The pubs, bars and restaurants sector is facing a major challenge - an acute shortage of staff, especially chefs.
This comes at a time when competition is more intense than ever and consumers, with easy access to countless online reviews, are more demanding. It means that the concept, the value proposition and the customer experience all need to be spot on. It also means that staff need to be properly trained, customer focused and engaged.
The problem is that good staff are getting harder to find. For years EU nationals have been a key element in the industry’s labour force but as soon as the UK voted to leave the EU there was a slump in job applications and now we have what’s been described as a recruitment black hole. Job applications are at an all-time low and HR directors lie awake at night worrying about how they’re going to find and retain the people they need to keep their businesses going.
There are calls for the government to help with the EU nationals issue amid fears that the gap won’t be filled with UK recruits. The sector has long been viewed by many as unattractive and poorly regarded for its low pay, long hours, hard conditions, and limited career prospects.
However, the sector has woken up to the dilemma. Some businesses have responded with golden hellos for chefs– substantial cash incentives in return for a commitment to stay for an agreed period. In Ireland where the situation is just as difficult as the UK, businesses have pressured the government into increasing the number of work permits for non-EU recruits and some businesses have even started recruiting suitably skilled refugees. In the UK there is talk of introducing a nation-wide French-style apprentice system in which the state funds catering schools to produce a steady stream of graduates with valued diplomas. In the meantime some businesses are being forced to limit their opening hours to just four nights a week.
There are no quick solutions. In the short term the winners will be those who address the low pay, long hours and hard conditions. In the longer term it will be those who can raise the status of chefs (and front and back-of- house staff generally) to the level they enjoy in France, develop a compelling employer brand and offer a winning people-proposition.
Some operators are well on the way to doing that. They are already offering recognised hospitality apprentice schemes leading to degree level, and investing in Chefs and Craft academies. They are working hard to provide young people with work experience opportunities, they recognise outstanding performance, and reward loyalty.
Increasingly, they need to engage in an ongoing conversation with their chefs and other staff to understand what is keeping them motivated and what is causing itchy feet. They need to closely monitor their recruitment and on-boarding processes to ensure that promises are kept and the work experience is positive. They also need to conduct exit surveys to identify why things have gone wrong for some people and what can be done to stem the flow. In other words they need to up their game in terms of attracting, recruiting and engaging chefs and other key staff and dealing with the perennial concerns around pay, hours and career paths. They need to start demonstrating that the pubs, bars and restaurants sector can offer attractive and rewarding career prospects that people can be proud of.
If any of these issues are keeping you awake at night, give us a call on 020 8456 7243 to discuss how we can support you. Digital Opinion has been involved in the pubs, bars and restaurants industry for 17 years and has the knowledge and experience to help operators measure and drive motivation and performance and increase retention. We offer state-of-the-art always-on, real-time feedback platforms for engagement surveys, on-boarding and exit surveys, and action programmes.