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Everything we learned from The Caterer People Summit

By Alexandra Stevens|May 15, 2024|7:04 pm BST

With UK hospitality vacancies around 8% at the start of the year, it’s fair to say the sector is still struggling with a labour shortage. Or is it?

Chantal Wilson, people director at N64 Arcade Bars, kicked off this year’s The Caterer People Summit with her talk, Ripping up the rule book: Redefining workplace culture. In it, she argued that hospitality isn’t suffering from a recruitment problem, but a job problem.

She detailed some of the aspects of certain roles that make them less desirable, such as rotas shared last minute and shifts that don’t include breaks. These are roles that provide little stability or opportunities to create a rewarding work-life balance, so is it any surprise that people don’t want to stay in them?

Balancing employee vs employer needs

Chantal firmly believes productivity helps turnover, yet employers prioritise their needs over that of the employee. She shared an example of a situation where she’d used the same principle as Tesco’s blue chip charity voting scheme, asking her Board to vote on whether they were employee or employer focused on topics such as pay, breaks, parental leave and benefits. She found they were overwhelmingly in support of the employer, and has since set out to even the scales.

Contracts at N64 Arcade Bars are now simplified and accessible, presented in plain English and as short as possible. N64 also provides staff with perks such as free gym memberships, this is beneficial to both employers and employees since it ensures employees are in the best shape to complete the physical labour required by their job, while supporting mental and general wellbeing.

Of course, different groups have different needs and Chantal reminded the audience that it’s important to consult individuals ahead of implementing any workplace policies. She cited a policy she’d written for returning mothers that failed to account for pumping at work, which taught her the importance of asking people to be specific about what they need physically, emotionally and mentally.

Chantal is an advocate of tech, but cautions that technology is only a benefit if it works for end users and employers. This is a theme that was later echoed by Dan Brod, co-founder of the Beckford Group, during the panel Beyond the screen: rethinking kitchen culture in hospitality. This panel saw Dan, together with Kris Hall of the Burnt Chef Project and Anna Haugh of Myrtle Restaurant, dissect the cinematic portrayal of kitchen culture. Dan highlighted that, in his experience, you can’t ignore kitchen tech as is often the case on the big screen, “but you have to get tech to work for you.”

This theme resonated throughout the panel that followed, Navigating the future: Are robots going to steal my job? The balance between managing human and technological manpower. The panel included Fourth’s Chief Technology Officer, Christian Berthelsen, who was joined by Martian McPhail, HR director at RBH, Hannah Swarbrick-Done, head of people at Big Fang, and Jon Dawson, chief people officer of Lore Group.

Christian was quick to point out that artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t coming for anyone’s job – but the people who know how to use it might be. He advocated for training and education, highlighting the importance of getting buy-in and understanding from end users and the need to build trust in new tools among the workforce. With AI staff need to trust the output, or they won’t use it.

Christian also highlighted that AI and automation are valuable tools for addressing manager’s skills gaps, particularly for those new to a venue who are still getting up to speed. AI has access to historical data and accounts for the nuances unique to that site, providing accurate forecasts for inventory management and scheduling, and ensuring new managers aren’t deflated or overwhelmed during the onboarding process.

“I believe our customers have come to the same conclusion as I have – AI is set to transform the restaurant industry.

Christian Berthelsen, CTO at Fourth

Martian McPhail was similarly optimistic about the technology’s potential, urging the audience to embrace it to handle mundane, day-to-day tasks and free up people for strategic, valuable work.

Hannah Swarbrick-Done added a note of caution and echoed the earlier sentiments of Chantal and Dan, warning operators against shoe-horning tech into their processes. It needs to serve a purpose or address a problem. If tech or AI offer that solution then great, but it’s up to leadership teams to be brave enough to say no when it can’t.

At Lore Group, AI is firmly embedded in the People strategy, and Jon Dawson shared his experience of collaborating with the IT department. His team uses AI in job descriptions and scheduling, but are empowered to speak up when something isn’t right with the tech.

Christian encouraged the audience to experiment with AI and tech tools as much as possible and understand what works for their business, and Jon agreed. He highlighted that you have as much chance of getting things right as wrong, and that starting implementation with low hanging fruit gives the team early successes that encourage their continued support.

Panel moderator, Caroline Baldwin rounded out the session with the most important question of all, is hospitality ready to be online? It was an empathetic yes from our panel, with Hannah highlighting that younger generations entering the workforce now have been brought up with tech. It’s not just a ‘nice to have’ for them, it’s expected.

The Caterer’s People Summit is an annual, online event featuring speakers from across the hospitality industry. You can register your interest to attend next year’s event on the website.

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