Published in Hotel Executive Magazine - Virtually no aspect of a hotel business has been left untouched by the industry’s continuing labor shortage. However, F&B operations are undoubtedly among the hardest hit departments which have struggled to keep consistently high levels of service quality in the face of increasing guest standards. Representing approximately 25 percent of a hotel’s revenue, the risks posed by underperforming F&B services as a result of a lack of available employees is all too apparent, and can not only stall recovery efforts but can also lead to significant damage to business reputations.
For their part, hoteliers have tried to reverse the trend of dwindling employee numbers by increasing hourly pay for positions needing to be filled, but have only been met with limited if any success as a result. The reality is that in order to prevent more workers from resigning and instead begin to attract the candidates that their operations desperately need, F&B departments must take a closer look at the reasons behind why so many employees are choosing to work elsewhere. Whether for a hotel’s onsite restaurant or its room service offerings, F&B managers can only begin to implement the necessary changes to their operations by understanding what conditions today’s staff are seeking to avoid within modern workplace environments, as well as what factors are essential to earning their commitment and continued loyalty.
Catering Towards the Push for Flexible Work Weeks
Similar to many other hotel departments and indeed even with other industries, F&B operations are having to come to terms with the fact that traditionally inflexible work schedules are no longer suited to the needs and expectations of the 21st century workforce. Much has been written on how the rise of the gig economy has taken place due to more and more workers seeking greater control over when and how they provide their services to businesses. Yet with as many as 59 million Americans now working gig-based jobs, its influence on employees serving in more traditional employment roles cannot be understated. One significant statistic that should give F&B managers pause to reconsider their approach to managing employees is that as much as 81 percent of workers indicate that they would have a greater sense of loyalty if flexible work schedules were available.
In today’s world, employers have to come to terms with the fact that many workers have a wide range of daily needs and responsibilities vying for their attention. Some employees may have to balance their availability to perform a job with childcare. Others may be pursuing education that requires attending classes on certain days. For an increasing number of employees, it’s also not uncommon to hold more than one job which results in having to take greater care in balancing their availability. Further still, a sizable amount of employees may only have access to transportation to and from work during specific hours or days. Regardless of their reasons and thanks to a workforce market favorable to employees, workers who are unable to reconcile their scheduling needs with current or prospective employers can simply move on to another business that will.
For F&B operations, this presents managers with two seemingly irreconcilable challenges. Many will understandably wonder how they can adopt schedule flexibility without jeopardizing the performance and service quality of their department. Perhaps more so than other business areas, the demand for F&B services can fluctuate significantly during the course of a day, with it certainly not making financial sense to schedule employees at times when work volume is down while leaving shifts unfilled during peak hours of operation.
However, there is a middle ground that F&B departments can now strive for that has been opened by the more recent advances in technology. By utilizing a modern labor management system enabled with artificial intelligence and machine-learning abilities, F&B managers can automate the scheduling process entirely in a way that respects the individual needs of their employees, their business and their guests. This is achieved by such platforms being able to identify patterns in business demand volumes by the hour, day and week. Using these analytics, the platform can then create an accurate forecast of precisely when and how many employees are required in order to maintain service quality standards. Crucially and with regards to adopting a flexible schedule strategy, these systems can provide each employee with options to select which shifts they would like to work based on the actual needs of business operations. Mobile-enabled platforms can further do so on employee terms by automatically sharing details on available shifts via personal device. Without creating any additional work or headaches for managers, an advanced labor management system can make all the difference in creating a modern work environment where the need to ensure the satisfaction of guests is not in direct competition with ensuring the wellbeing of employees.
Demands for Workplace Flexibility Extends to Pay
Shift flexibility may be among the highest priorities for today’s workers, but it is not the only area where F&B employees are demanding a greater sense of self control. Faced with the growing challenge of meeting financial obligations as a result of increasing rent, gas or grocery expenses, many frontline employees are now seeking out jobs that can provide immediate access to wages and tips at the moment when they are needed most. According to survey data, as many as 52 percent of today’s workers would in fact be willing to pay a small fee if it meant that they could receive payment in advance of traditional payday schedules.
For F&B departments which frequently rely on tips from guests to assist with providing staff members with an adequate and competitive rate of pay, the attempt to transition to an instant payment strategy can at first appear to be fraught with obstacles. For starters and similar to deploying flexible work schedules, F&B managers often simply do not have the bandwidth to dedicate countless hours to determining how many hours an individual employee has worked and what amount of tips are applicable to them in order to provide an accurate sum of payment each day. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that tips are often provided as cash, resulting in F&B managers having to handle a series of manual accounting and system updating processes before they can be made accessible to employees.
Yet here as well, a hotel’s F&B department is now able to find an effective solution by again relying on newer and more adaptive technologies. For example, labor management system integrations now exist that can automatically determine the number of hours an employee has worked, calculate how much they are eligible to receive and immediately disperse payment- all with a simple push of a button on an employee’s personal device.
With regards to tips, modern labor management platforms can also take advantage of the widespread adoption of smartphones in order to entice guests to provide tips digitally. This can be facilitated with the use of QR codes that guests can effortlessly scan and which take them to a secure portal where they can post the tip amount they would like to leave behind. This not only eliminates extra and no doubt undesirable accounting tasks for F&B managers, but can also lead to a rise in tipping rates as more guests opt to travel without carrying cash on them. Importantly and by integrating with a property’s POS system, a labor management system equipped with same day tipping capabilities can perform all of the hard work of determining how much each employee should receive in tips in an instant. Such platforms can identify when and where a staff member worked, and automatically provide access to the correct amount of tips they are owed. With the prospect of receiving good tips serving as a significant pull factor in attracting workers to F&B-based jobs, the ability to potentially increase tips while obtaining instant access using modern technology is certainly something that represents a differentiating factor in the minds of today’s employees.
Creating a Workplace Culture that Breeds Productivity, Not Employee Burnout
It’s no secret that jobs within F&B departments are often hectic and result in heightened levels of stress for the employees that perform them. A sudden influx of guests at a hotel’s restaurant or a substantial uptick in the number of room service requests can leave workers scrambling to keep up with the pace. However, while such issues were problematic prior to the pandemic, they have become virtually unmanageable as a result of the ongoing worker shortage. Those employees that have opted to remain with a hotel’s F&B department are finding themselves physically unable to adequately handle the increasing responsibilities that now fall on their shoulders. This inevitably results in the cutting of corners which leads to a drop in service quality. Worse still, task overload will ultimately lead to far greater instances of employees experiencing burnout, creating a toxic workplace culture where staff members feel that the only solution is to find another form of employment. No surprise then that 52 percent of employees working for hospitality and restaurant businesses stated that burnout was the primary reason for leaving a previous job.
While it’s easy to blame this trend on a hotel’s struggle with finding enough employees to fill F&B shifts, the fact remains that more employees will continue to leave unless something is done to create a more hospitable and less stressful work environment. Yet beyond trying to recruit more staff, F&B managers do have several proven strategies at their disposal that, if implemented, can actually lead many departments to realize that what they are experiencing isn’t so much a shortage of labor. Instead, the issue may simply revolve around how current employees are being utilized.
One area worthy of an F&B manager’s attention is how tasks and operational procedures are structured. More often than not, the processes for carrying out daily responsibilities remain in place due to the sense of familiarity that they offer. However, such processes may not be the most efficient way of completing tasks which is now coming to light as a result of the drop in employees' ability to perform the work swiftly, yet with the attention to detail that each responsibility merits. Using a hotel’s restaurant as an example, perhaps it was once feasible to open up the entire location to guests regardless of demand levels due to the ability to rely on a sufficient number of employees to service each area. Now faced with a lack of workers, however, managers should consider limiting the areas where guests may be seated during periods of lower occupancy in order to reduce the distances that staff members have to travel in order to provide service. Other potential adjustments that can alleviate workloads without affecting the quality of service could also include purchasing more food items that come pre-prepared, such as chopped onions or peeled potatoes. While costing a little more than products that require prep work, managers will find that such expenses are significantly less than hiring additional staff, while the benefits they provide towards making current employee tasks more manageable will prove to be invaluable.
Another avenue that F&B managers should explore is determining how they can effectively cross-utilize the employees they currently have on staff. This approach can actually serve to resolve two issues at once. The first is that it opens the possibility of providing employees with opportunities to learn new skills, allowing those who wish to advance in their career to experience a sense of fulfillment as they perform their current role. This in itself can also lead such workers to remain with their current employer as they can readily identify possibilities to improve professionally. With regards to an F&B department’s operations, it crucially also provides the ability to shift employee resources according to current and future service needs. For instance, a room service attendant who is additionally trained to prepare meals can also lend a much needed hand prior to the beginning of business hours to ensure that menu items are adequately prepped in time. A host who also knows how to serve guest requests for drinks at the bar can be assigned as an extra bartender during periods when the typically assigned employees are not enough to handle increased demand volumes. By adopting an effective cross-utilization strategy, F&B managers can soon find that what they have been searching for is not necessarily additional staff members, but rather a smarter and more adaptive approach to the managing of their human capital.
Earning a Reputation as an Employer That Staff Want to Work For
With guests now making a return to the hotel industry in force following seemingly endless months of quarantine and social distancing, F&B operations have a vital opportunity to make up for lost revenue. However, staff shortages will inevitably result in stalled efforts and damage to business reputations if managers are unable to keep service quality and response times in line with increasing guest expectations. To sidestep such risks, industry professionals must understand and work to resolve the various factors that are causing otherwise content employees to look to other businesses and industries in order to address their job needs and expectations. In doing so, F&B departments can not only create the kind of workplace environments that their staff members are seeking out and that will boost their level of productivity and loyalty; they can also steadily begin to build a reputation that sees potential candidates view them as the ultimate employer of choice.