Bringing the brand to life through your people

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Staff laying table

In Kamila Sitwell’s soon to be published ‘Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’ she discusses how you can bring your brand to life through the staff you choose to employ.

Attitudes towards hiring people to staff bars and restaurants are slowly changing in the UK, but the pace needs to pick up. In France, for example, working in a bar or restaurant is regarded as more of a career choice than a job that requires little or no commitment.

“At first we were for the lowly servants of society. If you were an economic failure or had a frontal lobotomy, you automatically came into hospitality.” (Raymond Blanc in an article for The Caterer, May 2018)

While Blanc’s view is laced with a soupçon of humour, there is an underlying truth in what he says. If we don’t attract good people into the industry and provide them with real and meaningful training, then the cycle of restaurant failures will repeat itself, and that’s not good for brands, the hospitality sector, or the paying customers.

Training our biggest assets in hospitality has to step up several gears in order to keep up with changing customer expectations and needs. It should no longer be limited to handing out a staff manual and taking the dreaded health and safety courses; it needs to encompass the brand, its values and what it stands for fully. This is complete alignment in practice, and it’s beginning to gain significance and popularity, not just from the employer’s perspective, but for the employees, too.

Studies reveal that better trained hospitality staff are not only more enthusiastic about their work, they are also much better at promoting the brand and its values to the customers, which leads to a significantly higher return on tips. Ultimately, you want your team to live and breathe your brand because they are on the front line, representing everything you stand for. Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is gloom. After all, nobody enjoys being greeted by a glum server with little or no knowledge of what’s available or the story behind it.  If you’re completely driven by your concept, your people should be too, and the fit needs to be seamless.

 For example, a vibrant cocktail bar which is packed at weekends with guests celebrating good times needs a team that’s vivacious and outgoing. However, that team would be entirely out of place in a more reserved fine-dining environment. This may seem obvious, but I’ve certainly been to places where the staff can’t help but ruin my experience. Who wants to spend their money when they’re greeted by staff who lack positive engagement or personality?

Studies have shown that over a third of customers won’t return to a venue after one bad experience, and this of course impacts negatively on the business. The question is, who’s responsible? In my opinion, it’s almost always the brand owner, which is why I am on a mission to remind bar and restaurant owners that proper staff training needs to be a high priority. It can be all too easily overlooked when anti-social hours and pressured environments mean that time runs away, but good training practice within the workplace culture will raise industry-wide standards from the very outset, and you will reap the rewards once your brand is on a roll.

Attracting staff

Staff laying table

Use your judgement wisely. In the same way that you carried out detailed research for your concept, the same goes for recruiting your people. Don’t be afraid to look beyond the typical recruit if you feel your brand is calling out for someone different. We need to move away from the stereotypical candidate of Raymond Blanc’s observation. For example, in a family restaurant, a college leaver or student looking to bolster their loan will not necessarily have the same skills and intuition as a parent when it comes to dealing with a stressed-out mum and her hyperactive child.

This 360-degree thinking is backed up by industry research which shows that employers, especially in the service industries, recognise that their staff make a significant impact on the overall guest experience. This, in turn, translates into increased customer spending levels in excess of 15%, which just goes to show the importance of creating a positive experience for your customers. To achieve that experience, you as a business owner need to lead from the front. It’s your responsibility to lead your employees by example when you’re interacting with guests. Invest time and energy ‘on the floor’, away from the day-to-day back-office work. It will offer you the greatest insights from the ground up, since you’ll see first hand where your team needs additional help to deliver the bespoke services your guests want. Your staff will also learn valuable lessons from you on how to engage with customers, especially the unreasonable and awkward ones. Aligning your team to your business vision through a direct and personable approach will encourage them to rise to the challenge of delivering service in a way that fits your concept. As a result, they’ll feel encouraged to feed back to you on what’s working well and what needs improvement.

Employee expectations are changing

Person pouring champagne

Without doubt, the make-up of the workforce is continually evolving. Leading recruitment agency Manpower’s ‘Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision’ report (2016) shows that by 2020, 35% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. Millennials are more used to challenging each other and working together in order to find the best creative solutions to problems than previous generations, aided by their familiarity with technology. From an employer’s standpoint, they need to understand and embrace the Millennials’ priorities. Research by Fidelity Investments (July 2016) shows that Millennials are prepared to accept up to £5,700 less pay per annum in return for a balanced lifestyle. Therefore, when Millennials say they care about flexibility and openness, you need to step up to their plate (and not the other way round) if you want to motivate your staff. James Hacon believes it is time to apply ‘a little creativity – or a lot of flexibility’.

From an employer’s standpoint, it’s their different set of priorities that need to be fully understood and embraced. Research by Fidelity Investments (July 2016) shows that millennials are prepared to accept up to £5,700 less pay in return for a better, balanced lifestyle. Therefore, when millennials say they care more about flexibility and openness, you need to step up to their plate (and not the other way round) if you want to motivate your staff (and keep them).

James Hacon in his LinkedIn article from February, 2018, believes we should actively encourage their desire for portfolio working because it is “time to reconsider the [old] approach and apply a little creativity – or a lot of flexibility. Almost certainly, the idea of monogamous working relationships is a thing of the past, if someone wants to run their own non-competing business alongside, it’s probably a good thing – they’re proving their entrepreneurial flair.” If they have a side gig blogging and are aware of potential conflicts, “why not? It’s surely adding to their experience and keeping them engaged.”

Helping your staff feel happy, confident and motivated is key to maintain your brands high standards. Embracing the changing nature of staff expectations, lifestyles and habits will encourage everyone in the business to contribute towards its success.

The above is an extract from Kamila Sitwell’s upcoming book “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”.  For more analysis and insights on how to respond in the competitive, changing world of hospitality by creating experiences,  Bespoke will help raise the restaurateur’s  game providing fresh insights needed to steer a course to customer delight, loyalty and ultimately business success.