Despite Darden's confidence in running his club's café, many more club owners choose to outsource the operation of their juice/smoothie bars and cafés.

“Several years ago, we tried to run our own smoothie bars with our own recipes, and we weren't very good at it,” Shoulders says. “Our failed attempts were based around not marketing well, bad recipes and poor size control, all of the things food service operators would know how to do.”

In the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center also attempted to run its smoothie bar, but because it wasn't its core business or area of expertise, management eventually outsourced the operations, Lee says.

“We believed that if we didn't have the staff power or expertise to accomplish it, then we are going to hire someone who loves what they do for a living — eats, breathes and sleeps this particular product — [and would help us retain our members] better than we could,” Lee says.

Some club operators are going beyond the normal outsourcing companies to offer some well-known and not-so-well-known franchised food options to members. The Maryland Farms YMCA in Brentwood, TN, is home to a full-service Subway restaurant. The business is completely separate from the Y and is not advertised outside the club, says Phil Newman, director of communications for YMCA of Middle Tennessee.

Shoulders turned to a lesser-known franchise for his café operations, actually purchasing the franchise himself and opening it in his club.

“Everything was pre-packaged when we bought the franchise arrangement,” says Shoulders. “We didn't try to reinvent the wheel. It's a franchise concept that you see in other places, but we let them do all the leg work in creating the concept and the recipes.”

Whether or not club owners run their own food operations or outsource them to a franchise or an operating company, the wave of the future in this area is fusing menu offerings with juice/smoothie bar core products, according to Juice & Smoothie Bar Consulting. The idea is to create a menu with quick-serve products, such as soups, wraps and salads, which can be made in front of the customer.

“QSRs (quick-service restaurants) have the concept of restaurant-quality food at fast-food speed,” says Lee. “Nothing is pre-made at our café. They get their ingredients from local produce centers and use them in their sandwiches and smoothies.”

QSRs fit well within health clubs' missions because they have all of their own marketing materials, provide all of the menus and recipes, and have already been established elsewhere, Lee says.