With the industry facing staffing shortages, Neil Rankin asks what we're doing to make our businesses a desirable place to work.
Sometimes I believe that the greatest enemy the restaurant industry has is itself. I'm hearing groans about staff and skill shortages, which are being blamed on Brexit and the pandemic. While I mostly agree the effect both have had, I'm also seeing a performance I've seen played over and over by the same people, and it's getting really boring to watch.
The restaurant industry is not one to drop to its knees at the first sign of danger. It's an industry that prides itself on overcoming adversity and pushing on regardless of what is ahead. And that's great, but much of it is still so wrong.
Why chefs and front of house don't want to work any more isn't the question. Why should they? Seriously, what do we have for them? Good pay? Not really. Good hours? Definitely not. Good benefits? Not ever. Job satisfaction? Respect? Most of the time it's the opposite.
We've pinned ourself into a corner by creating a system that only attracts low-paid, transient staff. We blame them for not wanting to return after they've seen the government pay better wages for them to sit at home.
We've pinned ourself into a corner by creating a system that only attracts low-paid, transient staff. We blame them for not wanting to return, after they've seen the government pay better wages for them to sit at home
They've seen jobs for delivery companies with better hours and none of the ego politics. Most people just want to go to work and earn money – they can find that anywhere else, with a better quality of life and probably better pay. Why would they go back?
Do you think they miss chopping vegetables in a hot room, or polishing cutlery, or carrying plates, with customers or managers shouting at them all day? Tell me what the upside is. Tell me what makes this long, gruelling career attractive to anyone.
The problem, however, isn't the job – it's the culture that's killing it. This idea of God-like chefs, the army rhetoric and the hierarchical structure that belongs in the early 19th-century. While the rest of the world is adapting to the pandemic by creating a working structure based on flexibility and home working, we're trying to shove people back into the same old system – with the only changes being that we've made their jobs harder, more dangerous and more stressful. What are we doing to keep them?
If you're not spending every day asking yourself, ‘how do I make this a place people want to work?'; if you're not worrying about your staff's futures as much as or even more than your own; if you're not empowering your staff to create, evolve and achieve their own goals and dreams; if you don't give them credit for the things they create in your name; if you don't respect their private commitments as much as their work ones; if you're not thinking about their mental heath; if you're not thinking about how to develop your business to give people jobs to grow into; if you're not creating a diverse workforce and constantly thinking about training and what benefits you can offer – then you're in for a hard few years. What you're doing is running a company for you, when it should be for everyone.
These aren't fantastical ideas – this is just how good companies should work. Some industries are constantly pushing to be better and better, while we sit around talking about how lazy everyone is today. In reality it's us who are too lazy to adjust our prices and systems to look after our staff, as they work their asses off and sacrifice their social lives and mental health.
We need to build businesses that benefit everyone. When the focus of a company shifts away from the goals of just one individual or a financial goal, then – and only then – will people want to work with us again.
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