How Bar Operators Can Win in the Recruiting Process

by Angus Winchester

So as many of you may know I am about to start a new role as the Operations Director for Jigger and Pony Group here in Singapore and I could not be more excited. Yet in order to start I had to fly first from the UK to the USA where I had to self isolate for two weeks and then quarantine for another two weeks when I arrived in Singapore. But sitting at a bar – actually at the bar itself – and talking to various bar owners here I was reminded about how this global disease has affected each region and country in significantly different ways.


The reaction of politics and authorities is crucial

In the UK when I left society had effectively been locked down for nearly 3 months. You could not leave your house without good reason and dining and drinking out – even outside – was still a distant and fond memory. In New York I could have gone out to most of my old haunts but with restricted capacity and hours and alas the bar itself was still out of bounds. Here in Singapore I must scan a government created QR code for each and every building or venue and have my temperature taken and alas there are reduced hours or capacity but other than the mask wearing it feels more normal.


One problem unites all

But oddly each of these markets is struggling equally with an old problem but for new reasons as the light at the end of the tunnel looms larger – recruiting staff is back on everybody’s mind and causing headaches once more. But what was a common problem with a common cause – too many bars and too few experienced staff – has now several unique and competing causes which while not Managers’ fault but is their problem.

In the UK Covid and Brexit have created a diaspora of Europeans back to their home countries – up to 600,000 of which worked in hospitality. And lets face it many of these in our industry were stellar employees and solid workers.


A critical situation worldwide

In New York the problem is even more dire with many staff leaving the city to escape both the virus and the high cost of living exacerbated with a broken social safety net but now perversely is hamstring by a more generous than ever government stimulus package that makes it more profitable to stay at home and claim unemployment than go back to work. Plus the Black Life Matter movement has added an extra crunch whereby venues are not just looking for staff but often to improve the diversity of their staff.

And in Singapore the government is cracking down on foreign workers yet the local young population are shunning hospitality – or at least full time employment within it – either due to its chronic poor reputation or millennial angst about committing to a full time career too soon.


How to solve the problem

So once again this problem is rising up again and yet the same solutions are around as before – yet where those solutions were only being utilised by the enlightened now they must be used by all.

1. Increase your own reach:

Make sure more people see any of your adverts. This can be done by looking at social media far more extensively but also by utilising any internal staff referral program that rewards staff financially for recommending people they know will fit the job and the company culture.

2. Publish a creative job advertisement:

This must get to the heart of your own corporate culture. You are not replacing an ice machine that works the same everywhere but finding a living breathing person that has to be ‘engaged’ by a business – ie appeal to their own values and purpose - and not just employed. From staff appearing to talk about why they love working there to guests describing why they like drinking there to examples of the Core Values of the company and how they appear in a day to day setting. A great job advert should appeal to some but also repel others to ensure that only the best fits get interviews.

3. Conduct an efficient interview:

Ensures that the interview process is rigorous and fit for purpose to filter out the typical Job Interview/First Date phenomenon where people tell you what they think you want to hear. Asking open questions that require stories and not to just answers are a great start. Being good at reference checks – or even just doing them in the first place – will also be crucial. And don’t forget that if you annoy an interviewee by a poor process you are not just not hiring them but often losing a possible customer in the future.

4. Professionalise the industry:

Always continue to work on professionalising the industry itself. From having a decent interview process that is explained and followed to being better at explaining the nobility of Hospitality itself and being able to set out a clear career path our industry has a chance to build back better. One of the greatest joys in my life is when I meet someone I ‘trained’ some years back who says that my session opened their eyes not just to the breadth of skills and knowledge needed to thrive in our industry but to the Professionalism of modern hospitality itself.


Nothing is more important than the staff and the guests

While Hospitality has been devasted to varying degrees around the world so we have shown our resilience and adaptability. While great challenges still lie ahead they are perhaps more familiar than those created by Covid or growing social justice issues. The pandemic and how people deal with its aftermath have shown more than ever that the two keys to running a successful bar are who works there and who drinks there and this may an opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate the first group while the second group peers warily through the door or floods all and any chances to drink and socialise – wherever they may reside!