Staffing in the hospitality industry has always been a challenge. With the addition of pandemic-related shortages, employers are fighting over an increasingly smaller pool of staff. Read on as Laura Newman, 2018 World Class US Bartender of the Year shares how investing in your employees from the start will help hire quality staff, retain employees and more.
While staffing in the hospitality industry has always had unique challenges due to the transient nature of many food and beverage workers, these difficulties have been magnified by pandemic-related staffing shortages. With a large number of hospitality employees having decided to depart the industry completely, employers are now fighting over an increasingly smaller pool of available labor. As the owners of two fully-staffed bars, we are often asked by our peers how we attract employees – and not just any employees, but people who are high-performing and fully bought into what we do. While the answer is multifaceted, costly, and not without its share of hard work on our part, we firmly believe that investing a lot of resources into hiring, training, and retaining great employees makes more sense for us in the long run than putting minimal resources into new hires. By investing more in our employees from the outset, we’ve found that they’re more likely to stay with us for over one year, put more effort into their training and development behind the bar, and fit in better with our team.
Let’s start with the number one, and probably most obvious, way that we’re able to hire great employees: offer a competitive pay and benefits package. Yes, this makes our payroll-associated costs go up – so the cost of all payroll and benefits is something that we encourage all new bar and restaurant owners to factor into their budgeting before they allocate money to any other area of their new business.
With regards to hourly pay, many employers may find after a discussion with their accounting teams that it actually makes more financial sense to offer a lower tipped hourly wage but to provide a large and generous suite of benefits for employees. That being said, we definitely encourage all employers, regardless of where they are located in the United States, to start at a minimum of $15/hour for all nontipped hourly labor.
The real meat of our hiring package, though, comes through our benefits program. While a benefits program needs to be tailored to what other employers in the area are offering (more on that in a minute), we believe that offering healthcare is an absolute necessity. For too long, it has been considered acceptable for American employers in the food and beverage industry to not offer health insurance to their employees; we believe that this is unethical and unacceptable. Beyond that, it’s important that you offer a plan that provides a low deductible and has wide coverage; you can get help finding a plan that works for your budget and number of employees through your payroll processing company.
Because we have so many employees in our insurance pool, we were also able to negotiate the addition of extremely low-cost dental insurance for our staff as well. In addition to health insurance, you may also want to look at offering gym memberships or a monthly reimbursement for athletic activity (be that sports equipment rentals, group fitness classes, or traditional gym memberships).
In addition to health-related benefits, we also take all our staff on two all-expense-paid group trips per year, and each staff member also gets to go on one all-expense-paid individual trip each year. The group trips involve closing the bar during a slow week and renting a large vacation home; the individual trips are tied to either visiting a convention or bar-related event or visiting a new city and spending a few nights visiting different bars and restaurants for research and development. These trips promote staff bonding, are extremely educational, and give everyone some much-needed time off.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, we also offer other small perks: gas stipends for staff whose roles involve driving beyond their work commute, paid time off, and an educational reimbursement: if an employee applies for and is accepted into a program that we deem beneficial to their continuing industry education, we pay for the program and their travel costs.
An employer who isn’t sure which benefits to offer should look at similar jobs available in their area on different hiring platforms (Facebook, Indeed, etc.) to see what other employers are offering; at the bare minimum, you should match what other local employers are offering. However, in order to retain employees, we’ve found that offering benefits that go significantly beyond those found at similar local jobs helps us keep our staff from being lured away by jobs with superior benefits.
Finding great employees
When it comes to finding these great employees, we suggest using your existing network, which includes current employees, to find people who are interested and would be a good fit with your company culture. Job aggregating sites can be helpful, but we find that they yield a cattle call that’s a mixed bag of experiences, goals, and attitudes. This network can also be helpful in providing references, which are crucial to making sure ahead of time that someone will be a lasting addition to your staff. Remember, the references that someone provides on a resume are people who are likely to say only good things about a candidate; we prefer checking with previous employers and coworkers for a more honest and thorough overview (do remember that state laws vary on what a previous employer is allowed to say or how they’re allowed to phrase it). Checking someone’s social media is another way to find out a lot about someone and what their interactions with others are like – this is a way to see if this is someone you feel comfortable representing your company.
Finally, we believe that the interview and initial hiring process is an essential part of assembling a great team of employees who will stay with your company long-term. A successful, well-structured interview sets expectations and the tone for employee/employer communication off the bat. We’ve found through our experiences working for other people (and from speaking to our peers in the hospitality industry) that expectations not being met are a big source of employee unhappiness, so we try to be as transparent as possible during the interview process. Ways that we do this include going over documents that most employers only show people once they’re hired, such as handbooks, guides, etc.; involving staff that are not in an ownership or managerial position in the interview process (similar to senior or alumni interviews in the college application process), and then setting expectations for the 90-day probationary period that new hires go through. During this period, which we describe as similar to dating, they decide if working for us long-term is something that they’re interested in. We encourage all new employees to keep in mind that if they are not actively looking forward to coming to work at the end of the 90-day period, this is probably not the job for them.
While the process of hiring that we’ve just described sounds expensive, daunting, and time-intensive (and it in fact is all of these things), by establishing a company culture and benefits program that encourages high employee retention, we find that we only need to hire new staff infrequently. When it comes to hiring great employees, you definitely get what you pay for.