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How to hire the best bar staff

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22/07/2022 You might be the proud owner of the most achingly fashionable bar in town, but if you can’t get the staff you have a real problem on your hands.

Good bar staff are hard to find, so it’s worthwhile going the extra mile to look after them.

Finding great workers at the best of times is never an easy task. It’s a time-consuming, inexact science, and despite new hires often coming armed with glowing testimonials and references, it’s often the case that they may not live up to expectations. Or they may be extremely good at their job, and more than fulfil the brief, yet there’s a personality clash which only emerges weeks later after one too many rows with other members of staff – or even worse, with customers.

In recent months, the issue of recruitment within the UK hospitality sector has become more of a hot potato than ever. Staff are leaving the industry for a variety of reasons, from fear of customer-facing roles during the Covid pandemic, to migrating away from cities and towns, while the attraction of other, better-paying industries which are able to offer remote and flexible working conditions, provides stiff competition. Add the problem of Brexit into the mix, with a huge exodus of Eastern Europeans back to their home countries in recent years, and it all adds up to a very real labour crisis.

Recent research from digital ordering app Flipdish has revealed that 85% of restaurant owners are struggling to hire staff, and of those, 42% say employees don’t want to work longer hours, 38% report that potential candidates don’t have sufficient experience, and 36% claim there simply aren’t enough people available. 

And according to a recent ONS Labour Market report, total hours worked increased every quarter in 2021 due to the relaxing of some Covid restrictions, but still remain pre-Covid levels. And total actual weekly hours worked increased by 14.8m hours to 1.04vn hours from January to March 2022 compared to the previous quarter.

Bars are having to go the extra mile to attract good staff, with increased pay and other benefits

Meanwhile, one in seven hospitality jobs remain unfilled, according to trade body UKHospitality, while nearly half (45%) of businesses have reduced trading hours, and a third have had to close for at least a day. This is despite the fact that over three quarters (77%) of operators have increased pay to recruit and retain staff resulting in an 11% increase in average pay levels for hospitality staff over the last year.

Miles McInnes

Miles McInnes, Jascot’s managing director says bars and restaurants are suffering from the lack of staff

Miles McInnes, MD at on-trade supplier Jascots, expressed frustration on behalf of restaurant operators: “When restaurants and bars can open, they are as busy as they’ve ever been, people are going out, but the lack of staff means they can’t trade all of the hours they need to, to cover rent and rates.”

So what is a bar or restaurant owner to do to overcome this problem? How do you go about hiring the best staff when all your competitors are likely to be in a similar position and fighting over the same candidates?

Making your workplace as attractive as possible to potential candidates would seem like an obvious answer, but it’s something that not all operators take on board. It goes without saying that you will probably have to pay more to attract quality bar staff than you did a couple of years ago, as the UKHospitality survey highlighted, but beyond mere pay, how can you get the brightest and best to come knocking on your door?

Firstly, you need to establish who you are looking for. Do you want someone who’s interested in a long-term career or a person such as a student who is only interested in short-term work in a fun and friendly atmosphere? Your job ad needs to tell a different story to attract the right person, according to Job Today, which claims to be the UK’s top hiring app. For long-term staff, you need to demonstrate that there will be opportunities for career progression, skills to learn, and great benefits, while short-term staff will be more interested in the fun and sociable side of the job. And if there are any perks such as discounted drinks or free meals, be sure to let them know in the ad.

A second point to bear in mind is to hire for attitude, not existing skills. Taking on a staff member with the right attitude and an enthusiasm for learning is more important than employing an individual who may have more relevant work experience but doesn’t possess a positive, energetic can-do attitude. According to Job Today, important factors to look out for include likeability – so make sure they are able to make good eye contact, have a genuine smile, and are able to indulge in easy conversation. A smattering of confidence also helps.

Being service orientated is also important. “Bar work is service work, with the aim of giving customers an unforgettable experience,” it says on its website. “Has your interviewee demonstrated this in any way, perhaps by giving you an excellent recruiting experience? Have they turned up on time, smartly dressed, and well prepared? Find out more about their attitude to service by asking what they think actually makes good customer service, or how they would respond to an unhappy customer.”

Enthusiasm is another factor that is hard to learn, so it’s an important attribute to look out for. Is the candidate asking you interesting and relevant questions about the role and the company, or do you get the feeling that they are merely going through the motions?

Forget old-school job ads - if you’re looking to recruit young, temporary bar staff you need to get onto social media

Next, you need to go where the talent is. If you’re still trying to recruit staff the old-fashioned way, you’re missing out on many potential candidates who simply won’t see your vacancy. Social media and mobile platforms are the way forward, particularly for short-term bar work. You could create an enticing Twitter or Instagram campaign, highlighting your vacancies and emphasizing why your bar is such a great place to work.

Something else to consider is using online psychometric tools, which are able to give you some insight into a person’s true personality and motivations.

Also ensure that you make it easy for the candidate to apply, using job apps and mobile optimized information capture tools. And to speed up the process don’t ask for lengthy CVs and cover letters which take time to compile and respond to.

Investing in your staff is also vital to both attract and retain quality people. “Training is not a badge of shame, but proof that you are happy to invest time and money in your staff’s skills,” advises Job Today. “If you invest in them they’ll feel more valued, more engaged with their work, and less likely to leave.”

Bringing in experts such as sommeliers who can teach staff about wine gives bar staff more confidence, and the feeling that they are appreciated

But training doesn’t just mean learning new skills via off-the-job courses, but can include job shadowing, where a new recruit follows another member of staff for a period of time, to learn the ropes via a mentor.

Bringing in other experts such as wine sommeliers can also be a great way of inspiring staff, and making them feel valued.

To retain the staff you have, it’s also important to make it fun. Younger people are attracted to bar work because of its sociable nature, and the possibility of making new friends, so ensure that the culture at your bar encourages fun, a team spirit, and good times. Avoid a blame culture and encourage an open and honest atmosphere. Treat everyone fairly and give your staff some leeway to invent games, choose the playlist, and have as good a  time as possible while at the same time providing excellent customer service.

Involving your staff in decision-making where practicable also goes a long way to giving them some sense of control. And it works both ways – why wouldn’t you want feedback and ideas from the very people who are working at the sharp end?. It’s important, though to ensure you don’t just pay lip service to this and that you actually take into consideration staff suggestions - if they see that their ideas are actually acted on they will feel a sense of ownership and belonging, as well feel appreciated.

While it’s important to foster a fun working environment, it’s also good to keep it challenging to avoid boredom setting in. So you could consider job rotation, assigning new or different responsibilities, and assigning them special projects that help the business.

Header Image: Photo by Crew on Unsplash

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