Building a Hospitality Sector for the Future

By Antony Woodcock – Co-Founder and CEO – GIG (www.gigtogig.co.uk)

Now over two years on from the start of the pandemic, the shockwaves across the economy are still being felt. With the further disruption caused by Brexit, international conflict and the impact of climate on food supplies, there continues to be a string of challenges to face for all industries.

Staff shortages have been one of these factors creating great difficulty for businesses – especially in hospitality. In particular, these shortages have left the sector struggling to get back on its feet after 2 years of closure, uncertainty and disruption, as the pandemic meant many workers were forced to look elsewhere for employment. But, almost a year down the line from the last national lockdown, the hospitality industry has discovered that a quick bounceback is not looking likely, and a ‘return to normal’ may not quite cut it.

As a sector, we need to do more to attract the skilled staff that allows us to thrive.

It might feel like adding insult to injury at a time like this to say that increasing your worker pool could be the solution – how might that be possible when it’s hard enough to fill positions as it is? The key here is flexibility. It’s no longer enough to expect people to fit around what works best for us, we have to offer positions that can attract a broader range of workers than we currently see in the industry. This can include parents or those with caring responsibilities who need to fit work around the other aspects of their lives, or older workers looking for fewer hours. There are more willing workers out there, we just need to find ways to get them through our doors.

But for any of this to work, a more uncomfortable conversation must follow: pay. With the mass exodus of staff during lockdown to other areas such as warehousing, these are now the sectors we’re competing with. It’s no longer just enough to be offering better terms than the restaurant down the road, but hospitality must now compete with the pay, hours and flexibility on offer at some of the major logistics players like Amazon.

With the rising cost of living, introducing additional costs from wage increases might seem difficult to justify. However, they are integral for ensuring the long-term future of hospitality. If we want to be an attractive prospect for fresh talent, we cannot continue hovering around minimum wage and expecting that to be enough to spark interest in hospitality as a career. Across the board, we need to look at the pay on offer for all staff, from entry-level to senior positions, and show we can offer fair prospects for all.

We may need to absorb those costs in the short term, and that won’t be an easy option for all of us. But, for those that can, the long-term boost from an enthusiastic, committed and valued workforce will be vital. After all, current shortages are estimated to be costing the industry 21bn in lost sales according to the British Beer and Pub Association, UKHospitality and the British Institute of Innkeeping. This additional investment now will help stem the tides.

Our reputation as an industry of low pay, long hours and unfulfilling work is an unfair representation of all the fantastic opportunities on offer, but it is our responsibility to challenge this narrative. We need a collective commitment to promoting our industry as a vibrant, diverse and meritocratic place to work and build a career, and one which values fair pay, flexibility and a commitment to providing opportunities for a broader talent pool.