Study offers insights into food-and-beverage recruitment, retention

The majority of survey respondents (34 percent) cited the love of food as what they enjoyed most about their job.

Over of a third of catering professionals cited the love of food as what they enjoyed most about their job, as a recent survey from Nisbets revealed.

Their survey of 825 catering professionals covered various elements of recruitment in catering, including the best and worst parts of the job and where the respondents felt like they learned the most. It gives us an insight into how the recruitment processes have been impacted over the last year.

The distribution of industry job titles across the survey is as follows:

  • Business owner: 66 percent
  • Head chef: 16 percent
  • Front of house: 9 percent
  • Back of house staff: 5 percent
  • Sous chef: 2 percent
  • Student and apprenticeship: 1 percent
  • Comis chef: less than 1 percent

A diverse range of businesses are represented in the survey:

  • Café: 25 percent. Includes chocolatiers, sandwich bars, coffee shops and delis.
  • Restaurant: 20 percent. Includes gastro and country pubs and farm shops.
  • Pub or bar: 15 percent. Includes wine bars, sports and sailing clubs and pop-up bars.
  • Fast food or take away: 9 percent. Includes retail butcher and cake and patisserie makers.
  • Contract caterer: 6 percent. Includes private chefs, cake makers and decorators and private school catering.
  • Wedding or event caterer: 6 percent. Includes cake makers, private chefs and in-house caterers.
  • Community centre or social club: 5 percent. Includes churches and out-of-school clubs.
  • Care home: 4 percent. Includes childcare, care hospices and nurseries.
  • Street food trader: 4 percent. Includes delicatessen and gluten-free bakers
  • Mobile caterer: 4 percent. Includes tour caterers and pet treat businesses.
  • Hotel or guest accommodation: 2 percent.

The 825 survey respondents are broken down by age as follows: The majority, at 32 percent, are aged 45-54. 26 percent are aged 35-44, 21 percent aged 55-64, 15 percent aged 25-34, 4 percent aged over 65 and 2 percent aged 19-24.

Playing up the Positives

The majority of survey respondents (34 percent) cited the love of food as what they enjoyed most about their job. The work-life balance was next important (14 percent), with the job’s fun factor following (11 percent). Other aspects of the job that customers enjoyed were it being fast paced (10 percent) and finally, salary at 3 percent.

Others had other things that they loved most about their job. Some loved the independence of being self-employed, or the lifestyle the job affords, and the others loved nothing more than seeing a satisfied customer, with one respondent commenting: “The ability to produce a product that leaves a customer open mouthed, in tears and speechless.”

For other respondents, it’s all about the people—whether it’s their colleagues or the variety of customers they get to meet every day. Finally, those in more vocation-lead roles had a beloved cause at the heart of their role, citing feeding [the] homeless, their ethical vegan business or conversely the job giving them a "chance to tell people how our meat is produced."

Encourage your staff’s love of food above all else. Most people join the industry because they love working with food, so give them a chance to enjoy it—whether it’s letting front of house try the latest recipes or giving all staff an input or involvement in the new menus you create.

Respondents were just as engaged with the lifestyle of the job, so make sure this factors into your decision-making. Form a team that gels well to create a more fun and productive environment.

To achieve the correct work-life balance, make sure you allow staff a fair distribution of days off when working on your shifts.

73 percent of catering professionals think they learned the most on the job.

Unsociable working hours are what workers dislike most about working in catering, with 35 percent of respondents agreeing. The next most disliked aspect of the job is the salary (16 percent), followed by its repetitive nature (8 percent) and the working conditions (4 percent).

What else did respondents dislike about catering? As well as the unsociable hours, the long hours were a big concern, with comments that "a 140-hour week is not unusual" and that they "currently [work] 7 days a week." Dislikes come in all forms, including customers who complain unnecessarily, the struggle finding high-quality staff to do the job, or the physical implications of the job being tiring. There were also contradictions in opinions between those who disliked the "unpredictability" of the jobs, and others who disliked it when it became "repetitive."

However, perhaps most interesting, is that 6 percent of the survey respondents had "nothing" they disliked about the job.

Catering and hospitality is a lifestyle—and many respondents said that they loved all parts of the job. This could be because they’re driven by the love of their industry.

Unsociable working hours are the hardest obstacle for catering and hospitality professionals, so anything you can do to combat this is a bonus. Sharing out the more unsociable shifts is one approach or you can give a salary incentive for those who would prefer to work unsocial hours for money – which is also a solution for those who dislike the salary aspect of the job.

Learning a Lesson

73 percent of catering professionals think they learned the most on the job. Two percent cited culinary school as where they’d learned most.

Other comments revealed insights into where chefs and catering professionals learn their trade. A number of respondents felt they needed a combination of education and on-the job to training to ready them ready for a life in catering. Other comments acknowledged how much respondents had learned from other chefs, as well as traveling and experimenting.

Make sure you have a well-planned and implemented training process for new recruits. This way, you can ensure that those joining your business know your processes and working practices from the beginning, and work to your way.

Allow room for creativity. Many catering professionals learned from experimenting with food and experience gained while travelling – showing a lot can be gained from giving things a try. If you can’t factor this in during working hours, arranging after-work sessions when people can practice and experiment could allow for this headspace.

When asked why they started a career in catering, 28 percent of catering professionals said "an opportunity opened up." The next most popular reason was that they were passionate about food (25 percent), followed by them being influenced by a family business (13 percent). 

Plans to Recruit, Difficulties and Resolutions

36 percent of catering professionals are planning to increase their team during 2017. This is broken down into:

  • Front of house – 32 percent
  • Commis chef – 8 percent
  • Head chef – 8 percent
  • Sous chef – 7 percent
  • Other kitchen staff – 45 percent

22 percent of catering professionals are not planning on recruiting in 2017. 17 percent of respondents are not sure.

35 percent of catering professionals have experienced difficulties recruiting for a position at their organisation over the last 12 months. Of the respondents who answered ‘yes’ to having difficulties recruiting, the following job roles were specified:

  • Front of house – 27 percent
  • Head chef – 17 percent
  • Sous chef 10 percent
  • Commis chef – 9 percent
  • Other kitchen staff – 37 percent

25 percent of respondents, in contrast, remarked that they hadn’t experienced difficulties in recruiting in the past 12 months.

Of those that have identified difficulties in the recruitment process, the solution for 36 percent was to hire untrained staff. 22 percent said they’d increase existing staff’s hours, 16 percent said they’d used a recruitment agency and 15 percent said they’d started an apprenticeship program.

If you are recruiting for a position in catering, give yourself as longer lead-in as possible. This way, if you’re struggling to recruit, you’ll be able to take a different approach.

With front-of-house positions being the hardest to recruit, it could be beneficial to offer more training in this position so that applicants feel more confident applying. Promote the benefits of the job, and offer additional incentives – perhaps sommelier courses or similar to encourage their professional and personal development.