Staff shortages remain an enormous challenge for the hospitality and foodservice sector (HaFS). During the pandemic, a high percentage of hospitality workers were furloughed. Out of necessity, many were driven to find employment in alternative industries — and haven’t returned.
In the US alone, the number of restaurant employees dropped by 2.23 million from 2019 to 2020. In the UK, job vacancies in the industry are at their highest levels since records began. Data published by the Office for National Statistics shows 176,000 vacancies in the accommodation and foodservice sector during the second quarter of 2022 — 69,000 more than the same period in 2021. In June 2022, the Australian Hotels Association reported 15,000 hospitality vacancies in Western Australia alone, a record high. In the R&CA’s 2021 Industry Benchmarking Report,, 46.6% of respondents stated that they were finding it ‘extremely difficult’ to fill positions.
Lightspeed’s 2021 Global State of the Hospitality Industry Report confirmed that this is an issue across the globe, with 48% of restaurant operators worldwide reporting that they struggled to retain staff during the ongoing pandemic. Hospitality businesses are desperately seeking staff to take advantage of the increase in demand and recoup some of the money lost during the worst of the pandemic.
Those who turn their backs on the industry often don’t return. In the US, a mid-2021 survey by Joblist revealed that 38% of former hospitality workers reported that they were not even considering a hospitality job for their next position, but were transitioning out of the industry in search of a different work setting (52%), higher pay (45%), better benefits (29%) and more schedule flexibility (19%).
In the face of these issues — many of which existed long before the impact of the pandemic — how can businesses attract and retain staff?
1. Bridge the gap with current employees. This is perhaps the easiest and quickest solution for staff shortages. Your people already know the job and may be open to working additional hours; ask whether any of them would be interested in taking on some overtime. If not, look at hiring through an agency, which can relieve much of the administrative burden from the process and quickly get a position filled while you look for a more permanent hire.
2. Widen your search. The answer to your problems might not lie only in candidates with previous hospitality experience. Plenty of other jobs provide skill sets that are highly relevant to foodservice, such as attention to detail and interpersonal skills. If you’re willing to offer training where needed, your pool of potential talent just got a lot bigger.
3. Revamp your onboarding process. It can be easy to neglect proper induction processes when you’re busy, but ensuring that new employees are adequately trained and made to feel welcome can work wonders for both retention and performance.
4. Training is vital. To combat the shrinking pool of talent, some brands are actively working to close the skills gap, offering additional training, defining clear paths of progression towards management and even contributing towards further education. This approach ensures the industry still has access to important skills, and allows for employees to develop their talents. Not only does this strengthen your team and foster loyalty, but it benefits the HaFS as a whole.
5. Rely on technology. When working with smaller teams, businesses need to adopt new tools to bridge the gap. In fact, 87% of industry respondents worldwide agreed that new technology adoption over the last two years has been critical for their business’ survival. The right software can help streamline your entire workflow, making it easier to operate smoothly even when short-staffed. Digitise your stock control, waste management, rostering, ordering system, allergen management, labelling requirements and more. Technology can also be used to improve training and onboarding, helping new starters hit the ground running through automated and personalised training systems. This allows management to focus on day-to-day operations and ensures that every new employee receives the same standard of training, even during busy periods.
6. Ensure good working conditions. People appreciate employers who treat them well — and they stay with them. Low pay is the number one reason why Gen Zs and Millennials left a role in the last two years — but good work-life balance and learning and development opportunities were their top priorities when choosing a new employer.
The hospitality industry is known for gruelling hours and little regard for employees’ personal lives and mental health, so make sure your business is one that bucks the trend. Benchmark your wages, hours and benefits against those of your competitors to make sure your employees aren’t tempted to move elsewhere. Implement shorter shifts, paid sick leave and lucrative overtime, and ensure that shifts rotate to allow everyone weekend days off as regularly as possible. Create a working environment that fosters open communication and introduce a zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullying, traditionally rife in this industry. Hold regular check-ins with your staff, or set up an anonymous way for them to provide feedback. This will allow you to create the best possible working environment for your team and retain your valuable staff.
7. Be responsible. One employee engagement study in the United States showed that 58% of employees consider the social and environmental responsibility of the company when choosing a place of work. As Gen Z joins the workforce, potential employees are actively looking for companies with defined sustainability goals and practices. Nearly two in five say they have rejected a job or assignment because it did not align with their values. Meanwhile, those who are satisfied with their employers’ environmental impact and efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture are more likely to stay in their company for more than five years.
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