How hospitality is adapting in response to staff shortages?

A well-documented shortage of staff is continuing to plague hospitality with restaurant, pub, bar and hotel operators across the UK struggling to fill vacancies.

According to a survey of hundreds of businesses at all levels in the sector, 80% are finding it hard to fill front-of-house roles while 85% currently have openings for chefs. The survey, carried out by industry association UKHospitality, suggested a current vacancy rate across the sector of 9%, implying a shortage of 188,000 workers.

As figures suggest, the problem is a big one for the industry, especially as it looks to rebuild after COVID-19, so it needs to find a solution – and fast.

Initiatives from charities and organisations such as Springboard and UKHospitality are aiming to address the staffing issue by promoting jobs in the sector and getting new candidates work-ready.

Springboard’s Springboard to 2022 for example, aims to have 10,000 young people trained and ready for work by December 2022 while UKHospitality has joined forces with the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to promote jobs in hospitality.

The industry association will be running sessions in partnership with Jobcentre Plus work coaches in England, Scotland and Wales and will aim to support people into jobs in hospitality and help equip them with skills needed for these roles.

While these initiatives will certainly help hospitality address the skills gap in the long-term, they are of little comfort to operators who need staff to work in their kitchens or serve customers right now.

As highlighted in this article, some hospitality operators are addressing the problem by ramping up recruitment, others are giving cash incentives to those who can help them find the right people, or putting extra resource into training.

However, the solution for some has been to adapt their businesses around staff shortages instead of waiting to fill vacancies.

For example, lunch service has been paused at Michel Roux Jr’s London restaurant Le Gavroche until staffing levels are higher. Other restaurants and pubs, such as The Pandora Inn in Cornwall have cut back on the number of hours food is served or are running a reduced menu due to the lack of available chefs.

At independent restaurant Sussex Pass in Wadhurst, East Sussex, founder Sam Maynard has introduced a four-day week for all full-time staff and has reduced the numbers of days it is open. He has also guaranteed staff will have Christmas Day and bank holiday Mondays off, to ensure a better work/life balance.

Other owner/operators have stepped in to fill roles themselves. Giles Fuchs, co-owner of Burgh Island Hotel in Devon told the BBC how he worked as a pot washer and waiter at the hotel for two weeks when unable to find anyone else to do the job.  

The staff shortage issue is not one that will be resolved overnight, so hospitality businesses will inevitably need to continue adapting if they wish to survive.

For all operators – whether adapting work practices or not – one way to help manage staff shortages over the next few months is to draw on the support of workforce technology. By investing in systems designed to support the staff who are already employed and making processes more efficient, operators stand a greater chance of retaining those employees and attracting new ones in the future.


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