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How to recruit (and retain) staff during the hospitality job crisis

Read advice on what you can do to increase your chances of finding good people and how to support your existing team

The hospitality industry’s recruitment issues have been on the horizon for many years. Long hours, low pay and stressful conditions have meant that people have chosen alternative career paths, however, the pandemic and Brexit have now accelerated this movement.

A hospitality survey by CV-Library in June 2021 found that 41% of workers have left the sector since the onset of Covid-19. Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UKHospitality, says 1.3 million foreign workers left the country during the pandemic and “…many foreign workers [are] not returning to the UK, either because of travel restrictions or their ability to resume work in the UK”.

“There were 188,000 vacancies in hospitality in May 2021”
- UKHospitality

All these factors mean that there were 188,000 open vacancies across the industry in late May, according to UKHospitality, with chefs and front of house staff especially in demand. So critical is the current situation, that some businesses are having to limit the number of bookings they take or close for lunch service because they simply don’t have enough staff members to manage full service.

UKHospitality has a 12-point plan to rebuild the industry. In the short term, the good news is there are steps you can take to improve your chances of hiring new people and retain the talent you have…

How to improve your recruitment chances

Improve your job adverts

With fierce competition for the best candidates, it is important to make sure your vacant roles stand out. They should be clear, to the point and showcase exactly what makes the role special. The opening few lines need to capture attention – open with a question such as, ‘Would you like to work for a company that values work-life balance and provides a free meal?’

People will be looking for training opportunities and progression. Make it clear and appealing. Wagestream’s Talent Manager, Emily Lewis, says you need to add ‘colour’ to your offering: “Is there a choice of training? Do they get a personal development plan? Is there a follow-up programme? Can it lead to recognition/promotion?”

Salary is obviously an important factor. If you are able to pay the living wage, rather than the minimum, highlight it on your recruitment advert. Point out that there will be the opportunity for increases upon completion of milestones or training, if this is the case.

Use your team and customers to recommend potential new recruits

Think outside the box. Outside of displaying a poster in your window or an advert online, there are other options to take advantage of. Steakhouse chain Hawksmoor is offering a bonus to staff who suggest a friend for a job who then goes on to pass a one-month trial. Friends of your team will be more likely to stick around so this could be a great resource. Hawksmoor co-founder Will Beckett explained that he wanted use the recruitment budget to give bonuses to his staff who have had financial problems during furlough, rather than financing recruiters.

Similarly, Caravan Restaurants is offering a gift card to customers if they successfully recommend someone for a job. A great incentive which encourages more people through your door, too!

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Explore different avenues

As well as apprenticeships, look at the government’s Kickstart scheme. It’s a programme that aims to get 16-24 year-olds into work. The government funds the wages of all people employed through the scheme for up to 25 hours per week, for a period of six months. Should they work more than 25 hours, the outlet is responsible for the additional hours. You will also receive £1,500 per person for onboarding and training expenses, plus the government covers the National Insurance and pension contributions for six months. Apply and find out more about Kickstart through industry charity Springboard.

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4 ways to keep your team

1. Training

A great way to be a responsible employer is to help your staff upgrade their skills. It could be a course in first aid, food hygiene or perhaps even food photography, to be able to take enticing photos for your social media. Staff training and development add value to your business and demonstrates to your team that their progress is important to you. Find quality courses through Upskill People and the Institute of Hospitality.

Provide shadowing opportunities for junior new starters. Following a more experienced team member for a short period of time is invaluable in learning the basics and you’ll be able to see which areas they need extra help in and establish good practices early. To encourage upselling and boost confidence for new staff, arrange menu tastings so they will be able to discuss drinks
and dishes positively with customers.

“84% of hospitality professionals have experienced at least one mental health issue during their career”
- The Burnt Chef Project

2. Staff wellbeing

Supporting your staff is a huge part of retaining great people. Everyone goes through tough times, from financial worries to family problems and mental health issues. Are you aware of the resources available to help you and your team in difficult times?

Mental wellbeing continues to be a significant issue in the hospitality sector. Fair Kitchens and The Burnt Chef Project both offer lots of practical support with videos, tools and text services to get help.

If any of your team need emergency financial assistance, point them in the direction of Hospitality Action or Grocery Aid where they can apply for a grant,

Hospitality Action also has a wellbeing hub and free 24/7 helpline where people can get advice on a wide range of problems.

3. Better work-life balance

Any small improvements that you can introduce to the work-life balance will be welcomed and are a positive step. Could you rework the rotas for people to have two days off in a row? How many meals do you actually serve after 9pm? Could you reduce your serving times without losing much money as it would cut chef and waiting staff’s hours, giving them more time to spend with family and friends.

Is flexible working or job sharing an option for your venue? Parents might want to start earlier or later so they can drop children at school or do pick-ups. Could you shift things around to be more flexible? There might be an amazing chef out there but who only wants to work part-time – could you recruit two people for the role?

4. Benefits

As well as the basics such as holiday and sick pay, are there any additional benefits you can offer? A family and friends discount on meals or drinks? An extra holiday day each year for their birthday? A team party twice a year? Free fruit on a Friday? Little things like this can encourage people to stay and ensure your business stands out when recruiting.

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