Attracting good staff requires a different approach

I’m seeing some pretty scary service standards at many of the restaurants, hotels and cafes I visit at present. It’s not that the owners and managers of these businesses don’t care, but the current shortage of skilled staff is prompting quite a bit of desperate recruitment, and the resulting proliferation of ‘warm bodies’ in hospitality businesses is becoming alarming.

At the more professional end of our client base, some of the best managers we deal with have been looking for skilled key staff (assistant restaurant managers, sous chefs, etc.) for many months without success. We joke among ourselves that if you want an experienced Waiter or Cook, advertise for a Restaurant Manager or Head Chef, because we’re not seeing many skilled managers but we are seeing many tired Waiters and Cooks trying to bat above their league.

There are plenty of good staff out there, you just have to know how to attract them

There are plenty of good people out there

There are some things you might consider if you are finding it difficult to attract good people. First, you need to accept that there are plenty of them out there, but for some reason they are not choosing to apply to work for you. Asking yourself why is a good place to start. Consider this: The good staff out there have plenty of choices at the moment because there are many more jobs on offer than there are good staff to fill them; it is a seller’s market for hospitality skills and it will remain so for quite a long time.

‘What’s in it for me?’

Self interest drives people to apply to work for you.

Job seekers are primarily concerned with self-interest — ‘What’s in it for me?’ They will apply for those jobs that offer the most personal benefits. If your advertising is formulated as what we call a ‘we want’ ad, i.e. Sous Chef wanted ring Mick . . . type of cheap column ad in a newspaper, what are you communicating to the average job seeker about your attitude to your staff — especially to the superstar who is not unemployed, but is looking for their next opportunity?

The applicants you really want are looking for personal benefits beyond just a job. Look at it this way: if all you are offering is low pay; no career path; no structured training; long, unsociable hours in a chaotic and punishing work environment; why on earth would any intelligent person want to work for you? At first glance this might seem harsh, but it is the reality of many hospitality jobs — and gen X and Y have higher expectations than this. You might have to completely re-evaluate your employment benefits before you attract really good people. If you can’t afford to do this you may be on a descending spiral towards business collapse.

Attracting applicants can be expensive

It is useful if you understand that job applicants don’t come for free; in reality you have to buy them. If you advertise for staff and get some reasonable applicants, by dividing the cost of advertising by the number of reasonable applicants you will realise that each applicant comes with a cost attached. We have learned many times over that it is false economy to try to save money in the recruitment process. You are only as good as the people you employ to run your business. It is well worth spending the extra money to present your business and the jobs you have on offer in a way that stands out from the white noise of all the ‘we want’ ads.

Ads like this (a real ad) do not address ‘what’s in it for me?

You are competing with many other businesses

The trick in recruitment right now is to get the good staff who are available to apply to work for you rather than the other two or three hundred businesses that are looking for that same person. Your recruitment advertising should be constructed so that the job you are seeking to fill is clearly a better opportunity than the other jobs advertised around it. To put it another way, in a difficult job market, you need to attract more than your fair share of the available talent.

Many of the operators we deal with are behaving like the ancient alchemists, by doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result. If your attempts to find good staff are not working, do something different. It always surprises me the lack of willingness of owners and managers to think outside the square and become pro-active, by doing things like directly approaching the hospitality colleges for staff, or adopting a lateral solution like altering the business concept so that not so many skilled staff are needed.

The overriding message here is that you should begin by adopting a different mental attitude — it’s not that there aren’t good staff out there; it’s just that they are choosing to work somewhere else — and there is a reason for that.