loss and are worthy of consideration).

I was always taught to clean the pipes every week. I now have a different opinion.

Both pipe cleaning systems and the products themselves have improved immeasurably, so why clean pipes every week, and who’s idea was it in the first place – brewers!

If you waste beer you have to replace it, but if you cut down on the regularity of pipe cleans, you need to order less to replace it.

Yes you may need to maintain your weekly cleans on cask beers or at least wash through on every change over a keg, but for the rest, extend the pipe cleaning process to 10 days and then even to two weeks, and have your pipe cleaning loss reduced substantially.

Training programmes

Obviously I have a vested interest in promoting this, given that I tailor-make training and development programmes and deliver them to my clients and their food and beverage staff, but by all means take me out of the loop for a moment and consider the benefits.

We try to develop staff so that our service, productivity, and profits will improve and reap rewards, so how effective is your training?

I am constantly told that, ‘we don’t spend money on training because the staff leave, so it’s a waste’, but what happens if those same under-performing staff don’t get trained and stay!

How much damage are they doing to the good work that other staff do?

Part two is next month. Steven Brown FBII, tp is from food and beverage consultancy INN-FORMATION. Contact him on 07785 276320 or 01604  843163, or email

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 29, 2024 10:26
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  1. HAL March 13, 11:25

    I wrote a dissertation whilst at Uni on Food & Beverage offerings at golf clubs around a similar time.

    It wasn’t my finest piece of work, but it did somehow help me get my degree!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Whistling March 7, 10:37

    Good article with good advice.
    I particularly like the comment ‘let the menu decide ….’ Many clubs try to be something they’re not and have excessive costs as a consequence.

    Reply to this comment
  3. ClubGrub March 3, 10:45

    Excellent article. We also believe there’s tremendous opportunity to optimize F&B operations, while delivering better member service and higher profitability.

    Reply to this comment
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