The food and service industry is fast-paced, making hospitality recruitment a difficult task. This is not an industry where you can sit at a desk for several hours staring at a blank screen. Every staff member is moving around, doing something, and time is money.
Whether you are serving guests in your restaurant, meeting with clients, finalizing menus over the phone with catering orders, preparing food, cleaning up, or more, there is always something to do. This is a daily reality. The perception, however, offers a different perspective.
The mismatch between perception and reality is one of the biggest obstacles to finding good service staff. In this article, we will break down three myths that plague the catering industry and what makes it so difficult to find talented staff.
1) Catering is a Skill
“Anyone can do catering” is similar to the myth that “anyone can code.”
Sure, anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it well, or even should. The best caterers with great employee retention rates ensure that their staff are well-trained, but most importantly, that they are well-paid for their work.
People are naturally attracted to businesses that employ high standards in the workplace, and catering is no different.
So, yes, anyone can do it but this does not mean that simply anyone should. Working in the catering industry requires a strong work ethic and the ability to work under pressure.
2) Caterers Need to Exercise Some Autonomy
Hiring a caterer is no different than hiring any other professional for a complex task. You hire them for their skills to help you with an issue you cannot handle yourself.
The best caterers make decision on behalf of their clients, although with their clients’ permission to ensure that they host the best event possible. For example, professional caterers work with their clients directly to customize the initial menu.
This may mean that a client will not get to serve his or her favorite food, for a variety of legitimate reasons.
The food may be too expensive to prepare for the allotted budget, it may be out of season, or thematically odd for the event.
As a caterer, you need to be comfortable with autonomy and your service staff need to be ready to adapt.
It is often difficult to find qualified service staff in the catering industry because not all employees are quick on their feet and capable of working under pressure.
3) Catering Means Long Hours
Many newcomers to the industry believe that catering is a great way to get invited to all the fancy parties in town.
As a caterer, you will be working parties from time to time. However, you will be working in the kitchen, or in the dining hall bussing and waiting tables, or as part of the cleanup crew. You may even work all of the above.
Catering is a business and one that is not always glamorous. Remember, like any job, catering can be rewarding and you will learn a lot of valuable skills if you can survive in this industry. But, those skills will come at the price of hard work and not every employee wants to work hard.
Those interested in joining a catering company, or starting your own catering company, should have a realistic notion of what the day-to-day operations are like. Those who do not are more likely to burn out. Staff retention rates are hurt when this happens, and employee motivation and staff engagement suffers as a result.
Where to Look for Good Service Staff?
Look for good service staff in places where they are likely to be. Look for staff that already have spent some time in the service industry, and have an understanding of what the work entails. Look for former and current culinary college students if your primary goal is to hire someone knowledgeable about culinary practices. Set up a booth at job fairs at community colleges and culinary institutes.
If your goal is to hire a good worker, and then train them while they work, look for workers in the service industry, primarily customer service. Customer service workers have the ability to remain cool under pressure, can take direction, and are able to mediate disputes quickly. You can also find these skills in former military personnel.
All of these skills will help such individuals in the catering business. These skills are difficult to learn and usually come naturally over time. Remember, it is easier to teach someone to cook than it is to teach someone civility.
There is no primary indication that you can look for to know if a staff member will stay or quit. However, you can hedge your bets by looking for redeemable qualities. The best staff are able to exercise judgement, learn quickly in a fast-paced environment, and understand the reality of the catering industry.
Paul Ormerod is the Managing Director of Nisbets Australia, and is passionate about helping hospitality businesses succeed by providing a one stop shop that makes catering equipment simple.