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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

How to attract bar staff during the hospitality worker shortage

There’s hardly an operator out there that isn’t feeling the lack of staff at the moment. A combination of factors in recent years has led to crisis-level shortages of hospitality workers across the industry, with all of the challenges and implications that come with that.

Among the main repercussions for hospitality businesses is when staff shortages result in the need to cut hours, or close on certain days of the week. Earlier this year UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer and Pub Association teamed up to conduct a survey about the impact of the crisis. They found that nearly half of operators had cut trading hours or capacity, and that one in three businesses had closed for one or more days per week.

At the time, the sector had 174,000 jobs available, 83% more vacancies than March-May 2019. The three industry bodies behind the survey issued a joint statement, reporting that the crisis was costing the industry £21bn in lost revenue, not to mention an estimated £5bn loss in tax for the Exchequer. It called for targeted support to help solve the crisis.

UKHospitality also launched a workforce strategy, outlining key areas that are integral to solving the industry’s staffing issues. The strategy covers recruitment – everything from facilitating conversations between business and jobseekers, to immigration considerations. It addresses skills and training, as well as the working lives of employees, including their compensation, as well as enjoyment and fulfilment.

At this year’s Imbibe Live, a panel of industry experts tackled the issue, offering their advice for both recruiting and retaining great talent. The panel consisted of David Sheen, policy director for UKHospitality, Greg Mangham, founder of charity Only A Pavement Away, Karina Coen, MD of hospitality operations for recruitment platform Stint, and Kris Gumbrell, chief executive of Brewhouse & Kitchen.

Changing perceptions and preconceptions

“We work in a vibrant, exciting, interesting sector that can offer fantastic opportunities for people,” began Gumbrell, reinforcing that it’s not the industry’s proposition that’s necessarily at fault, but that long-held negative perceptions of careers in hospitality certainly don’t help. One solution, therefore, is to engage with potential staff at an early stage, such as at school.

Only A Pavement Away, meanwhile, works with homeless charities, veteran charities and more, and helps to change the perceptions that hospitality employers might have when it comes to various groups such as these, explained Mangham. However, his charity also plays a role in suggesting hospitality as a potential career to this broader range of potential employees, he added, listing various perks that the on-trade offers compared to work in the construction industry, for example.

Having the correct ambassadors for the industry, to accurately describe the appeal of a career in hospitality, is crucial to attracting new staff who might not consider it otherwise, added Mangham. “There’s a workforce that wants to come into hospitality, and we have to think about how we’re going to get these people in,” he concluded.

Better working lives

Stint works with a pool of students in 32 cities, placing them in hospitality roles in a flexible way. One of the key characteristics of Stint is that it offers students the ability to work around their studies, in two to four hour shifts. As Coen pointed out, this also helps businesses to improve the experience of their core team, providing more consistency in their shifts, for example.

This is one way that hospitality businesses can find ways to improve the working experience of their employees, and in turn attract new ones too. While pay is undoubtedly an important factor when it comes to improving the working lives of staff, Gumbrell explained that “people are looking for development, and good management”. He added that “one of our weaknesses as a sector is that we haven’t been very good at actually managing people”, offering recognition and rewards, for example. “Mental health, physical health and financial wellbeing… you’ve got to close the circle.”

Mangham agreed about the importance of staff wellbeing. “If that team member behind the bar knows their management team are caring for them and being inclusive, then they will be happy at work,” he said, using the example of those employers that continued to care for the wellbeing of staff while they were on furlough during the Covid pandemic.

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Levelling up your staff

For businesses, investing in training is about being self-sufficient, said Gumbrell. In part because of the staffing crisis itself, and therefore the need to increasingly recruit staff that haven’t worked in hospitality before, there’s a lack of training in the industry, and businesses themselves can play an important role in addressing this. He also spoke of the need for higher-level training and apprenticeships, not just for entry level staff.

Offering training can play an important role in drawing people to hospitality, and undoubtedly contributes towards staff retention too. For Coen, it’s important to think about training in a holistic way. “Not just online, or before staff do something, but when they’re actively on shift,” she explained. “When I look at businesses I see a lot of difficult situations that people need to learn how to deal with, so that they’ll come back tomorrow.”

If potential hospitality workers are made aware of the benefits of working in the industry, are offered the flexibility, remuneration and working environments that they’re looking for in their working lives, and are supported, trained and well managed so that they want to stay in their roles, it’ll go a long way to addressing the current staffing crisis.

Want to hear more about this topic? Watch the recording of this Imbibe Live 2022 session on demand…

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