People & Leadership

How hospitality businesses can attract and retain employees

Attracting and retaining employees in hospitality businesses can be tough but it's not impossible. Learn how you can address this challenge.

Attracting and retaining employees in the hospitality business has always been challenging, but it’s become even harder in recent years.

And that’s to the extent that some hospitality businesses have been forced to reduce their opening hours, as they don’t have enough employees.

Consequently, this is leading to some restaurants only opening for a few days per week.

This article offers actionable advice to employers about how they can attract and hold on to their employees.

Here’s what we cover:

Why is it tough to attract and retain hospitality employees?

This pressure on staffing levels is mainly due to external factors such as the huge spike in the cost of living and the lack of suitable housing for rent.

In particular, the lack of rental properties is very problematic.

Michelle Hyland, owner of Galway-based coffee shop chain and catering business Gourmet Tart, says the situation has become extreme.

To the point that when she is now interviewing potential candidates, she not only looks for someone with the required experience, she also enquires about their accommodation situation.

From experience, she’s learned that some new hires will be living in a hostel while they look for accommodation, may not manage to find anything, and resign a few weeks later.

And she says it’s even more critical for her employees working in the bakery facility.

Michelle says: “Housing is very stressful and that affects our manufacturing staff more than our retail staff.

“Our retail staff would naturally be a bit more outgoing and would naturally be more capable of finding accommodation and networking.

“The bakery staff, they might come from France or Hungary, they might not have the language, they might be shy. They’re behind-the-scenes types of people who might not come across well in an interview for accommodation.”

The situation is so grim, that sometimes Michelle or one of her employees will accompany a new bakery staff member to an accommodation interview.

Clint Estibeiro also sees this.

He’s a former hotel manager and now runs a recruitment agency for hospitality employees, Sky Staffing Solutions.

And he says some Dublin hotels now offer relocation packages of free accommodation for one to three months.

How being creative in recruitment can help you find the right people

Clint says employers need to think outside the box in terms of recruitment.

An example would be by offering flexibility. For instance, a hotel he previously worked in ran a campaign targeting mothers with younger children and offered weekend work and shifts during school hours.

This proved to be very successful.

As recruitment is so tight, employers need to broaden their horizons. With this in mind, another cohort that could be targeted is recently retired people, who may still want to work, but on a part-time basis.

Michelle takes a long-term approach to recruiting and regularly runs open recruitment days, where she invites applicants that have recently sent in CVs for a casual chat.

While there may be no immediate vacancy, if she finds someone good, she will slot them in by perhaps giving them weekend work and then when somebody else leaves, this person can get a full-time job.

This forward planning helps Gourmet Tart to avoid constantly putting out fires.

Access Fáilte Ireland’s toolkit for top tips on recruitment

An excellent resource for advice on recruiting hospitality employees can be found on Fáilte Ireland’s online portal on tourism careers.

It has a very useful recruitment toolkit that offers ready-to-use social media graphics, banners and sample copy that can be downloaded and customised, as well as recruitment videos that can also be used.

In addition, there’s advice on what makes a good role profile, how to design a compelling advert and where the role should be posted.

For instance, it advises that if you’re looking to recruit an older worker, you should advertise on print and radio, as well as on Facebook.

Whereas if you’re looking for a student to do part-time work, then you should advertise on other social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

It also gives other practical advice such as asking your employees to update their LinkedIn with ‘We’re Hiring’ in their profile name, to help spread the word.

Another suggestion is to have a reward system for employees that find new suitable staff members.

The portal also has information regarding onboarding employees, including compliance training checklists and other training templates.

This toolkit can be especially beneficial for a small business with a smaller budget.

How to retain your hospitality employees

Once you’ve hired your new employees, how do you ensure they stay with your business?

Below are a series of ways to help your employees stay engaged and motivated.

Offer competitive compensation, along with other benefits

It goes without saying that making sure your employee is well-compensated for their work is essential for employee retention.

Wages must be in line with industry standards.

However, while there’s a perception that salaries are low in the hospitality sector, that’s not necessarily true.

The recent legislation on tips and gratuities, which came into effect in 2022, was a step forward. It provides protection for employees in terms of being paid their tips.

That being said, work can be demanding in the hospitality sector.

Hours are often long and unsociable, so other perks can add to the attractiveness of a position. These could include offering free meals or for instance, if it’s a hotel, perhaps offering free membership of the hotel gym.

Other benefits can be more abstract, such as offering flexibility in terms of working hours or extra time off.

Provide positive feedback

Recognising and rewarding your employees for their hard work is a great way to keep them motivated and engaged.

For example, running an employee of the month programme shows that hard-working employees are appreciated and such can be rewarded with a voucher or other small reward.

This will also increase the overall morale in the workplace.

Offer career progression

While some employees may be students who work part time, for other employees, this is their career. Providing opportunities for such employees to progress and develop their skills is essential.

It can include offering training and development programmes, mentoring and opportunities for advancement within the company.

There’s a huge variety of career paths in hospitality and if you have the budget, you could offer tuition reimbursement for courses that are related to the hospitality industry.

However, if this is not possible, Fáilte Ireland also provides information on progression pathways, as well as free online development courses.

Create an open work culture

If you create an open, positive work culture, where people feel valued, it will encourage employees to make a long-term commitment.

One way to make your employees feel valued and a part of the team is to encourage them to bring their ideas to you, and for you to make a concerted effort to implement the ones that will work well for your business.

In addition, communicate with your employees and let them know your expectations, but at the same time, give them as much autonomy as possible and trust them to get the job done.

By trusting your employees, it creates a positive atmosphere within the workplace and enables employees to feel more confident.

Use technology to improve employee engagement

Using HR technology tools can also improve employee engagement and make your workplace more efficient.

In essence, it enables you to have a top-down picture of what is happening in your company.

Cloud HR software can be effective in improving recruitment practices, supporting managers and also boosting engagement, retention and productivity of your employees.

Standard functions of human resource software include payroll management, talent acquisition, learning and development, performance management and employee engagement.

Final thoughts on attracting and retaining employees

While some factors affecting hospitality recruitment and retention are beyond your control, you, as an employer can ensure your workplace is a desirable place to work.

As Michelle point outs, your employees are a big investment and so if you look after them in the right way, you’ll increase the chances of retaining them.