Hungry for more
With leisure facilities increasingly required to offer more value for money, Louise Birchall investigates how food and beverage options can be part of the package guaranteed to bring both guests and money to the table
As budgets are tightened across the world, it’s the businesses that are willing to diversify and entice guests with value-added services that will prosper.
While not traditionally seen as a major component of the classic gym, a simple but well-managed food and beverage (F&B) operation can help you to win new customers, keep existing guests happy and boost revenue.
One example of how this can work is at The Aviation Club, Dubai, which has a small café, The Coffee Bean, attached to the gym.
“When members join they’re shown The Coffee Bean because that’s a facility and it has become part of the package,” says the club’s F&B manager Dave Cattanach.
Cattanach has worked with The Aviation Club’s fitness and spa management staff to ensure that the facility is well tailored to suit the specific needs of guests. “The result is that on a daily basis everybody who comes to the gym or to the exercise classes at some point will use café, even if it’s only for a bottle of water,” he says.
In fact, despite being primarily placed to cater to gym users, the facility also attracts a lot of passing non-members and the lunchtime brigade coming in from nearby offices.
At a time when leisure facilities need to be thinking of ways to bring new customers through the door more than ever, this is certainly one way to do it.
“If the product and price is right, no matter what business you’re in you’ll always have people coming back to you — the price point is quite important,” says Cattanach.
Furthermore, operators who offer F&B can also expect guests to stay longer.
“I know a lot of members plan their workout and include having a salad or soup afterwards, they plan their routine with The Coffee Bean in mind,” he says.
Health club manager at Abu Dhabi Ladies Club Fanny Cataldo has also been working to develop more choice and diversity in the club’s gastronomic offerings.
She says that as well as the Orchid Coffee Shop, the club offers all-day dining options including a restaurant open for lunch and dinner, a lobby lounge and a terrace café. As a result, in addition to the sports and fitness classes and spa facilities offered at the club, it has also begun to attract guests coming for a family or business lunch or for a sociable fitness class and coffee.
Similarly, the InterContinental Dubai Festival City is reviewing its current F&B line-up within the health club to offer guests more value for money.
“Right now we’re looking at bringing in juice bars and healthier choices for guests to take advantage of,” says pool and health club manager Jonathan Evans.
In terms of marketing, the F&B should be integrated with a club’s leisure facilities.
For example, clubs can provide the fruit platter for guests to enjoy after a spa treatment, which not only introduces people to the café but adds to the spa package.
The InterContinental health club currently offers a bottle of water on arrival and unlimited water during the workout.
“We also offer a variety of food after their workout, but I’d like to enhance this offering down the line,” says Evans.
He adds that he expects protein and hypertonic (carbohydrate) drinks to be a big success, based on his observations of how popular these drinks are in Canada.
“I find that the corporate people who go to the gym here generally have a workout routine and vitamins and protein shakes are often a regular part of their diet.”
This is the same for clients at The Aviation Club. “We offer the Myoplex shakes as a food supplement for people who are training. We also have a lot of energy drinks as well,” says Cattanach.
“Myoplex flies out of the door — it’s a big one for us. We have telephone numbers in the gym and the changing rooms if customers want to pre-order, but a lot of people will come down the stairs to the café and pick up a drink,” he adds.
Not only do these takeaway supplement solutions generate secondary spend, they can help to improve fitness and results when consumed as part of a healthy diet.
“I think they’re the future of health clubs, especially after working in North America; that’s what I’ve found a lot of people have turned to. They’re all taking special vitamins and carbohydrates to keep them going and maintain their energy,” says Evans.
He says that these supplements and isotonic waters will do well in the UAE.
“It’s especially important here due to the heat. Staying hydrated, energised and full of fuel is an extremely important part of the health club system and so we need to address that. I know that around 80-90% of people in the UAE are dehydrated,” adds Evans.
Raising service standards
Managing director of Shape Express, in Bur Dubai, Jumeirah and Sharjah, Jyoti Anand agrees that it’s crucial to offer an F&B option, especially at her gym which offers 30-minute intense circuit-style workouts.
“We often find that people are dehydrated or they haven’t eaten something for a long time, which is very demanding on the body, especially as we cater to such a large age group from nine years old to 90. We try to offer something to keep sugar levels high and guests hydrated,” says Jyoti.
There are even more reasons to look to the catering sector and invest in offering supplements, snacks and other refreshments. Having previously worked in the F&B industry for more than 20 years, Evans suggests that facilities can benefit from bringing the same level of service you would expect to find in a restaurant to the gym.
“My F&B background will never die inside; I want to enhance guest experiences.
“The people I have working with me have the extended health club and lifeguard background and I’m really involving them in the evolution of the pool and health club. They don’t have the F&B background so I have that service background that they lack.
“I’m teaching them that and they’re teaching me a lot about how the health club works as well, so it’s a very symbiotic relationship that we have,” says Evans.
“We greet the guests, ask where they’d like to sit, take them to their chairs while we hand them towels and any extra items they may need to make their day enjoyable.”
Evans also says that he has encouraged the pool and health club attendants to talk to the guests and be more interactive.
“They really like to get to know the guests better; our users know the attendants by name and actually get up to shake their hands now,” he reveals.
Keep your options open
This level of customer focus extends to the food on offer, Cattanach points out that it’s wise to have health foods on the menu, however, it’s just as important to leave the choice up to the customer.
He says that the health club is committed to obtaining feedback from the guests, listening and catering to their requests.
“Until not long ago you couldn’t get fish and chips or a club sandwich. But the customers said can we mix it a bit because healthy is good but sometimes we’d like to have the option,” says Evans.
He adds that the café does supply feedback forms to fill in but most of the comments come through the waiters. Recently a guest asked for healthy egg-white-only omelettes. The café added them to the menu and claims that they’ve been a big hit.
So it seems that guests are looking for the full package; a good F&B operation as part of the health club or spa can potentially increase profits, encourage new faces and help you to stay ahead of competition.