6 Tips on how to staff your team in the hospitality industry

With the vaccine rollout well underway and the number of vaccinated residents growing each day, Americans are itching to travel and take a much-needed vacation. Hotels are reopening only to be reminded of the pre-Covid staffing shortages exacerbated by a year of industry uncertainty.

A Director of Housekeeping, Executive Chef, and Director of Food and Beverage might be serving as a busser, expediter, bartender, room attendant, and house person. They are physically stepping in to perform the basic day-to-day functions of their departments and then quickly pivoting to management responsibilities. This not sustainable in the long term.

So, what can we do to create the change the industry needs? How can we retain the talent we have, attract new talent, make our hotels and restaurants profitable while still delivering excellent service? Below you will find suggestions that can move your team forward in the right direction. When correctly implemented, these suggestions can assist you in addressing your staffing shortage and obtaining positive results.

  1. How to retain talent

  2. How to attract new talent

  3. Rethink how you staff & operate your business

  4. Rethink hours of operations

  5. Work with your local community

  6. Embrace the hospitality factor

1. How do you retain talent in hospitality?

The easiest way to retain talent doesn’t cost money, but it does mean that you have to be both kind and present as leaders. Have you stopped to check in on your staff recently? Pause and listen to how they are responding and what they are saying. Do not assume you know what they are going through. Everyone has seen some version of this post on social media: We are not all in the same boat. We might be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. Empathy doesn’t cost a thing, just time. What most entry-level and middle managers share is that they are exhausted. It goes a long way to acknowledge that the situation is challenging, but it goes even further to demonstrate that you hear them and share your plan for growing the team.

Time Management:

Senior and Executive leaders, meetings need to be short and sweet. If the operational leaders have to be on the floor to take care of the guests, return the favor by making Mondays and Fridays “no meeting” days. Fridays are huge arrival days, so most hospitality professionals work on the weekend and take Mondays off. Go further by suggesting you consider not to schedule meetings after 2 PM as this is new “arrival” time for most of the guests. When you do have a meeting, get a moderator, a scribe, and a timekeeper to set ground rules and keep agenda items on time. If a topic doesn’t involve more than 70% of the people attending the meeting, save it for a side-bar meeting afterward. It is important to be mindful of everyone’s time, yet so many still struggle with a 45-minute morning meeting when it should be kept to 15 minutes.

Be considerate:

Speak to your team about the importance of a flexible work schedule and allow them to tell you when they are available. Allow your team to share when they have doctor’s appointments, football games, or a child’s performance to attend. Find a way to accommodate all the requests if they are submitted timely. It might take longer to create the schedule as you go through everyone’s wants and needs, but the call-outs tend to be mitigated. As a result, the team will feel empowered, respected, valued, and you will establish an abundance of trust.

Signing Bonus:

At the end of the day, money talks. An idea the Executive Committee at Meadowood Napa Valley came up with was to give a $200 (net-after-tax) “signing” bonus after your first 90-days and an annual retention bonus of $1000 net-after-tax just for staying and doing a good job. This was split into three payments: Within the first 90-days, if you were in good standing you’d receive $200. After six months, $300, and then, on the 12th month of good standing and service, you received the remaining $500. The parameters were that you could not have absence/tardiness issues, and you had to perform at an established baseline. The response from the current staff was amazing and it motivated them to stay in good standing. In addition, we saw employee referrals rise.

2. How do I attract new talent?

All of us know someone who is looking for a job. And an easy way to attract new talent is by giving a potential employee the opportunity to intern, task force, or apprentice. Make a role more enticing by offering a sign-on bonus, housing (if it’s in a remote location), or more flexible hours.

Can you hire staff and leaders on a contract or seasonal basis? Or have higher-paying part-time roles that do not cause a company to pay benefits? This might attract people who don’t want to uproot their lives but could commit for a shorter period of time.

Another example is a recent post from the Managing Director of Rosewood London, Michael Bonsor. He did a video where he first spoke to the current status of how “open” hotels and restaurants were going to function. He then explained that he is looking for talent for their bar program and discussed how important it is for him to get his team back to “normalcy.” What’s the takeaway from this? Share why you want people to come work for you and what sets you apart. You can either do this in a video or a well-written careers section on your website.

3. Should I rethink how I staff & operate my business?

A New England restaurant worker shared how she was short-staffed. As the General Manager of the restaurant, she was doing a lot of bartending herself, meeting the owners, doing financials while at the same time making sure not to wear her team out. People tend to forget this, but hospitality burn-out is real! One day she ran reports on the PMS system and tracked when the restaurant made the most revenue and realized she could open the restaurant for 4 days a week and have better quality service. She increased the average check and her team was happy because they made enough money and were not dreading going into work on super slow days.

If you have a seasonal property or have the flexibility, consider closing off rooms with the most maintenance issues for repairs. It might not be the ideal situation, but the results are rewarding. Some positive outcomes are:

  1. Your maintenance team can do some preventative work (it keeps them employed)

  2. Your overall guest satisfaction and spending will increase when you provide guests with rooms in near perfect condition

  3. Your staff will be happier as guest comments on room maintenance issues will decline

  4. If you use Trip Advisor / Guest Surveys, the reviews will be more positive and help your property get top ratings.

Cross Training:

Cross-training is another great way to keep people employed with full-time hours. At a destination hotel, the overnight security team learned how to make sofa beds, rollaway beds, soups, and sandwiches for the overnight light menu. They kept a list of frequently requested items in a central location so that they could access it. The overnight manager went through the same training so that the security guard had support.

4. Rethink hours of operation

In a hotel setting, use the reports function on your POS or PMS system. Drill down on your numbers to determine if you need to have all of the food and beverage outlets open for all three meal periods. For example, does each outlet need to serve breakfast?

You might need to staff more people during breakfast to improve your service levels. If lunch is costing you more in labor than sales, can you offer picnic baskets with different options of food on a menu? Garde Manger can do the food prep, and the in-room dining operator can handle putting the basket together. The bellman can come by and pick it up and load it into the guest’s vehicle or bicycle. Can you offer take-out food if you are in a city setting?

Alternatively, if you only have one restaurant, does it make sense to open for breakfast later to capture more guests? This will also help you with staff who do not enjoy getting up at 5 AM to be ready for breakfast at 6:30 AM. Can you do an all-day menu in In-Room dining and service it from 11 AM to 10 PM?

5. Community Chamber of Commerce

Most General Managers already have established relationships with the community’s Chamber of Commerce, so why not see if there are programs to mentor and train area high school students on workplace readiness and soft skills. The Ocean House in Westerly, RI does a tremendous job at this, and during the summer, teenagers 16 years and older can apply with this program. They have had success in cultivating the relationship with the community, and young adults learn new skills and have fun while doing it.

They can start by learning the basics such as folding towels, rolling up silverware in napkins, restock items in closets, pantries, etc. For those that want to learn more about soft skills, they can engage with the talented leadership team on how to respond to interview questions. Some even mentor them on a career choice, hopefully in hospitality!

6. Share and try new things in hospitality

Share hospitality jobs that are new on Grit, LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, etc. Someone in your network might be the right fit. Further, if you have a shared connection with the job poster, ask for an introduction.

Lastly, try new things, as necessity is the mother of invention and innovation. It might make us uncomfortable; we might fail, or it might just be the idea that saves our organization. Do not underestimate the power of transparency with your teams and their feedback. We joined hospitality because the qualities of being kind, generous, and flexible resonate with us, and we have to extend this to our past, present, and future staff, just the same as we do to our guests.