Community Perception and a Pandemic
The events of the last few months have indeed been challenging as we have endured prolonged closures of our lodges and our club operations. Fortunately, the good deeds we do for others were not as affected and we were able to continue them albeit with some minor content and delivery adjustments. Through it all, our Elks lodges hung on to hope and are now beginning to reemerge. We used the downtime to revisit our operations, create new business plans, and strengthen our own sense of community within our lodge and among our members. This internal strengthening was especially important since through it, we improve our effectiveness at serving the greater community of others. We have grown together, and we will now heal together, and together we will be a force in the healing for our communities.
A common misconception throughout this ordeal has been the role our state association plays in the oversight of lodges. Many of our members are also members of other fraternal organizations and as such were privy to their communications. Oftentimes I was forwarded information from a state adjunct of another organization accompanied by a request for similar direction from the Florida State Elks. Regrettably, that is not how it works for the Elks. You see, Elks lodges are chartered by the national organization, the Grand Lodge. Executive orders to Elks lodges would come only from the Grand Exalted Ruler and through his District Deputies. Because the pandemic affected areas of the country differently, we did not receive a national one-size-fits-all mandate. The response from the Florida Elks was always to be governed by the direction of your local authorities and enforcement officials. It was frustrating, I know, and it would be so much easier to just be told what to do, but it was essential in allowing individual lodges a say in how they look and how they are perceived in their individual communities. It was a little more work for lodge leaders, yes, but it was also an opportunity to hone leadership skills and guide the lodge through turbulent times, lessons we can all carry forward to future generations.
So, let us talk more about community perception. Another popular question asked by many lodges in recent months has been whether we are a restaurant or a bar. This question does not have an easy answer, as we all well know, and is based on whatever criteria is used to evaluate such at the time. Allow me to share with you why the answer should not matter to us. Take the local country club. They usually have a pool and a tennis court and oftentimes a golf course. They usually have a pro shop and snack bar as well as a restaurant and dining room. It is also usually known if they are open to the public or private. Everyone for the most part understands a country club, so we therefore do not force them to conform to the label of a restaurant or bar. The basis for this is in what is seen and perceived. Then there is the actual restaurant and bar operations. It is a little harder to know the difference sometimes, but it is easily defined once the state of Florida added percentage of food sales to the mix. Then there is the fraternal that is clearly not a restaurant as they do not have a kitchen or the fraternal that has a kitchen but it is only used for special events. These did not fit under the restaurant label, so it was either/or for them and most fell under the definition of a bar. Then there is the hybrid of all three, a private membership club, oftentimes serving food from a restaurant-style kitchen that also serves alcohol in a bar-style setting. We know it as an Elks lodge. It is much trickier for the public to understand so it is generally subject to public perception. Do we seriously want to be known as a restaurant or bar? Or would we prefer to be perceived as an organization that does good for the community and provides its members dining and lounge privileges in a private club setting?
Our model stands alone because it should, but can it maintain that status if we are forced into a category created for us by others and based on their perceptions? Shouldn’t we strive to be different and desire to be perceived differently? I believe we should never allow public perception to label our lodges a bar or a restaurant and if that is the perception others have of us, well, we have some work to do to change that perception. It has been suggested that we lobby the state of Florida for a “private club” status like how they do it in Georgia. Are we prepared to demonstrate how we are different from the others so as not to be labeled just another restaurant or bar?
Our localized approach to managing this crisis allowed many of our lodges to reopen with mainstream restaurants as we benefited from the lack of clarity in defining what we were. Others were not so fortunate and were bars or were perceived as bars. We are in control of how others see us. Are we happy with what they see? How do potential members see us? If our weekly restaurant and bar promotions dominate what others see when they look at us, how ever will we be anything but a restaurant or bar? Do we WANT our new members volunteering just for the good of the club or do we NEED them to volunteer for the good of the community? When our club operations take priority over our lodge operations, we will have a difficult time changing public perception.
A member’s need to belong to something bigger than themselves drove them to our doors. Our lodge traditions create stability and contribute to that sense of belonging. The latest bar or restaurant promotion contributes to a sense of belonging, but it is the things we do as a lodge and for our community that create stability and appeal to their need to belong to something greater. We must become known for something other than just being a restaurant and bar. We are so much more; we just must sell it. The public knows we do good. The public knows we give back to our communities. Where we fail is connecting the dots for why to join. How do we connect perception to what we do? Who we assist needs to be on the front page of all we do – not what is for dinner!
Please visit https://floridaelks.org/carls-corner and join the conversation by logging in and posting your comments.
Carl Seibert, COO/State Secretary
Florida State Elks Association