The Holiday Inn San Jose-Silicon Valley can seat up to 1,000 guests for a formal dinner in its 14,000-square-foot banquet facility. Plenty goes into accommodating such an expansive event, and one of the more critical elements is a fully staffed and experienced team. However, as the property’s director of food and beverage, Ruben Perfetto, explains, it doesn’t make sense for the hotel to hire a cohort of employees for affairs of that size, as they occur fairly infrequently. At the same time, finding reliable staff for a single event is far from easy, particularly in the Bay Area, which has some of the state’s lowest unemployment rates.
“Sometimes you hire people, but they don’t show up or they find something better. We don’t know the reason and always need somebody right away,” Perfetto says. To secure help on-demand, the property began using a staffing app for gig workers and hospitality businesses called Instawork. Over the past year, Perfetto says the app has helped the hotel cover various positions—dishwashers, busers, banquet servers, and “house men” who assist with event set-up and clean-up.
When launching Instawork in 2015, Sumir Meghani, the startup’s CEO, could see that the hospitality industry was in dire need of a solution for these kinds of staffing issues. As a former executive at Groupon, Meghani witnessed the single biggest problem preventing owners from growing their businesses—labor challenges. Even well before his Groupon days, he saw his family struggle to find dependable employees at his father’s travel agency in a suburb of Detroit. “When someone would not show up to the office, I’d get a call after school saying, ‘Hey, we need you in today.’”
Instawork stepped into the gig economy to fill these gaps in employment. “Uber and Lyft reinvented transportation. We’re doing the same thing with staffing,” Meghani says. More than simply filling positions, the company focuses on quality as a core value proposition. When users sign up on its bilingual mobile app, Instawork screens each profile. “They write their work experience, their professional references, a photo of them dressed in the appropriate attire, and that’s all part of the profile that we’re reviewing,” Meghani explains.
Once approved, users can search for and book shifts that pay hourly, and the company handles all insurance, billing, and payments. Hospitality companies enter specific requirements for each shift to ensure that users are prepared for their roles, such as the attire and location of the job on property. Like other gig economy apps, Instawork has a two-sided rating system through which its business partners can rate staff and vice versa. Hotels that rate a user negatively will not be connected with that individual again. Meghani adds that Instawork will remove users who violate its zero-tolerance policy around inappropriate behavior and no-shows.
Currently available in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, Instawork plans to add more cities to its roster in 2019. The company is also testing its app with housekeeping staff in select markets.
“In terms of branching out, we’re always listening to our hospitality partners, trying to find new ways to help them successfully run their business,” Meghani says.
Beyond filling temporary staffing needs, Meghani sees Instawork as a pathway for aspiring professionals to gain experience in various areas of hospitality. “We view Instawork as an economic ladder for the hospitality workers on our system. We have countless examples of professionals starting on our app as a dishwasher, then becoming a prep cook, and working their way up to being a line cook—and picking up skills along the way,” Meghani says.
For his part, Perfetto appreciates the ability to bring back and potentially hire new talent. “It gives me relief, because hotel work is seven days a week, 24 hours a day. My department starts at five in the morning and we finish at midnight. It’s always, ‘Oh, we have this problem, that problem’—somebody doesn’t show up to work, somebody is sick, somebody is on vacation,” Perfetto says. “This solution gives us the help we need with the touch of a button.”