Generation Y Asks: Why Must I Serve Members?

Generation Y Asks: Why Must I Serve Members?

by Ed Shanaphy, CMAA

As a visitor to so many clubs across the USA and Europe, I see trends from East to West, North to South and even across the Atlantic. Trends come and they go, but as I travel far and wide, I see one that is growing further afield than just say California or New York. It’s a trend that is affecting how membership is serviced at private clubs, resorts and hotels. If the trend continues, it may see an end to some real and great traditions.

Respect for one’s elders was instilled in me at a young age. I was taught to remove my hat when shaking hands with an adult, or while congratulating or commiserating with my opponent on the 18th green. PGA players keep this tradition alive. Again, your cap comes off when you walk indoors. I would stand up if an adult stopped at our table and greeted my parents. These traditions, or even manners as some may call them, might not be as strong as they once were, but what scares me within the industry is not a lack of manners, although that is a trend, but almost a recalcitrant attitude toward membership from staff.

Clearly attitudes toward members and staff go both ways. I have heard more often over the past few years of members’ poor behavior toward staff, and sometimes toward one another. Well, if the members are having difficulties with manners, so are the staff. I have witnessed a certain disdain toward members from staff that believe they are better than service – above the members, if you will, in social mores and culture.

It’s a trend that appears to be crossing over from Generation Y to Generation X and is perhaps gaining momentum, which makes it hard to service members to the utmost degree as we find fewer workers wanting to provide great service. I find attempting to even discuss or alert a staff member harboring these sentiments a futile exercise. Where I was indoctrinated to respect my elders, out of this came respect for those for whom I work. That respect among members of generations X and Y is waning, and fading quickly.

This brings almost two fronts together in battle: Members of clubs who are perhaps the Baby Boomer demographic and also Generation X, who demand respect and service from workers who are part of Generations X and Y who are simply not prepared to provide service to the levels requested, expected or demanded.

As a manager I try to teach this sense of service and hospitality to staff across various departments. Maybe it’s my age catching up with me, but it seems to be harder and harder to teach what service truly means to younger members of staff.

It is that smile in their eye when you walk through the door, the tone of voice when someone says “good morning” or even getting thanked for something in a way that felt genuine and sincere. The magic of good service and feeling welcome in a store, restaurant, hotel or office is irreplaceable and beyond putting a value on. Cultures of civility and respect are foundational to providing good service that is authentic and, most importantly, believable. Basic tenants of good etiquette; greetings, showing gratitude, pride in appearance, host and guest roles, timeliness, honesty – all are critical to providing next level service and they can all be taught. –Emily Post Institute

As written so well by the people at Emily Post, it’s that endearing greeting from the doorman at Harrod’s that I remember as a kid that brings me back to that store year after year whenever I visit “The Big Smoke”. It was the genuine and slightly mischievous smile from Robert, who is now the captain of the Great Room at the Royal Automobile Club, when he was just an assistant waiter who would take enormous pride debone your sole or roll over and present the dessert tray in his own way.

On this side of the Atlantic, it’s the hearty welcome from John Assuma, General Manager at Waccabuc Country Club, when seeing a member he hasn’t seen in years and ensuring he calls him by name and apologizing he can’t chat longer as duty calls. I remember, vividly, as a kid the great Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Alex Olmedo welcoming me to the court at the Beverly Hills Hotel as if I were his only lesson of the day. He dominated the tennis world in 1959, but young Eddie Shanaphy had to be his best lesson ever. I remember what he taught me almost 40 years ago – a slightly smaller backswing and a well-mannered welcome to a prestigious court. I welcome people to the club in a similar way to this day.

What’s truly sad is that it’s these actions, these greetings or that nod toward etiquette, which will be remembered long after these gentlemen retire. They will be remembered not only by members, but by fellow staff members who take that example to their next role, their next club, their next resort, or their next facility.

In truth, we are here to serve as part of the private members club industry – whether on the terraces overlooking the eighteenth hole or driving the launch to a member’s yacht. Some will always be better servers than others, but service is at the heart of our industry.

Perhaps it’s that this new generation in the work force doesn’t care about longevity in a certain field. Maybe, they just don’t care about serving others in any way. They might not see value in service to others, but only service to themselves. If so, many could say the X and Y generations might be truly selfish.

I don’t believe that. It’s part of one’s ego and, in any environment, natural to leave a mark of one’s own. In an intriguing way, one of the only ways to leave such an indelible mark is through service and serving others. It’s this sense of service and helping others that ties humankind together and keeps the private clubs so special and so close to what we hold dear. I hope that those younger than I will truly understand this in time and realize that serving others is the most rewarding experience of all.

Ed Shanaphy serves as Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA, Sports Director at Pretty Brook Tennis Club, Princeton, NJ, and as Director of Club Operations at Boulevard Tennis Club in Vero Beach, FL. He still gets up from the table when someone stops to say hello, even though more often than not the visitor is now younger in age than he. Shanaphy has written for industry periodicals and served as an associate editor at National Review.

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