'The days of unpaid overtime have to be a thing of the past and hospitality needs to be open to these changes'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Hourly rates for overtime, good base salaries, organised management and clear communication of schedules with staff, fair product prices and fair wage rates.

If we were talking about any other industry than hospitality, the above would scarcely warrant mentioning.

We spoke to Ed Vokes, director at The Evolve Group, the hospitality recruitment company which seems to have cracked the code to keeping its cogs turning despite the pandemic, and asked him to share his wisdom when it comes to finding, attracting and retaining talent in the sector.

This week, he said, the company is close to operating at pre-Covid capacity, "and the events and contract catering isn't even back yet," he said.

 "We've made some smart decisions," citing the company's merger with Collins King & Associates and the launch of Enhance Catering Recruitment, which specialises in DBS-checked catering staff provision, spearheaded by Ed’s fellow group director, Clare Downes.

"It's led to partnerships with some of our big clients way beyond where we thought we could take them during a pandemic," he said, which helped them keep many of their staff in active employment. The outlook for them, if restrictions are indeed lifted in an imminent future, is bright. 

Rise and shine

On the hospitality industry's recruitment crisis, Ed said: "I feel quite strongly that the industry has got to wake up and the focus moving forward has to be on candidate care and staff retention.  

"If you speak to [people who have left], they want to return to the industry and utilise their skills doing what they love. However, if the last year has taught us all anything is that candidates want stability and to be paid fairly for the job that they do. The days of unpaid overtime have to be a thing of the past and hospitality across the board needs to be open to these changes."

The supermarkets, courier firms et al that have made a killing in the past fifteen months, he said, "pay them for every single hour they work" which, demonstrates that there must be a real sea change across hospitality.

Thus, he continued, "in my opinion, if you are working below a sous-chef, you should be paid hourly. 

"This will especially encourage people in places where there is a shortage of staff to know that if you do a 60-hour week, you'll get paid for it,” and “the companies that are starting to adapt to this are the ones that are slowly starting to recruit talent back into their pool." 

The trouble with Tronc

Places that are paying basic salaries that their employees can live on, rather than using tronc to top-up a salary, he said, "now have a bigger opportunity to employ people," as many chefs were caught short by the lack of consideration for tronc in the furlough scheme and are afraid of getting burned again." 

"Suddenly, their salaries were being worked out based on an £8.91 hourly wage, not what they were actually earning. It really hit people hard," Ed said.

What's more, he said, the industry needs redeeming. "People have got to look at ways to talk about the industry positively," because at the moment "all we see is people on the TV focusing on the negatives."

"If you think about it, the industry can provide so many amazing opportunities that we can give people from the age of sixteen – hospitality is universal and there are amazing opportunities to travel the world whilst working in some amazing places.  There is such opportunity for personal growth in this industry and that's what we should be telling people."

The right price

The right pay rate should go hand in hand with customer service and the perception of value for money which comes from a combination of the quality of food, service and overall experience.

This is still sadly still inconsistent in the UK in comparison to places such as Australia or America where it is engrained in their culture. Consumers there expect to pay a fair price for great food and service which results in fairer wages for staff across the board. 

"If your product really is good, it speaks for itself," he said, mentioning a recent meal at Tom Kitchin's restaurant, where, he said, "he could have charged me another £20 or £30, because I felt I had such a great experience. 

“All of the little extra touches made the evening really special,” he said, and for places following a similar route this means “that you can put the main course up £2 - if you've gone out to meet the guests and talked about the recipes, you don't have to be a celebrity chef to do that. People want an experience and those are the little bits of added value that people weren't looking for before." 

Don't bite the hand that feeds you

A big concern which Ed highlights is agencies which put out jobs at salaries far beyond the standard which does nothing more other than distort the market and could put people out of business. "£13 an hour for a 45-hour week is a £30,000 salary. That is absolutely right.

"We are totally black and white with how we generate our margin and how we pay our candidates through our internal PAYE payroll. 

“Moving forward,” he added, “it is important to work with the industry to support them and make sure that as many places as possible are still here in a year's time as can be - because that's our client base. 

“We need to focus on a plan to change things for the better and raise the profile for our incredible industry.”

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 18th June 2021

'The days of unpaid overtime have to be a thing of the past and hospitality needs to be open to these changes'