'They are not just an employee, they are an integral part of the business'

The  Staff Canteen

Michael Wignall says it doesn’t matter what your location is, when it comes to staff ‘it’s pretty tough’.

He’s currently recruiting and admits staffing is a ‘massive issue and it’s been happening for a long, long time’ but everyone is experiencing the same problems.

“The days of ‘the customer is king and it’s the most important thing in a business’ have turned really – now the most important thing is your staff. Without them you can’t serve your customers and without customers you don’t have a business.

“That’s why a lot of places are closing down, they just don’t have the staff to service the business.”

Pay your staff properly

As chef owner of Michelin-starred The Angel at Hetton, he’s experienced a shift in what employees are looking for and admits that from day one of The Angel, they made the decision to ‘pay the staff properly.’

“We pay them for every hour they work. They are all on 40-hour contracts but if they work over that they get paid for it.”

There is no service charge at the restaurant, they just do tips and the staff at The Angel get 100 percent of that and it’s split equally no matter their role.

“We didn’t want a tronc system, we didn’t want to top wages up,” Michael explained. “Obviously that’s a massive cost to the business but if you have your model correct, you work around that.

“I’ve worked for places for years and not been paid properly, doing 70-80 hours and only getting paid for 40 is just not fair. You can’t work like that; you end up flogging everyone to death and that’s probably why so many people left the industry during Covid.”

He added: “It’s tough on a business to make that decision but if people do work overtime, which they inevitably do, especially with shortages - they get paid for it.

“You find yourself paying more and more, for less and less quality. That’s just the way it is, everyone wants to be a sous chef before they’ve gone through the ranks. But I think that’s a general trend throughout different trades.”

Do everything you can to attract staff

Initially The Angel offered staff accommodation, this has since been turned into rooms due to revenue but now, Michael says, they ‘want to do everything to attract staff’ so they have bought a house which they will rent out to employees.

“It makes it easier for them,” he said. “It means they are not looking for a place, as currently there are less and less properties available to rent, especially short term. It’s really difficult, we’ve had people looking for months for accommodation.”

Michael’s team have found themselves altering the booking system and spacing bookings out or closing on lunchtimes, to try and make services less stressful for everyone who works there, the aim is to retain staff as well as appealing to new ones.

“Every person who leaves it costs thousands of pounds to recruit someone else, retrain them and everything else. We’d rather pay someone properly than them leave to go somewhere else for a few extra grand – why not pay them that in the first place?

“We’ve been really good at holding on to staff but you want to look after the staff you’ve got by getting more staff, so they are not under as much pressure - it’s just so difficult to actually find anybody.”

Honesty is key

He believes the most important thing is being transparent with staff and says they are open and everyone understands the business.

“Honesty is a massive tool when it comes to staff retention,” he said. “People aren’t stupid, they will look at other places and the pay and the benefits. But as long as you look after people and pay them properly, I don’t think the hours or the money are the bottom line problem. You can pay them as much as you can afford but if they are not happy and they are not learning, they will still go.

“You have to have them involved in the business, feeling their worth within the business and feeling like they are giving something, and they are not just an employee, they are an integral part of the business.”

Michael says you have to be pro-active ‘otherwise you will be left behind and your business will be in trouble’.

What employers are looking for

He believes that for someone coming int the industry ‘it’s probably the best time ever’ but says both the government and colleges could do a lot more to entice people in. He said: “They get paid really well, the hours have been cut down, there’s no wait list to work at top places anymore you can just get a job – you’ve got a choice of places, of whatever standard and you can more or less go there.

“Before you’d have to do a right of passage. Everyone now is so desperate for staff you can go where you want which is great for fast-tracking your career if you want to be pushed and work in top places.”

He says another hurdle is actually getting people to turn up for interviews. It often feels like they are just ticking boxes with the job centre. In terms of what he is looking for, he simply wants ‘the right attitude’.

“Experience is super important in a more senior role,” he said. “But mostly we are looking for attitude and blending in with the team which are already here.

“We’re not looking for people to replace staff who have left, we are looking to recruit more staff, so people don’t have to work as many hours.”

Michael knows the situation within hospitality has no quick fix and believes it will take years to get better but he believes you ‘just have to get on with it’ and make the best of the situation.

“Primarily we want to push forward, and we want to be better and better every day. Without the staff you are limited with what you can do.”

To view and apply for any of the positions currently available at The Angel at Hetton, click here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd July 2022

'They are not just an employee, they are an integral part of the business'