‘Can’t do it. I don’t have the people, ' yet another restaurant owner told me as my head went into overdrive trying to figure out how it is possible that, time and time again, I have heard in the past year from the best restaurateurs in the city that they cannot find and retain staff.
People leaving gastro to pursue other dreams is as old and common as the field itself, but the speed in which it has happened during the pandemic and after is unheard of.
After 2 tumultuous years with COVID-19 the hospitality industry is ready to rehire but nobody’s home. The blinders are off and hospitality folks have realised that having the same working hours as their spouse and being able to pick up their kids from school can easily substitute the passion for gastronomy and something impactful needs to happen to justify the sacrifices made when working in hospitality. However, the fact we see more and more people leave the hospitality industry than ever, does not mean it is an unsolvable problem. Solutions creating a more pleasant work environment similar to the jobs many leave to are very attainable, and should be considered if you own a restaurant.
So, how can the industry retain those who stayed, convince the very best to return and groom a new generation of bright talents?
- Grow your staff
Not that growing within this industry is unheard of, but laying out a career path is rarely out there and if so, the hurdles seem so vast that the motivation often fails. Spend some ‘unpleasant’ administrative time in the office and prepare a comprehensive plan your staff can understand and follow. Be available to them and show interest in their personal development. Retaining staff is key to hiring fresh talent. They are a far better advertisement in terms of workforce than you will ever be. Don’t fight that, embrace it.
- Remunerate overtime, weekend/holidays & top performances
It’s done everywhere else and the fact that hospitality works when everyone else is off should not be a burden but on the contrary be rewarded and appreciated. Too often have we said that those are the drawbacks of the industry such are long hours and no breaks. Certainly these times are when we need to step up and not be accompanied by a shrug of the shoulder and a cold ‘this is how it’s always been’.
- Pay livable not minimum wages
We all know about the infamous 20% staff cost, but how realistic is it that it hasn’t changed in well over a decade. Has the latest price increase you applied on your menu items had an impact on your staff’s salaries? If your answer is no you should ask yourself if they aren’t wondering if it should have.
- Encourage 40 hour weeks with adequate breaks & food options
Of all attributes that can be given to people in hospitality, indifference is not one of them. Your staff will always be there to support your effort and work overtime if needed. Reward it and ensure that they know that this is not the norm. Industry leaders have proven that it works. The result is a well rested and sound minded team who performs at the level you want them to be. It is quality over quantity.
- Develop a company culture; make it memorable
Having worked in all types of gastronomy, from Michelin to high-volume, from corporate to luxury banquets, I can tell it’s not the most luxurious places that were the most memorable to me but those who made me feel like I matter, and feel like I can impact the outcome. People want to be challenged and engaged, don't be afraid to do so.
- Make it clear what is expected of them
Create a system in which, as mentioned above, your people are not only challenged for the sake of it, but so that they understand all intricacies of your goal setting. Make them understand what is their participation in the success of the business and celebrate their personal and the company's achievements together. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing that you have been part of something bigger than yourself.
What can be said with absolute certainty, is that sticking to the old ways won’t lead to the demise of this overall beautiful industry; after all, it has existed for thousands of years. But it won’t do its reputation any good either and we might find ourselves backs against the wall in the eternal quest of finding the next perfect candidate. After all, the hospitality industry is one of the most rewarding fields you can work in with a broad spectrum of learning opportunities and endless perks from flexible hours to constant new experiences and people around you.
Florian Horn is currently the Director of Operations at Manifesto Market, currently managing about 50 people in between Prague and Berlin. He served as Head Bartender at Michelin star restaurant Le Gavroche in London and, prior to that, worked at Hard Rock Cafe for 11 years in six different countries, opening half a dozen restaurants on the way before settling in the Czech Republic. After 18 years in the gastronomy industry, opening over 10 restaurants and working in more than 10 countries, he has knowledge of all aspects of the business from concert organisation to banquets, and from high volume fine dining to system gastronomy and festivals. Trained in both the Front and Back of House, Horn has managed up to 180 people at once. In addition to being a part of the culinary industry, he is passionate about music, languages and travelling.
Article by Florian Horn.