Stephanie Axtens, Barcats Venue Partner, shares insights on how to recruit and retain staff in the current climate.

Finding hospitality staff over the last couple of years has been almost impossible. With restrictions changing like the weather, vaccination and mask mandates, public restrictions, and venues closing left right and centre, restoring faith in the industry for hospitality workers has been, and still is, incredibly difficult.

We reminisce the days where you could post a sign in the front window and have 20 CVs piled at the end of the bar within a week. Nowadays we’re turning towards social media and spending money on paid advertising for little-to-no reward. The constant battle of trying to pay more than the bar next door, or forking out large amounts on sign up bonuses, is wearing thin. Gone are the days where a staff meal, an early knock-off, and a Saturday night off here or there would be enough to keep employees. We’re now finding more success by leaning on our industry partnerships, and going above and beyond to support our staff as people, not just workers.

Proven practises from employers that attract staff to new workplaces seem to be ones that support staff in their everyday life and encourage them to embrace more aspects of the job, including:

●          Paid on-the-job training tacked on to the normal shift.

●          Performance incentives – upselling in venue = bonuses.

●          Referral incentives – Invite a friend and receive $100 if they stay for six months.

●          Uniform allowance – Often staff pay out of their own pocket.

●          Staff coffee run pre-shift and staff meal on their breaks.

●          Travel allowance post-shift.

●          Staff social events outside of the workplace.

Finding staff and then providing them with training, however, can be difficult and expensive.  Job seekers are weighing their options just as much as you are, and let’s be serious – the ball is in their court and will be for the foreseeable future.

Take a moment to ask yourself, are you a good employer?

This question might make you feel defensive, however, this is the time to have an honest look at who you are at what your venue stands for.

  • Do you have staff that have worked for you for a long time?
  • Do you have regulars that come in just to see the friendly face of your bartender or waitress? 
  • Do you take the time to get to know your staff – what their goals are, where they see themselves in the future, or what they do for fun?

These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself.

Staff retention

Whether you are a small cocktail bar or a large pub – staff can make or break your business. People will continue to come back, not because the food was incredible or the drinks were cheap, they will come back because of the great experience they had at your venue.  Whether it was an attentive server who was cheerful and quick with the drink refills, or a bartender who had stories behind his cocktail menu – this is the reason people go out. They are spending their hard-earned money and want to have an experience. How can you create this?

You might be thinking it’s all about the wages, and yes, I am not going to tell you that that is not important – your staff need to live and live well. But it goes beyond this.

  • That bartender I mentioned clearly has a passion for cocktails and maybe also wine, so invite your suppliers in for tastings, provide education for your staff and create experiences for them.
  • That waitress I mentioned might be studying business in her free time – show her how you created your procedures, your profile and loss statements, and invest in her and her future.

The experiences these staff members are receiving are essential to your business, and they will show in their work ethic which, in turn, creates a happy and positive work environment and guess who will notice that first? Your customers.

So before you start hiring, have you checked in with your current staff? Does that waitress want to move into management? Has that bartender taken over ordering and inventory yet and naturally progressed into the bar manager position? Promoting within your business is important, as it is much easier to hire for entry-level positions than senior roles in today’s market.

Writing job ads

After you have taken the time to invest in your current staff, you may still be short a few bodies. So let’s talk about writing an ad. I have written more than 1000 job ads for Barcats – for all types of venues and sizes, and I have one structure that I follow that has seen the best results.

First off all, start with an intro to your business. Tell the job seeker about your venue – brag if you like. If you have an awesome crowd of regulars every Friday with a local DJ playing or your quiz night every week is packed, talk about it. Job seekers want to know what life would be like working for you and always make sure you name your venue and location. “Busy restaurant in the CBD” is not going to attract anyone, you need to sell your business – create that vibe right off the bat.

Secondly, name the position, what you are looking for and what the general duties would be, hours, etc. Mentioning wages can be beneficial, however, I do believe talking about all perks is a better way to go. Perks can be all sorts of things – whether it’s free lunch or parking, industry training, no evenings or late nights, weekly staff incentives or gatherings, even a discount at the venue. Really evaluate what you are willing to do to invest in your staff.  This is extremely important and will separate you from your competition.

Posting ads

The next step is to assess the best place to post your ad. You could start with the free options of social media – a very saturated market but could still work since you have taken the time to write an eye-catching ad. However, does your venue have a social media presence? Do you have an active Instagram or Facebook page that reflects all the amazing things you have mentioned about your venue in your ad? We live in a social media-driven world now, those job seekers will be looking your venue up!

If you are thinking no, I don’t have a social media presence, that’s ok. Then you might want to look into paid advertising or a recruitment company.

If you do have a social media presence then post away! Have your staff share it to their network and let them comment on what it’s like to work with you – after all, you have spent time to invest in them, they are now free advertising of what it’s like to work for your business.

Applicants and interviewing

Call every single candidate that applied for your opening – everyone! They have taken the time to prepare a CV and they deserve to be contacted either way. You also never know, they could have a teachable, bubbly personality that is perfect for your business which isn’t shown on a piece of paper. Setting up interviews and asking specific questions is very personal to your business and what positions you are needing to fill. I always suggest keeping it light and asking personal questions. Most people are quite shy when they first meet someone, and can find being interviewed intimidating, so it’s important to take the time to explore their personality. Show them around the venue, introduce them to a few staff members, ask them what their interests are. This should be fun, after all – we are in the business of hospitality. Always remember, staff is an investment and the face of your business.

The Barcats platform provides a unique service and another means of support for managers and HR teams from venues of all shapes and sizes. Barcats is striving to pull back the industry from the brink of breaking and their website site connects venues with staff and vice versa. For more information, visit www.barcats.co.nz

Originally published in the May issue of The Shout NZ. You can read the full issue below.

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