Ongoing staff shortages are contributing to increasing incidents of employee poaching in hospitality, with rivals and recruiters using online and offline "war tactics" to convince workers to switch jobs.
Hospitality business owners told The Caterer their teams were being targeted on social media and in their own venues when managers' backs are turned.
It comes after a recent survey by employee experience platform Harri and data consultancy CGA revealed that 58% of workers identified staff shortages as the biggest challenge in hospitality.
Alex Galantino, founder of La Bottega Milanese, a specialty coffee brand based in Leeds with approximately 30 staff across three branches, said social media was aggravating the situation.
He said: "We stopped tagging our staff personally if they did latte art. [The recruiters] will basically find the tags from your Instagram of your specific baristas and they'll message them."
Galantino said that he lost around 15% of his staff because of poaching, after existing shortages had already led him to cut weekly opening times by 18 hours.
He described how one of his former employees left for a competitor and then actively tried to recruit her ex-colleagues. "If they manage to find the weakest link, they'll come in. It's basically war tactics: divide and conquer, breaching, Trojan horse. I'm not using these terms lightly. That's what it got to. People are so desperate."
Celia Gaze, founder of the Wellbeing Farm, an events venue in Lancashire which holds between four and five weddings a week during holiday season, said her recent B Corp certification had made her a target for poachers.
She added: "It's almost like you're a victim of your own success. The more you grow your reputation, the more vulnerable you are to people taking your staff. I've lost a couple of coordinators recently and they said they had been approached. I've had other venues poach my staff directly on social media."
The problem is not just online; chefs have witnessed poaching taking place on their restaurant premises.
Chef Joginder Singh Dham, who has previously worked at D&D London and Maxwell's Group, said he had been "shocked" when a former general manager started handing out business cards and talking about salaries in one of his former restaurants.
He said: "No one thought that someone of his calibre would ever do that. We had welcomed him – the chefs came and said hello and everything. He came for dinner without booking a table on Monday evening when he was aware myself and senior management are usually off."
Laura Christie, co-owner of Oklava in London's Shoreditch, said a senior manager of a well-known restaurant in nearby Spitalfields had dined in the restaurant and directly approached one of the team during the meal with a business card.
Christie said: "We are all trying to be creative to attract the right people but to directly poach staff felt like an overstepping of the line."
Operators told The Caterer they had already experienced a spike in poaching in the lead up to Christmas last year, and some said they expected it to get worse ahead of the busy summer season.
Steve West, a former chef at the Bailey's Hotel London, said the issue was "nothing new" and claimed to have poached a chef from Antony Worrall Thompson's 190 Queen's Gate in London in the 1990's.
West added: "Instead of shouting out ‘stop poaching', ask ‘why are they poaching staff'? It's not only a competitive market for customers; it's a competitive market for staff as well."
He said the tactics of some recruiters were "pretty nasty" but "no different from picking up the phone" at home.
Peter Davies, managing director of WMT Troncmaster Services, said some back-of-house hospitality salary increases had been up to three times the statutory National Minimum Wage rise amid staff shortages.
He said poaching was a "symptom" of an industry that had suffered disproportionately for the last two years but hoped it would prompt the sector to look at what was necessary to attract the next generation of talent.
Some operators have found the situation too difficult to continue. Galantino sold La Bottega Milanese last month and said staff shortages and poaching were one factor in his decision to take a break after 12 years in the coffee industry.
His next project will involve providing coffee directly to corporate clients, which he hoped will lead to a "staff-less solution".
Image: Wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock
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