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How to adapt to hospitality’s new normal

Lack of staff is arguably the biggest issue facing UK hospitality today.

An exodus of international workers and experienced staff leaving the industry during the past two years has left the UK’s world-renowned hospitality industry with thousands of vacant positions for waiters, bar staff and venue managers.

Operators that have navigated a tumultuous and debilitating period, often by liquidating any cash reserves and taking on huge debt, are now unable to trade their way out and rebuild their balance sheets due to diminished operating capacity directly brought on by the lack of available staff.

Recent comments from the executive chairman of City Pub Group, Clive Watson, highlight how the continuing staffing crisis is hampering recovery: 

“What is holding us back is not the current economic uncertainty, but the shortage of labour.”

With an estimated 400,000 job vacancies across the sector, trade body UKHospitality says the chronic labour shortages are hampering attempts by businesses to rebuild. 

There is no lack of customer demand. 

According to our research*, more than 25% of people across Britain are visiting hospitality venues more frequently today than they did before the pandemic. 

But if you have less staff doing more, then something has to give - and that is likely to be the guest experience.

Our research also reveals that in the past six months, 1 in 4 people have not returned to a venue due to service-related issues.

The labour pressures operators have been facing are now exacerbated during the peak summer trading months, when patrons understandably gravitate to those venues offering outdoor dining areas.

In the current climate when coronavirus still circulates in the community, these pressures are felt even more keenly. When compared with prior to the pandemic, 6 in 10 Brits are now likely to choose a venue with outdoor seating and dining areas over one without.

The recent “pints on the pavement” bill will help pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars make the most of additional space during the peak summer months, but staffing issues mean many businesses may not be able to take full advantage of the extra trading area.

However, those venues implementing at-table mobile ordering solutions such as Mr Yum are able to service enhanced alfresco areas due to the operational efficiencies the platform provides. 

Removing ordering and payment from the traditional sequence of service frees staff from these administrative tasks and ensures customers can order what they want, when they want while taking away the pain point staff face organising payment. 

It also removes the increased risk with alfresco dining of non-payment or customers “doing a runner”.

This impacts on the guest experience enormously.

When visiting a bar, 9 in 10 people say being able to easily order a second drink is important to their overall enjoyment, while the majority (52%) say queuing for food and drinks is the biggest irritant when visiting a hospitality venue.

It’s clear harnessing the power of new platforms solves both operational and experiential challenges hospitality businesses are facing across the country. 

And customers are embracing this new technology - almost 7 in 10 people say they are now likely to choose a venue where they can order food and drink on their phone.

It’s important to note order-at-table technology is not about replacing the humanity of hospitality. It is about time-shifting - about making the best use of staff and the time available to them.

Let’s face it - no one chooses to work in hospitality because they love writing down orders, entering them into a POS system and processing card payments.  People work in hospitality because they love interacting with customers and providing great service.

Using technology to take care of the rote administrative tasks helps staff to provide more meaningful service, which in turn, increases their job satisfaction. 

While the hospitality industry has traditionally been slow to transform and adopt technology, the brands and businesses that adapted quickly and embraced behaviours that were rewarded over the past two years - such as curiosity, agility and leaning into problems - are the ones that have reopened strongly.  

Despite the fact market conditions are and will remain challenging - from inflationary pressures, diminishing discretionary spending and  delicate consumer confidence - those businesses that seize the opportunity to adopt new ways of working to enhance the guest experience will not only survive in the current  environment - but thrive.

*Research conducted by Pollfish for Mr Yum of a statistically representative sample of 500 people aged 18-54 from London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. Survey conducted between Feb 16-21, 2022.