Faced with a number of post-COVID challenges, not the least of which include staffing and supply chain issues, hotel food & beverage executives continue to adapt their operations in an effort to ensure the long-term success of the segment.
Speaking during a panel discussion at BITAC Food & Beverage Live 2022 earlier this month, executives shared best practices aimed at helping hotels deliver the experience guests are looking for without the excuses. The discussion—which was entitled “Expectation Of Excellence: How F&B Operations Can Pivot To Bring Back Superior Service And Quality”—was moderated by Don Falgoust, principal, Spot On.
Labor continues to be a major challenge for the entire lodging industry, but particularly within food & beverage. Ron DeBonis, executive chef, Pasadena Yacht and Country Club—which is located in St. Petersburg, FL—noted it’s been a longer-term issue.
“COVID’s a good excuse for the staffing [challenges], but I can’t imagine anyone in this room could think that we ever had great staffing 20 years ago. We’ve been battling this for so long I’m not going use it as an excuse,” he said.
Laurelle Kyte, regional director of F&B, ClubCorp, reinforced the point.
“I’ve gotten sick of hearing ‘well I don’t have any staff, I can’t do this.’ My question then is ‘where’s the staff that we just hired?’ People are leaving within a week of being hired,” she noted.
Kelli Hovanec, General Manager, Live Nation in Dallas—which oversees the House of Blues, among other venues—elaborated on the importance of retention.
“We bring somebody in and [wonder] are they going to leave in a week, are they going to get a better job? I think it’s really important to find your company culture and talk about that to your new hire from the very beginning of the interview process. You’re also checking in with them throughout their training and their whole learning and development. That whole element is so important,” she said.
Hovanec continued, “You also want to identify those on your team that are strong and motivated and committed to your company. They’re the ones that can really step up and motivate them. You make that trainer position really that next step for them as they grow within the company and hold them accountable.”
Kyte also stressed the importance of accountability, as well as creating a cohesive team.
“It comes down to finding people that have that passion to be working, whether it’s for food & beverage or not. They’re just really great personalities that connect with each other so they take care of each other and if they’re all trained in the same way they know they have expectations, and you really start to hold them accountable. I think right now some of us are afraid to hold people accountable because we might lose them. The reality is if you keep one bad seed on a team it’s ruining the whole team so you have to be open to losing that person,” she noted.
DeBonis also highlighted the importance of bringing in the right personalities, regardless of experience.
“One of the things that we did is we stopped hiring the seasonal professional and we started hiring that base person. We are getting hosts and servers assistants and we are training them to do their jobs. I have two gentlemen in the kitchen that just had a great attitude, but they never cooked before so we’re taking that step. It’s really a boots on the ground, grassroots effort to retrain ourselves,” he said.
Kyte—who noted in her previous position with NewcrestImage she had created a leadership development webinar geared toward a handful of supervisors, including directors and executive chefs—further detailed the importance of training at the property level.
“I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to learn positive communication, retention strategy, proper onboarding, going back to the basics of real welcoming to the new team members that we do have. We’re giving them the opportunity to be successful and competent in their positions and not just throwing them out there and hoping they do well. I’m finding that the people that don’t get the right training, don’t get a really great onboarding their first day, they feel lost. They’re not confident in their positions and they just leave,” she noted.
DeBonis, meanwhile, shared some insights on the interview process and urged companies to take a proactive approach.
“When you get a new hire that comes into your place of business how long does it take before they’re actually in uniform and working? We took the approach that we weren’t going to leave that interview until we had a hire or a no so that’s how it worked. We don’t wait, there was no going through our HR departments and getting approvals and things like that, you’re making a decision right then and there. I don’t lose that person,” he said.
Hovanec pointed out that a recent job fair generated a considerable turnout, and provided some reasons for optimism.
“There are people that are looking to stay in the business, they’re not looking to jump. They’re coming back and it’s been a really great feeling. I think so much of this has to do with hiring and changing a little bit of the traditional mindset for food and beverage of who you’re hiring,” she noted, adding that she began her career as a hostess and worked her way up.
Kyte shared a similar story.
“What I’ve really come to realize is that the food and beverage leadership I think has lost their passion for development of the people below them. I was very lucky to start as a hostess and have some really great mentors as I moved up in my career. I wouldn’t be where I am if somebody hadn’t taken the time to really help me grow and understand and give me the knowledge to grow,” she said.
DeBonis also bemoaned the recent bottom-line focus of f&b throughout the industry that has effectively resulted in a lack of versatility.
“We lost bench strength, we have nobody that’s left in our kitchens that are ready to be promoted. One person calls in sick and it’s really a detriment to the whole operation. When we started looking at this from a profitability standpoint we started taking commissaries out, reducing bakeries and we got rid of our butcher shops, we stopped that learning process. We stopped that new cook coming in and [figuring out] how can we get him through all these disciplines so that we got a professional sous chef coming out of this. We don’t have that anymore and I’d like to see us go back to that,” he concluded.