Staffing challenges have been affecting all areas of hotel operations, and restaurant service is no exception. “We definitely have the same problem,” says Jennifer Krapp, head of restaurant operations at The Indigo Road Hospitality Group. “Whether it’s front door staff, servers, bartenders, or dish washers, there seems to be a lack of applicants that have the kind of experience that we’re looking for.” Given that the dining experience is a major part of guests’ overall impression of the hotel, maintaining service quality despite the staffing challenge is essential. That requires quality hiring, onboarding, and management practices. Krapp, who oversees 26 restaurants across Indigo Road’s hotel portfolio, has a “hands on” perspective on all stages of achieving F&B operational excellence. She shares the following best practices:
1Determine whether a prospective hire will go the extra mile.
While many short-staffed hoteliers are under pressure to hire in a difficult market, selectivity is still important for restaurant positions of all levels. “You don’t ever want to hire just because you’re desperate to hire people,” Krapp advises. “You have to hire the right people, even if it might take a while. Employees in our company appreciate that, even though we may be running with a short staff, we’re not bringing in someone that may be toxic to the environment. It can ruin the culture of the restaurant.” Work ethic and level-headedness are especially important if the individual is brought into an operation that is or may become short staffed. Thus, Krapp suggests asking interview questions that help determine whether the person has such qualities: “What would they do if the restaurant was short staffed? Do they give up in the face of adversity, or roll up their sleeves and get busy?”
2Consider whether a prospective hire will support the dining experience.
Successful restaurants today create remarkable experiences, not just great meals. Indeed, the dining experiences often provide a marketing angle for the hotel itself. The diner’s experience includes elements such as the décor, lighting, music, as well as the character of the staff. Accordingly, a prospective staff member’s demeanor is critical to assess. “We really try to hire guest-facing people that are passionate about serving people and want to make something special for someone,” Krapp says.
3Design a thoughtful training program.
The urgency of filling roles can lead to cutting corners when it comes to training new hires, but that can be damaging to operations in the long run. Krapp feels that while putting a new hire in a “sink or swim” situation works in some cases, that approach does not create a foundation for longevity and success. “I think many people lose sight of how important it is to have mentors. Typically, we have trainers in our restaurants that will help light the way and hold up the standard” of quality, she says.
4Hold staff meetings more regularly.
Krapp’s restaurant teams, both front and back of house, meet daily to discuss everything from values to service procedures to guest reviews. “We’ve started doing some roundtables as well, where anybody is welcome to come and sit down and discuss areas in the restaurant that they feel need some work, and come up with solutions,” she notes. These sessions encourage more “buy in” from employees as they feel empowered to “take ownership and have a lot more pride in what they’re delivering,” she adds.
5Recognize and reward.
Particularly if a restaurant staff is downsized and working especially hard, showing appreciation is important. “We have increased our PTO,” says Krapp. “And every quarter, each restaurant chooses somebody that has really made an impact and rewards them.” Employee engagement is also increased by social opportunities, such as annual employee parties and paid attendance at conferences where they can network. “Every time we get together as a senior leadership team, we’re constantly asking what else we can do to positively impact the staff and create an environment where people still love coming to work.”