Paul Schonenberg: For those who might not be aware, please shortly tell us the Cercle Munster’s background story?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: The Cercle Munster was founded in 1982 from the initiative of a handful of entrepreneurs wishing to create a club in LUXEMBOURG on the model of the Anglo-Saxon “Gentlemen’s Clubs”. The economic and social development of LUXEMBOURG at the time justified in their eyes this new quality service for a varied public of business leaders, liberal professions and representatives of international institutions.
Since its creation, Le Cercle Munster has been a reference in the Grand Duchy in terms of quality of product and service and therefore as well the address for receptions and event organization.
During culinary, artistic or musical evenings, the Cercle is the place to meet professional and friendly relations and to make new acquaintances.
Paul Schonenberg: When did you all in Cercle Munster become first aware, and what did you do when the Coronavirus epidemic first came to Luxembourg?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: With the strong outbreak of the pandemic in Luxembourg the management took in collaboration with the board of directors the first steps considering that there might be a total shutdown of the business, which was already the case in certain European countries, and which gave us an idea what to expect.
Therefore, with the closing of the Cercle, for the management and the board of directors it was important to take the right steps for the safety of our members and employees as well as secure the sustainability of the Cercle Munster. The new board of directors just recently inaugurated is composed of various young entrepreneurs which formed different groups taking their responsibility in different fields such as communication, finance, partner clubs, wine cellar etc.
In addition, a task force was created by some members of the board, which organized with the management team a format to response to the crisis. On a weekly basis, every Monday morning this team got together to review their implemented measurements, as well as planning the next steps. The focus was always to maintain to the members the maximum of service, even under limited conditions.
It was essential to offer an alternative and to give the members and our personal the necessary safety during this challenging period. Therefore, it was important to have a close relation to the members and employees, as well to have them informed about the development and the measurements the Cercle had taken.
Despite the crisis with its limitations, the board and the management team identified areas of new opportunities in product and service.
First, to sustain the “life” of the Cercle Munster, the Club created an alternative program of an “à la carte” home delivery services, wine sales with delivery service, online cooking classes and even food festivals “to go” as well as other activities to give our members the opportunity to still benefit from the Cercle Munster even it is closed.
With these animated activities, the Cercle Munster showed our members that we are still there and available for them. In return, the members supported the Cercle Munster in a strong way of participating and utilizing the provided services. This helped the Cercle Munster enormously during this difficult period.
Under the new circumstances of limited seating’s, the Cercle offered their salons and meeting rooms for our members for smaller lunches and dinner.
Also, the Cercle opened their terrace with large sun shields against the rain with an integrated heating system to give the comfort even under colder weather conditions. This service was very appreciated by the members and their guests.
As mentioned, it was essential to offer the maximum of service. Still, it was mandatory to adapt and have all measurements in place in accordance to the requirements of the authorities.
Paul Schonenberg: How have you taken advantage of government subsidy payments or other assistance to pay your staff and other expenses, and has this support been sufficient?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: Immediately with the outbreak and the following limitations of providing the service and product, the administrations of the state offered in a quick and efficient way the necessary support, which helped the Cercle Munster and his team to continue in a certain way.
Paul Schonenberg: How have you communicated with your customers and what feedback have you had from them?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: With our online newsletter and the adapted program, we could maintain differently the relations to our guests and members. As well, during the closing, the team of the Cercle Munster remained available at the service for the members. With the closing we took the advantage of redesigning our webpage with a better access, new look and providing more information about the Cercle. With this new webpage, the Cercle Munster and the regularly new designed newsletter gives the members a new vision of the Club. These new services were very much appreciated by the members and the Cercle have had a very positive response on that.
Paul Schonenberg: How successful was your take-out business during the lock-down, and were there any other changes to your business offerings?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: Because of the closing of the Cercle Munster, our members had no access to the Club. The alternative was the take-out service, where the members could order from the Restaurant menu “à la carte”, which gave them the opportunity to eat like in Cercle Munster. This service was a success because the members could order whenever they wanted their lunch or dinner to be delivered or picked up at the Cercle Munster. To enlarge this offer, the Cercle changed their menu of the restaurant every month, and in addition the client could benefit to order from the different food festivals. A big advantage was for our members the possibility to have access online to the wine cellar and to order accordingly their wines which could be delivery, and it was a remarkable success. This service we have continued even after the reopening, still the members are happy to visit the Club again.
Paul Schonenberg: How have you kept your relations with your employees and your suppliers strong?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: Certainly, during this lock down, several employees were not working for this period and benefiting from the state subsidies. We kept a close relationship with them by them informing constantly about the development and the tendencies of the lockdown.
Paul Schonenberg: Are you fully back to business now, and how do you expect your business model to change going into the future?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: In general, the Cercle Munster is heading like other companies back to “normal”, still there are many activities and its members missing. 2021 still will be until the end of the year a special period. The event of the pandemic has shown that there is no safe business model for events like during the Corona Crisis. It is essential to have a certain flexibility and to adapt product and service accordingly.
Paul Schonenberg: Have you made any up-grades or freshened the club in any way during the period of closure?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: Yes, Restaurant and banquets Internet site flat screen televisions. Even to be closed, we have decided to take this “opportunity” to show a new refresh of the Cercle. This refreshment started with the new redesign of the fine dining room, which shows now a new look and the different aspects of the 2 restaurant – the Brasserie and the as mentioned fine dining room. Also, we took advantage of the closing and installed new conference technical facilities with new visual system with flat television screens in the conference rooms and a new audio equipment as well new installations to have a more efficient and faster Wi-Fi. With these new tools, the Cercle Munster can offer in addition to the exquisite cuisine a state-of-the-art conference technic and shows more professionalism for organizing meetings and conferences.
Besides the mock-ups and renovations, the Cercle was undergoing, the digitalization was a main goal as well in the program of modernizing the product. The Wi-Fi system was upgraded and to give the Cercle a new look and to be more present the Webpage was renewed, which gives a new visual look and more opportunities for the members to be informed and to explore the different products of the Cercle Munster.
Paul Schonenberg: How have your employees changed as a result of this experience?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: In general, nobody expected such an impact from such an unexpected event. Overall, there are people leaving this industry because it has shown an uncertainty for their personal life. Still, the team of the Cercle showed a good sense of motivation and team spirit. They are positive minded and happy to be on the job again.
Paul Schonenberg: How has your personal management style changed as a result of this experience?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: As mentioned before, this crisis had shown again that different circumstances are demanding flexibility and more creativity to adapt to these situations. That means for the management as well to show the team that a quick adaption is necessary to response to events like we have now experienced.
Paul Schonenberg: What are your fears and hopes for the Club for the future?
Maximilian Von Hochberg: The COVID crisis was maybe the most important challenge we have had so far. Still, overall this crisis was well managed by the authorities and gave us many opportunities to see certain things different. It has shown that the society can quickly adapt, and that means for the Cercle Munster to be aware of certain challenges which might occur, and to provide especially than to our members the product and service that they are feeling to be home. There are in the world older gentlemen’s clubs, and it is interesting to see how they sustained their services during even more difficult periods.