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The hospitality staffing crisis: 6 ways employers can increase their chances of hiring

Everyone in the hospitality sector knows there is a major staffing crisis in the industry right now. It threatens to hold back the sector’s recovery, just as firms are finally allowed to open and are desperate to get back on their feet after months of lockdown.

So let’s take a quick look at the factors which have contributed towards the current staffing crisis and the ways in which employers can get ahead in the ‘war for talent’.

Where has everyone gone?

The current staffing crisis is ultimately a result of the perfect storm of both Brexit and COVID.

Brexit caused many young people to return home, with the sector having relied on Eastern Europeans in particular in the past. If you weren’t in the UK from 31st December 2020, then you couldn’t come back unless you had a specific permit to do so. Employers now have to register as a sponsor to hire staff from abroad, but the process can take months.

In March 2020 the pandemic arrived, and it hit hospitality hard. The sector was forced to close down, people were put on furlough or made redundant, and huge numbers of workers from other countries went back home before borders closed.

Many of those who lost their jobs or were put on furlough, sought jobs in other sectors where the work was still there, such as food or online retail. As a result, many have experienced slightly more favourable pay and improved work/life balance - now firms have a challenge to entice them back.

The stop-start nature of lockdowns has also forced further people to abandon the sector. With current restrictions as they are, table-only service also places greater emphasis on more staff being needed and people can’t fully reopen restaurants because there are not enough staff. Waiting staff and chefs are in particularly short supply.

I am hearing of businesses having to close 1-2 days a week because they can’t staff them for 7 days. Some can’t open at all because they’re unable to find the staff and their managers and teams are receiving abuse from customers who have to wait/aren’t served as quickly as they want to be.

It’s a dire situation for hospitality businesses.

What can hospitality businesses do?

Hospitality employers are quickly recognising that they need to step up their efforts in order to improve their chances of finding and securing good quality staff. The good news is that there are a number of proactive steps they can take.

1. Streamline the recruitment process

By prioritising recruitment, streamlining the interview process and getting key decision makers involved early, you can ensure that things are turned around quickly and offers made swiftly to strong candidates. Otherwise, with competition for talent as it is, you risk losing out on the best people.

It’s also important to invest in improving onboarding, processes and training for new starters to ensure they settle well into their new roles and are quickly up to speed, meaning they can work more efficiently and are more likely to stick around.

No shows are unfortunately a really common problem for employers in the industry at interviews and on the day to start work. So it’s important to ensure clear and regular communication with those in the process to limit the impact of this.

2. Offering incentives

It’s becoming very common for those hiring to offer kickbacks and incentives to staff to introduce new team members. Rewards of money or vouchers once someone has passed their probation is a great way to incentivise your staff (who will hopefully have great things to say about working for you) to refer on their friends for roles you have open. Some employers offer rewards increasing in amount for each person referred on! Great for those wanting to earn some extra cash, and a relatively cheap and effective recruitment tool.

3. Expand your talent pool

If your traditional talent pool is limited, then it’s time to consider expanding your search.

Look beyond the sector. Retail is a sector which has also been hit hard with huge job losses thanks to the pandemic. Think of the number of candidates with new and transferable skills who will be on the lookout for new job and some financial security. Hospitality firms have an opportunity to offer training & development for individuals and lay out the career paths on offer.

It’s also important to consider all age groups when hiring. Older workers offer a real opportunity for employers – they are often more dependable and reliable and also bring a wealth of experience (often from multitude of backgrounds) to their role. They can help to create a more vibrant and dynamic workforce, which can only benefit your customers.

4. Look after your staff

Employees stay in their jobs when they are paid well, mentored, challenged, promoted, involved, appreciated, trusted, empowered and valued. So it’s vital to look after and reward your workforce.

Hourly rates need to be competitive in order to attract staff. Work/life balance needs addressing, with better shifts and working patterns aimed at retention. Say thank you – it sounds obvious, but it’s a little gesture that often means a lot to people. And how about giving everyone their birthday off as an extra thank you?! Some clients are also paying salaried managers overtime for the extra hours they are putting in.

Succession planning is also a great way to keep staff engaged in the long-term. Employers need to do this better and also communicate to staff this is what they are doing, so they have a reason to stay.

Whatever you do, employers will need to draw in workers with perks and better conditions and make it clear to people that hospitality is a good career choice.

5. Embrace technology

It may sound obvious, but social media is a key weapon in hiring staff. Hospitality firms can use their social platforms and networks to advertise for staff – they will already have a local following of people who love their offering, so they just need to sell the culture and benefits of working there! Traditional local advertising doesn’t work as well for the younger generations – so you need to go where the job seekers are.

You can also email your customers to ask if they know anyone. They may be able to refer on friends and family who are looking for work, so use your networks smartly.

Many clients are also embracing technology with ordering Apps etc, not only to comply with COVID regulations, but also to cut down on the number of staff needed.

Another alternative is to look at the offering from – they are an agency specialising in placing students for 3-4 hour shifts, meaning you can organise cover for your busiest trading periods, so your regular staff can offer more exceptional service to customers. I have heard good things about them from two clients so far so definitely worth looking into.

6. Sabbaticals / time off

Sabbaticals (unpaid or part-paid) during quieter trading periods is something we’ve started hearing being offered by a handful of clients to their staff. It’s not a perk commonly associated with the hospitality sector, but it’s one which can help the business’ payroll and also give employees time off to do what they want. It also means they can have a break, knowing they have a job to come back to.

Reputations counts

Unfortunately, those who didn’t look after their staff during the lockdowns of COVID are the ones struggling more now. Those who looked after their people (even if it was difficult conversations to be had) have been able to pick up the phone again and often get people back.

This is when your reputation as an employer really counts and helps you stand out.

We’re all in this together

We all need to (and can) do more to promote working in hospitality – it is great fun, you can travel and work, career progression can be rapid, you can gain qualifications while you work, meet amazing people and learn great skills. Gone are the days of surplus international workers to fill the roles, so we’re going to have to work a bit harder to promote the industry to attract and compete for the best candidates in the home market.

If you need further advice on how to attract and retain your hospitality workforce, or need help to hire, please get in touch.


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1 Comment

Salim Sajid
Salim Sajid
Jun 30, 2021

Great words Penny and totally agreed with everything you've said. We also need leadership from the government to realise that the UK is open and welcome to our friends and neighbours from abroad - the backbone of our services industry for some many decades, including my own immigrant parents! Without these hard working friends, our service based industry will have to shrink and change our culture dramatically! Let's hope the blinkered thinkers look around!

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