Industry Insiders

Australia's got (hospo) talent: Recruiting and retaining great hospo staff

May 20, 2024

Australia's got (hospo) talent: Recruiting and retaining great hospo staff

Staff shortages at Christmas are as traditional as turkey and ham but, in the post-COVID era, hospitality venues are also dealing with greater expectations from potential employees as they try to fill vacancies, according to recruitment expert James Metcalfe. Both a Chef and the Managing Director and Owner of JRM Hospitality & Recruitment, James says the dramatic reduction of staff during COVID led to rapid promotions, with kitchen hands becoming chefs and chef parties taking on sous chef roles, and universal rises in pay.

Whilst there has been an increase in staff from overseas, there is still a skills shortage.

Venues aiming to fill positions in a tight market need to understand and work within the huge culture shift that has occurred in the workplace in terms of hours and staff expectations, he says. ‘I'm a chef by trade, so I always did 60 or 70 hours. That was the norm at hatted restaurants, but even in those places now they are having four-day weeks and everybody's getting paid a lot better. That was because of COVID, and it did need to happen in the industry because a lot of people were getting flogged,’ James says.

It’s now uncommon for people to work more than 42 hours a week unless they are being paid overtime.

‘If you're on $200,000, for instance, then people don't mind putting in the hours but for the average working chef, the conditions are a lot better and it's a lot fairer.’ In addition to the four-day week, venues seeking to be employers of choice are now including benefits such as free uniforms, venue discounts for family and friends, and mental health days and support.

Potential staff are also looking for transparency around the division of tips, a professional induction, and a career pathway.

‘Getting off on the right foot is essential. If you can’t afford to offer a few days or weeks training, at least make sure you buddy the new person up with somebody who can show them the ropes,’ James says. ‘There are a few companies that we work with that, when somebody starts, they have a clear, achievable and transparent career path with a timeline, so they know where they're heading and have got something to work towards. There's a lot of value in that. Small operators would struggle to be able to do that, but when medium to big companies do that well, it keeps people engaged and feeling valued.’

Venues also need to take into account external factors that impact on the desirability of their workplace, with the national housing shortage playing a significant role, particularly for regional venues where affordable accommodation is hard to find. ‘I’m part-owner of a restaurant in Cronulla, only about 25 kilometres from the Sydney CBD, but there's just no staff in Cronulla so we've got to tap people from in and around the area, otherwise it's an hour commute each way and people just don't last. There are no one-bedroom apartments to rent in Cronulla, or they're $800 or $900 and people just can't afford it,’ James says.

If it’s an option, providing accommodation as part of an employee’s salary package can be a gamechanger.

James plugs the value of using a recruitment firm to find casuals over the holiday period. ‘The casual staffing market is challenging for venues because there is a lot of work in December and not enough staff and in January time there's not enough hours to go around and everybody is desperate for work.‘ We can help businesses when the demand is there. They can employ somebody casually just for a certain period or event and then they don't have the dreaded bloated payroll come January with too many people on their books. We like to plug gaps.’

For smaller venues that lack the capacity to engage a recruitment firm, James suggests making connections with local catering colleges to access capable and interested students. Alternatively, it can also be worth putting a senior high school or university student with a good attitude through Food Handling or RSV training if they are keen to do holiday work, which could potentially set a venue up with a committed seasonal employee for a few years.

‘If you do get a bright young man or woman who wants to learn, they can be gold because they're interested and keen and passionate and can soak up the skills like a sponge,’ James says.

Of course, once you have found good staff, ensuring you keep them is vital.

‘Feedback and recognition go a long way. I don't think telling people that they have done a good job is done enough. Employee of the month is still a good thing. We do that at JRM, and it gives us something to talk about and celebrate. They get a voucher and certificate, and they feel valued. We like doing that.’

Tips to become an employer of choice:

  • Accommodation

  • Four-day week

  • Professional and welcoming onboarding process

  • Progression plans

  • Venue discounts

  • Supplied uniform

  • Transparency around division of tips

  • Mental health days and support