I remember like it was yesterday something a professor of mine said. Duncan was speaking about our industry and proclaimed that within two years, more than half of us – hotel and restaurant management graduates – would be out of the industry. Being stubborn, I got my back up and said, “No way that is going to happen to me.” At the same time, panic set in as I wondered what in the world I was getting myself into with my chosen career. This scenario has played out in my head and my life for 32 years while navigating the world of hospitality. A career in hospitality can be uniquely rewarding as well as a very challenging way to earn a living.
Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the upside of hospitality careers. For me, the feeling after executing excellent service, regardless of the difficulties, is hard to find elsewhere. It is a feeling akin to a victory in team sports where everyone comes together, plays their roles flawlessly, jumps in and helps each other out, executes to the highest possible level, and blows customers away. It is pure elation that usually is followed by a post-shirt drink or two and perhaps a meal. Then we leave and prepare to do it all again the next day.
When a business is performing well, beating targets, making customers and staff happy, and satisfying the owner’s profitability needs, it can be pure elation. Nothing feels better than when it’s going well, but this is often the culmination of a never-ending push to get a multitude of variables into place. It is the pinnacle; and sadly, it is more often the exception than the norm. And, of course, it is all about people. If we hire the best, train, coach, and develop our team better than the industry norm, and have alignment of core values and direction, we can achieve great things. Getting there is difficult and elusive.
So, what is it that characterizes the downside of this career choice? I do not want to dwell on the negatives, but there is an elephant in the room that must be addressed. Facing these realities is vital to putting forth possible solutions and choosing to chart a different course, a course that actively works to mitigate the endless pitfalls. So, what does the downside look like?
· High levels of stress. This stress stems from the very nature of the challenge. Running a restaurant well and securing needed levels of profit given razor thin margins is just plain difficult. In fact, I would say that running food and beverage operations well is one of the most challenging endeavours that one can take on. It is said that if you can run a restaurant you can run any business. There is nothing that I have experienced in 32 years that says otherwise; infinite variables and inputs need to fire perfectly at the same time.
· All people, all of the time. In this industry, customers, staff, and suppliers can fill you up emotionally, but they can also empty you out as the input is often relentless. Customers can be demanding, unreasonable, and just plain difficult. They are our lifeblood and quite rightly have ever increasing expectations. They can be both our joy and our bane.
· Relentless hard work. Hospitality is physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult. It can chew people up and spit them out if they are not proactive in caring for themselves. Burnout is real and a constant threat. Having been through burnout, I do everything I can to not go back there.
· High risk. To say that this industry is high risk is not only stating the obvious, it is understating it.
· Long hours, counter to those kept by the majority of society. We work so others can play. This puts pressure on family relationships and friendships, can lessen the quality of our relationships, and can lead to alienation and loneliness.
· Family and relationship stress. This industry makes having a healthy family and maintaining functional and strong marriages/relationships very difficult. Our hours are often opposite to those kept by our partners and children, which places added pressure on daily life and increases the emotional burden.
· Considered a ‘low-skilled’ industry. I take exception to this common view! It can lead to industry workers’ having a low status in society, being looked down upon and treated poorly, and receiving low levels of compensation, poor job security and advancement opportunities. In my view, and I am sure in yours, hospitality is far from low-skilled work and should be properly recognized as a valuable profession. We simply have to do better by our people.
· Mental health and addiction issues. These issues are real and must be addressed. I applaud industry efforts that are already in place, mostly on the peer-to-peer level. Owners, leaders, and managers must take up this cause and not only support but work to create lasting change.
In light of this somewhat grim reality, and given that we are 100% reliant upon great people in order to secure our success, what is it that we are to do?
The Covid-19 pandemic is a particle accelerator for innovation and change… should we choose to use it as such. The cracks in our industry have been blown wide open and can no longer be paid lip service. Are we bold enough to seize the opportunity and make hospitality a meaningful, viable, and sustainable career choice for both existing employees and new industry participants? They say that the ‘best team wins’ and this is true, now more than ever. Here’s how:
· Run a better business. Apply focus and discipline and a culture of mutual accountability. Great people want to work in great businesses.
· Create an admired company culture. Create a people-centric culture, seeking constant employee feedback where culture, values, and direction are aligned throughout and with all.
· Attract and retain the best people. This especially applies to the Millennial, Gen Y, and Gen Next generations. Being a best-in-industry employer attracts great staff, reduces costly turnover, positively impacts quality and consistency, and brings big wins to the profitability of your business.
· Re-image your people strategy. Lead with generosity at your core rather than scarcity. Practice kindness, consideration, and respect.
· Invest in proper training, coaching, and development. This shows that you not only care about the performance of your business and people but that you care. Provide an allowance for those wanting to take industry-related courses.
· Stand up for your people. The customer is not always right and has no right to be abusive. Back your people in the face of belligerent customers.
· Listen, empower, and delegate with accountability. Let go of the reigns and let all your people act as owner-operators.
· Create pride in the workplace. Set high-performance expectations and be consistent in enforcing those expectations. Great people know who the poor performers are. Do not let those sub-par people set the bar for performance.
· Create a new compensation model to mitigate the great pay disparity. Pay, race, and gender equity must be at the core of a company’s compensation model. Build pay equity across the FOH and BOH divide by increasing kitchen wages.
· Make your business smarter. Seek to improve your model, systems, processes, and top priorities in order to make it all easier, better, and more effective for your people to do their job in caring for customers. Simplify and improve systems to take pressure off your team.
· Offer extended health benefits to all employees.
· Change your tip out policy to reflect the team nature of the business. In counter-service concepts, consider paying everyone the same wage and share gratuities equally based upon number of hours worked. In full-service concepts, increase the servers’ tip out percentage so that more money is rightly flowing to kitchen and support staff. Servers are soon going to be making $15 per hour in addition to tips. Now is the time to be bold and change it up. 8%-10% of net sales is what I am beginning to see ‘out there’.
· Allow key people to participate in equity. If you can, find a way to incentivize key people through reduced price/share purchase, earning shares through bonus… or however this might look in your situation.
Thank you for indulging me over the past six months while I have walked through the Restaurant ReBoot series. I am going to take a break until January 2021 in order to map out some fresh direction for the blog. May you, your businesses, your employees, and your families continue to remain positive and open to possibility during these challenging times and may you be able to tap into the love, hope, peace, and joy that this holiday season offers.
Until next time!