Club Operations Seminar
The “In the Trenches” Debate
New-school versus old-school? The best ways to build clientele? The best music format? Who’s really in charge—the owner or the general manager?
What would it be like to be in the “war room” with a handful of in-the-trenches club operators, debating the most critical operational topics in the industry today? The EXPO’s “From the Trenches Debate” panel session featured three club executives—Dean Reardon, VP with the Christie’s Cabaret chain, Frankie Fusco, GM of the Hustler Club in San Francisco and Dave Peacock, GM of Platinum 84 in Denver—who are each “in the trenches” every day in their respective venues.
Here, we’ve printed some of the back-and-forth discussion, as Reardon (acting as moderator) peppered Fusco and Peacock with specific club operations questions.
Reardon: In the past two weeks, I’ve been to some great clubs out there in the U.S. So many great clubs, great people, great managers, great candidates for this year’s GM of the Year Award. I enjoy seeing what different clubs do that make them successful. What I’ve seen is, you have to go out of your comfort zone and see what is happening in the industry today. The GM is so important to the club, but you have to work on your craft.
Question from Reardon: Do you have an “open floor” or do you have sections for your servers?
Fusco: We have sections. We find that open floors can get confusing, or you’ll have waitresses going from one end of the floor to the other. In that case, the quality of service starts to go down.
Peacock: We do both: We have open floor Sunday through Thursday, sections on Friday and Saturday. We also have two roamers on the weekend; these are our best servers, that are able to roam throughout the club. Some servers are also requested by customers.
Reardon: My opinion is, why pigeon-hole your best sales people? We’re in the sales business, selling drinks, bottles, merchandise. Yes, you have sections for accountability and cleanliness, floaters work as well, but open floor for me is better from a sales perspective. I think open floor makes you more money.
Audience member comment: Open floor lets the cream rise to the top. Winners drive the numbers, almost have to have open floor.
Audience question: What if you have sections, and a waitress has a full section, yet a customer/group comes in and requests her?
Fusco: Of course they get her as their waitress, we’ll have to pass off one of that waitresses table to another server.
Question from Reardon: How do you motivate your staff?
Fusco: There are different ways to do it. Showing leadership, showing how involved you are in the club, makes them want to be a better employee. Example: When I started at the club, no one was setting goals for the staff or telling them what we were all striving for. I’m very goal-driven. So I did set those goals for the staff. At the end of the week they’d say, hey, did we hit our goal? They didn’t get any bonus out of hitting the goal, but they did want to be a better employee, wanted to know if they did the job right. Maybe that person who hits those goals gets a better schedule, for example. Motivate by rewards (schedules), take them out for day trips, paintballing, sometimes reward with tickets to shows. If you build a “family” instead of a staff, they’ll work harder and do better.
Peacock: We have small incentives and large incentives; sometimes we’ll randomly buy dinner for everyone in the club. If I see door guys who are staying late, doing work that doesn’t even apply to them, I might give them cash out of my pocket. The goals that I’m supposed to achieve rely on other people’s efforts, so I reward them.
I’m fortunate to have an owner who’s very invested in the club; he once hired a private hibachi chef to cook for the entire staff. We have an employee of the month and present them with a gift card. We also line all of the managers up and let them throw a whip cream pie in the face of the manager of their choice.
I try to stay as positive as I can, I apologize when I’m wrong, and there’s nothing I won’t do with them. I’ll clean up puke with them. I’m not superior to them, I’m just leading the way.
Question/comment from Dean Reardon about having pre-shift meeings:
If you’re not having pre-shift meetings, you’re really screwing it up. That’s the time to motivate your staff, fire them up. This is your sales force! For you not to do a pre-shift meeting is the most ludicrous, craziest thing ever. Other businesses do pre-shift meetings all the time, gets their staff fired up, trains them, keeps it positive and exciting about the brand, about what you’re doing that night. Even if it means having a few meetings a day to coincide with different shifts of people coming in, do it.
Question from the audience: How do you communicate this staff meeting information to the entertainers?
Peacock: We created a private Facebook group, specifically for the entertainers, where we present this information. We also use Text Boom, a mass texting service, to send mass texts to all of the entertainers. We put signs up in the most obvious places in the clubs (ladies’ room, locker room, etc.). I’ll go back in the dressing room toward the end of a busy night to communicate the important information.
Dean Reardon asks how clubs handle the “training” of entertainers given the current “class-action lawsuit” environment:
Peacock: It can’t just be about “don’t do this” or “don’t do that.” For me, it’s about always explaining the “why” behind it. This is why we do this or don’t do this, this is why it will make you and the club more money. These aren’t “rules,” they’re “guidelines.”
Reardon: I think you have to be proactive, get the entertainers excited. Get the class-action suits out of your heads. By encouraging them and showing them how to make money, it shows that you care about them, you love them, you’re trying to do what’s best for them. How many of you tell your entertainers, “You look amazing tonight” or something similar. Show them how to make more money. It’s not about the “rules,” it’s how to make more money.
Reardon: I/we treat the entertainers like human beings. I think that concept gets thrown out the door at a lot of clubs. I treat them like business equals. We will ask them for suggestions, how can we help you, how can you help us. We work with them and not over them, we treat them like ladies. We take an extra minute to help them, not just treat them as objects.
Question from Dean Reardon: What do you want your guest’s experience to be the first few minutes he walks into the club (after you do all of that advertising/marketing to get him there)?
Fusco: Much of our training revolves around this exactly. First, we make sure our staff knows these are not customers, they are guests. A customer is someone who walks in a store to buy a pair of shoes, then walks out. These are our guests. The girls are not strippers or dancers, they’re entertainers. Our hosts are not bouncers. The “guest” has come to our “house” for a “party.” It’s not a cover charge, it’s an entertainment fee.
The guest gets a hand shake from that host when he first walks in, then he goes to a “point guy,” like a maitre d, who directs traffic as far as where the guest wants to sit, then another host makes sure the guest is properly seated. At that point, three people have shaken his hand and introduced themselves. Then we introduce the waitress. The guest feels special. And then, the party starts. As a manager, you have to be out there as well, talking to the guests, setting an example.
Peacock: It’s funny, I’ve had customers walk into the club on a weeknight, not see a lot of guys in the club and say, “It looks dead in here, I’m going to leave.” Really? Why wouldn’t you want to be one of the only guys in a club full of girls?! But we want our servers to treat each customer like they’re the only customer in the club.
We have a guy who spends $50-80,000 a month in our club. Buys all kinds of drinks, funny money, etc. Then we have a guy who buys a beer, sits in the corner and drinks that beer for an hour. But should he be treated any worse than the guy who’s the VIP? If we’re trying to turn that one-beer guy into a regular, into a VIP, then of course we want to treat him the same way from his first visit on. We have to “develop” customers over time.
We also have a DJ who spends time getting to know the customers’ names. The second they walk in the door he’ll say ”Hey, Bobby’s here! Great to see you!” All of a sudden, that guy feels like this place is home.