By Peter Blais, former managing editor of Golf Course News
With competition among courses rising and the number of rounds remaining basically flat, course operators are searching for ways – other than simply raising greens fees – to increase overall revenues. Increasingly, on-course food and beverage services are emerging as an essential component of a healthy bottom line. In fact, course owners with efficient beverage cart operations(…) are enjoying a second helping of profits. Golf Business spoke with a number of entrepreneurs to find out how they keep their customers’ golf and culinary desires satisfied.
Beverage Carts Help Quench Bottom-line Thirst
Often viewed as little more than an amenity, well-run beverage cart operations can represent a major profit center.
“We recently had a cart break the $3,000 sales mark for one day, which is pretty spectacular,” says Bill DeGrafft, corporate food and beverage quality control manager for the PGA Tour’s 23 Tournament Players Clubs. “That’s one cart operator bringing in $3,000. How many dining room personnel do you need to generate that type of money?” DeGrafft says it’s not uncommon for beverage carts to bring in $1,000 per day at many of the TPC facilities.
With these types of numbers, a beverage cart can quickly move from being a luxury to a necessity. “People expect it,” says Sandy McLaughlin, assistant food and beverage manager at Angel Park Golf Course in Las Vegas. “But it’s a service, too.” McLaughlin says the beverage cart operation at the Angel Park complex, which features two 18-hole courses, averages $8 per golfer per round. This, she says, amounts to about 30 percent of total food and beverage revenues.
Jeff Lessig, director of golf at SunRidge Canyon in Scottsdale, Arizona, estimates the beverage cart may be the most profitable part of a golf operation, considering the amount of money it costs. “Spread out over its usable life, it returns a tremendous profit,” he says. “In the year 2000, we made $141,000 off the beverage carts. A cart costs $20,000, and its useful life is three to four years. That’s a pretty good return.”
So, what are the secrets to a successful beverage cart operation? Most operators stress customer service. Jim Conter, grill room manager with the Southern California Golf Association Member’s Club at Rancho California in Murietta, says it’s imperative that golfers see the vehicles at least two to three times per round.
DeGrafft agrees. “You need to be there when the customer is on the course,” he says. “We expect our carts to make contact with a golfer four times during a round. If you’re not in contact, you’re not going to sell anything.”
To ensure golfers are being served adequately, operators must be able to recognize – and respond to – fluctuations in business. “We have various trigger points where we add personnel and equipment, depending on the business level,” DeGrafft says. “You may get by with one cart for 50 or 60 rounds. But with a full tee sheet, you need at least two.”
Angel Park has six carts, and runs four a day when there are no events on its two courses. Two carts go out in the morning, one for each course. Two more go out at 1 p.m. and overlap for about an hour before the morning shift ends. “So we usually have one cart per 18 holes, but we have two when we’re at our busiest,” McLaughlin says.
Training is equally important. DeGrafft conducts a customer service program that all employees must complete twice each year—including beverage cart personnel.
“Operators need to know enough not to approach golfers when they are engrossed in their game,” Alexander says. “We train them in when and how to approach golfers.” Most courses run their carts in the reverse order of the holes, starting at No. 18 and heading back toward No. 1. This allows the golfer to see the cart coming.
Once you’ve determined how to run the beverage cart operation, the natural question is “what sells?” As at most courses, beer tops the list at the SCGA Member’s Club, representing 60 percent of sales. Soda, water, and iced tea make up 20 percent, while food (chips, nuts, candy bars, fruit and danishes) constitute the other 20 percent.
In addition to the “big sellers,” many courses are expanding their basic offerings. The TPC facilities, for instance, offer hot foods, including muffins and breakfast sandwiches in the morning as well as hot pre-wrapped sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and tortilla wraps in the afternoon…
Finally, there’s the tricky prospect of pricing. “Pricing is an issue, although less so during a tournament,” says Tyler Jones, director of golf at Poppy Hills Golf
Course in Pebble Beach, California, who oversees 300 tournaments annually at the Northern California Golf Association’s home course. “Price is more of an issue with daily fee players and members. They don’t come to Pebble Beach with the expectation of paying $7 for a beer—they want to pay $4. We try to market to the blue-collar guy.”
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