As many operators already know, the combination of Brexit and COVID-19 created a perfect storm, resulting in challenging times for recruitment and retention in the hospitality sector. A study commissioned by The Burnt Chef Project found that a poor work-life balance was the main barrier for people entering and the key reason for leaving the hospitality industry.

The effects of staff shortages are wide-spread, even Michel Roux has been forced to write to his lunchtime customers, cancelling their bookings because he only had enough staff to do one shift. Despite the fact that a third of those not currently working in the sector plan to return within the year, operators need short-term solutions to keep their businesses going.

Encouraging young people to join the industry is vitally important and one way of doing this is to demonstrate that working in hospitality is a profession in the same way as an accountant or doctor. Kath Houston, career coach says “Students will be looking for Christmas and Easter jobs. Catch them early and give the job a proper title such as “Christmas placement” and offer them the chance to experience different aspects of the industry. Assign them a mentor and a proper induction.”

Attracting people searching for a new career, taking the opportunity to utilise government grants for apprenticeships is also worth exploring. Kath says “People can be any age to take up an apprenticeship, but whatever age they are you need to show them prospects and opportunities for progression.”

When the talent pool is shrinking, operators need to get creative, finding new ways to engage with potential recruits that will make their business stand out. “Doing the same thing over and over again rarely delivers different results and there’s some fun to be had thinking about how you can reach your audience in a way that others don’t. Different age groups want different things out of their work and we need to adapt our approach and messaging accordingly.” recommends Jack Stein, director of Rick Stein Group

Using social media for recruitment can be effective, but you need to use the right channel for the type of person you are seeking. Will Macpherson hospitality consultant and founder of CAM Ventures, says “LinkedIn might work well, but TikTok or Instagram might have a better audience for some roles you’re trying to fill. Be proactive in approaching people you think would be great. If you’re out for dinner and are served by somebody incredible, wouldn’t you want to try and recruit them?”

Additional benefits, aside from a fair wage, are important if employees are expected to work unsocial hours. Cat Macdonald from True HR advises offering staff free or heavily discounted meals or additional days off for special occasions. “These small benefits will make a huge difference and will help attract candidates.”

Retaining staff is all about training and development. Kath Houston suggests “Have a mentor work with individuals for an hour every week and then have a chat every two months to see where their career is going. Look after staff and make them feel valued. Have a wellbeing hour every week – they can choose to go for a walk or a run – and see how motivated they are when they return. A resilient workforce comes from staff knowing they can reach out to you if something isn’t working for them or they don’t feel appreciated.”

This is echoed by Jack Stein, who says “The feeling of support that comes from having a manager that cares and is willing to give encouragement and feedback can’t be under-estimated. We must recognise and appreciate our teams and take the opportunity to say thank you.”