What can be done about the staffing crisis?

As a consultant I talk to hospitality owners and managers every day. They all report being short staffed and deeply concerned. Rather than just whine about the problem, here are some ideas that I hope will encourage a bit of creative thinking so that operators can arrive at a sustainable, long-term solution.

Explore all labour-saving opportunities and simplify how things are done. When you consider the prices your customers pay, is full table service feasible and necessary? Would customers be just as happy with counter service, or a hybrid form of service? Could you trim down the number of items on your menu and simplify their production? Could you pre-batch cocktails or other drinks in your bar? When Karen from accounts calls for espresso martinis at the office party, she doesn’t care whether they come from a tap or are lovingly hand mixed by a mustachioed bartender in a flat cap, she just wants them quick!

Pay your staff a bit more. This will give candidates more incentive to leave their current job or travel a little further from home to come and work for you. It will also help build loyalty with your existing staff.

Put your prices up. Controversial I know, but my view is based on simple economics. Considering the level of pent-up desire to go out and spend up, along with the number of hospitality businesses that have closed down for good, demand will be greater than supply in some sectors. The extra revenue will help you pay your staff more and make recruitment easier. In my opinion, if you are knocking customers back because you can’t fit them in, you have a reason to put your prices up. Airlines and Hotels have been doing it for decades. Warning: your operating standards have to be good enough to guarantee repeat trade, regardless of your prices.

Stop being precious, accept reality and employ some inexperienced people. I don’t care if your business has chef’s hats or a sophisticated food and drink offer. Skilled and experienced superstars are not out there in the numbers you need. If you strip away all the emotion and marketing hype, hospitality is about cutting stuff up, cooking it and selling it to people. You can train raw beginners to do much of what needs to be done in your business. You must be prepared to hire people who are green and train them up. Fast food businesses have thrived on that staffing model from the beginning. Some of my more astute clients are successfully running high-end restaurants by employing staff with no prior experience.

Relating to the above point, try reaching out to local high schools, migrant community groups, church groups, sporting clubs or similar. You will be surprised how many inexperienced people would relish the opportunity to learn new skills and earn some money.

While I’ve offered a few ideas, I accept that there are still more questions than answers. The challenge of the labour shortage faced by the hospitality industry is like nothing we’ve seen before. Dealing with it will require innovation, lateral thinking, cooperation and sharing of ideas. If we want to continue to enjoy the vast array of quality hospitality offerings that was available to us pre 2020, we need the help of experts from a range of backgrounds, industries and government to work together to find a solution.

In the spirit of helping hospitality businesses get back on their feet I’ll be glad to continue the conversation, listen to ideas and share experiences. Contact me here to get started.

Chris Lambert