• Simon Moir

Go Easy on Hospitality

Take a moment to imagine the this; your business is flourishing, every day you welcome happy customers, you have your pick of experienced staff and everything is as you thought it would be. You are bringing great food and drink and good times to everyone. Then, out of nowhere, you are told to shut your doors for 6 weeks, then you hear you can open again, but with 1/5 of the customers, so you make that work. Then suddenly you need to shut again for 4 weeks, then open again with the same limitations, then finally it is back to normal for a few weeks, you start planning events, investing in advertising, but oops, no, you have to shut again, then you’re back to 1/5 the customers. To cap it off, when you are about 90% sure you can run at full capacity in a few weeks, you now have to fund the return of running at that level, with 2 years of dwindling revenue from running at low capacity or being closed. Oh, and did I mention; you barely had enough staff to run at 1/5 capacity, let alone full capacity, and you can still lose a couple of critical team members for a week or more at any time?

Welcome to the current situation that most hospitality operators are currently facing.

"Go easy on hospitality" is a great initiative by WA Good Food Guide to bring awareness to the current situation facing WA hospitality.

Already decimated by staff shortages due to border closures and mining booms, they are now dealing with teams going into isolation and skyrocketing food prices. Most of these businesses are completely focused on just keeping their heads above water. So you can imagine their thoughts of customer experience are taking a backseat for a moment.

Staff Shortages and Service Standards

Is this an excuse for every restaurant, bar and cafe in WA to provide sub-par service? Not really, but it does mean that we, as customers, need to show a little more patience and understanding to those good operators doing the best they can with one hand tied behind their backs. Venues have had to tend with so many variables lately, with the largest being capacity limits. Try ordering stock (we will delve into transportation issues later on) and keeping/finding staff when your capacity limit moves from 500+ patrons to 150 or under... and then back to 500+, it is a logistical nightmare. Imagine if your business shrunk by 1/5th, the effect this has if you are the business owner, or your job security if you are an employee. The government assistance offered simply hasn't been enough for many to survive.

You would’ve had to be living under a rock to not hear that venues are finding it hard to find experienced hospitality staff (because there simply isn't enough of them). It’s gotten so bad that many places are replacing waitstaff with apps (that’s something for another blog!).

Service standards are degrading rapidly. As a customer, I have shown multiple waitstaff how to open a bottle of wine over the last 18 months. Did I mind? Not at all! If taking the time to help someone out who is doing their best ruins your night, then maybe you need to be doing some inward reflection. Should venues be training their teams better? Yes. Is this as simple as I make it sound? No.

there are so many complex contributing issues. Time is something many operators simply don't have enough of. Trying to get that person trained to an acceptable level means on-the-job training, and the only way to do that is to buddy them up with an existing employee – assuming you even have another employee with enough experience, and good habits, who also knows how to teach someone. The work of hospitality is time consuming as it is, let alone trying to show someone else how to do their job while you are trying to do yours too.

The rising cost of business

The labour shortage has also meant that, especially in skilled roles, wages have had to go up, its simple supply and demand. The attraction of our mining industry or white-collar work with those work-from-home perks, has drawn many away from the romance of what hospitality can offer. Owners are having to pay tens of thousands in visa costs to lure chefs from overseas, simply because there is no other way of keeping the doors open.

The latest in a long line of factors, and one that industry has been trying to shield us from, is the rising cost of goods due to ballooning transportation costs from fuel prices and natural disasters. With already tight margins on food, these costs simply cannot be absorbed anymore – they must be passed onto the end consumer, the same way they are in any other industry.

So, what does this all mean for the average punter in WA?

Prepare to pay more whilst, in the short-term, accepting that it might not improve the level of service you receive – but understand that the venue owners and staff are as happy about it as you are.

There are some (in fact many) exceptional operators in WA hospitality that have fought to survive over the last couple of years, and when they have time to sleep and to breathe again, things will get better.

Right now, it is time for patience – step away from those Google and Facebook reviews for a moment. Instead, take a breath, appreciate that you are fortunate enough to be out for a meal or a drink.

Offer a smile (with your eyes if you have a mask on), and a little understanding to the person trying to do the best they can. Remember that they might have only had this job for a couple of weeks, with almost no training, and have worked every night this week (and in some cases, may not have even been paid penalties). Sometimes, taking a moment to ask the "cranky waitstaff" how they are, and showing some compassion can turn someone’s crappy day around, and you may even find that you get better service as well.

A few practical things you can do to go easy on hospo

  • Have your order ready when someone comes to take it.

  • Resist the urge to make a bunch of menu changes; if you have an allergy, call ahead to let them know.

  • Try something from the specials menu.

  • Order an extra round of drinks for the table if you can afford it.

  • Don’t camp at your table once you’ve finished buying things – capacity limits mean the longer you are at a table, someone else can’t be.

  • If you’re standing in line at a bar – that’s a great time to decide what drink you want; not when you get to the front of the line.

  • Consider tipping someone who goes above and beyond for service.

  • Support your local venues if you want them to last; you can get a delicious box of noodles for about the same price as a burger meal from McDonald’s – almost as quickly too.

  • If you can, avoid Ubereats/Deliveroo – if you want take-away, order over the phone and pick it up – this means a huge margin isn’t lost to a 3rd party (plus you get to eat your food hot).

To sum things up... people in hospitality come to work to serve, not to cop a serve!

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