Despite being the UK's fourth largest employer, the hospitality industry is constantly battling to fill front of house roles with young talent. So what are recruiters looking for and how can they capture the ambitions of young jobseekers? Marking the culmination of Caterer and Hotelkeeper's year-long Think Again campaign, we recently hosted a roundtable of forward-thinkers to thrash out some of the issues
Describe what you love about your own front of house career
Peter Avis The opportunity to gain confidence and meet so many people. It's great that you can become a success if you work hard. You can build a career that can take you all over the world. It offers massive opportunities.
How much responsibility do managers have for driving interest in hospitality?
Julie Proctor They are the first point of contact Á¢ÂÂ" it is important for them to harness and then develop someoneÁ¢ÂÂs skills.
Peter A Yes. It all comes down to managing people the right way, coaching and mentoring them. One of the staff members I included as part of the start-up team in our Kenya opening was a media student. The experience opened his eyes to hospitality and, suffice to say, heÁ¢ÂÂs not following a media career now. If staff realise that they have responsibility, then they will go the extra mile. Empower them. People love empowerment. When people start work at Babylon, I schedule 40 minutes with them. I tell them: Á¢ÂÂThis is a big stage for you to perform on.Á¢ÂÂ
Paul Goodale You hear about young people being given a huge bunch of keys and the chance to run a hotel, but that is mad. ItÁ¢ÂÂs all about how a young person is treated by a line manager and how they respond. I took every opportunity open to me. I think that if you put them on a graduate programme, they tend to sit back and wait for it to happen to them. ItÁ¢ÂÂs better to put more emphasis on them running their own training rota.
What are the issues in managing young peopleÁ¢ÂÂs expectations?
Emily Perry There is a belief that Generation Y has certain characteristics that mean they expect an easy route to the top, but they need to understand that they have to graft.
Philip Addison I donÁ¢ÂÂt think Generation Y are much different personally, but they are more prepared to speak up. They are less accepting of long hours.
Anne Pierce There are a lot of hardworking, ambitious young people out there, so I agree you canÁ¢ÂÂt generalise, but I notice that a lot of young people go into their first hospitality job and are exhausted. They are just not used to doing it.
Peter A I agree. If you donÁ¢ÂÂt look after young people when they start and you expect too much, then they will fail. IÁ¢ÂÂve worked with atrocious operators who didnÁ¢ÂÂt know my name after three months of 11-hour days Á¢ÂÂ" and the staffroom conditions were horrible. I retain staff because I look after them.
Do you think people coming into front of house roles are aware of career progression?
EP I started working part-time in the industry aged 14 and loved it. But my career adviser at school told me there was no career path in hospitality. That was 10 years ago. What are pupils being told now?
AP There is no reliable careers advice in schools now. The government has put the onus on teachers and they often donÁ¢ÂÂt have the qualifications or experience to give that advice. We, as an industry, need to take the initiative to ensure young people are informed about front of house opportunities. All the emphasis nowadays is on chefs. It is now ranked with so-called Á¢ÂÂrespectableÁ¢ÂÂ jobs, which is a big change compared with 15 years ago. The popularity of celebrity chefs, FutureChef and so on has made it a more aspirational career.
We need to create the same buzz around front of house roles. We need to use magazines, radio, TV and take responsibility as an industry. National Waiters Day is a start. YouÁ¢ÂÂve then got to involve role models to galvanise people, to talk about what makes them proud, to raise the profile.
After knowledge, people need to get experience. You need to get a class of students into the industry to show them around. The deal-breaker is work experience Á¢ÂÂ" we need to make that a quality experience.
Peter A On my day off, I go into a school in Liverpool and speak to the kids. One young girl came down to London for work experience in Babylon as a hostess and has now got a job front of house in Crowne Plaza Liverpool. Her sister is now interested in the industry. So, getting the message across in schools is crucial. ItÁ¢ÂÂs all about how we engage young people. Young people donÁ¢ÂÂt know these places exist.
Philip A I tell our hotels to connect with colleges on a local level Á¢ÂÂ" it makes commercial sense. You can steal a march by getting a good reputation with a local college Á¢ÂÂ" youÁ¢ÂÂve built yourself a talent pool.
AP Students should be aware that a job in hospitality can develop important life skills, even if they later decide their career is elsewhere.
EP Yes, sex it up. Who are the front of house role models?
PG There are many aspirational personalities in the industry. I am inspired by Mark Derry of Loch Fyne, James Horler of La Tasca, Steve Wilkins [owner of Little Gems Country Dining], Tim Bacon, founder of Living Ventures.
Most of those guys came out of City Centre Restaurants and probably had a positive experience there, which kept them in the industry.
The UK is the world leader in running high-street chains. If an 18-year-old understood what Mark Derry had done, theyÁ¢ÂÂd think: Á¢ÂÂWow, I can do that.Á¢ÂÂ
And what about Russell NormanÁ¢ÂÂs [founder of Polpo Group] new BBC2 TV programme The Restaurateur? All they need to see is a front of house guru whoÁ¢ÂÂs become a millionaire.
Peter A Yes, they need to relate to a person. You donÁ¢ÂÂt have to be academic to go far in hospitality. I came from a council estate and I am living proof that you can move on after washing dishes. I made a decision that I was going to make something of myself within 10 years. I won the Academy of Food and Wine ServiceÁ¢ÂÂs Restaurant Manager of the Year award in 2009. Next thing, I got a call from Richard Branson asking me to Necker Island with BeyoncÁÂ©. People couldnÁ¢ÂÂt believe it because IÁ¢ÂÂd started out washing dishes.
PG Yes, and arguably itÁ¢ÂÂs only a couple of people who have driven the whole thing for chefs. Jamie Oliver is amazing Á¢ÂÂ" in fact heÁ¢ÂÂs now more a restaurateur than a chef.
Philip A When I joined this industry, I was amazed at the level of training compared with other industries. The key is to have good people at the top who are hands-on and help to coach and develop their staff.
EP But I was an Acorn winner this year. WhatÁ¢ÂÂs our legacy to schools and colleges?
AP Yes, we should create a role for Acorn award winners, make a show out of it, make it cool and trendy. We should get you all trained as ambassadors and get you out there.
Peter A And not just in London, but in Manchester, Liverpool, and so on. There are 30 people every year in the Acorn pool and they could cover the country. Give us five days a year to get you access to schools. Young people relate to other young people.
Philip A The industry isnÁ¢ÂÂt just about young people. If it is to grow, it needs to embrace female returners Á¢ÂÂ" or people who have retired who may have fantastic front of house skills.
AP The message isnÁ¢ÂÂt getting out. Not enough is promoted about the benefits of this industry. You meet amazing people working front of house Á¢ÂÂ" you wouldnÁ¢ÂÂt get that in a bank.
What should we be shouting about, then?
Philip A We are the fourth largest employer and a growing industry. The BHA predicts 300,000 new jobs are possible by 2020 if industry and government work together. We have to make that point and get a positive message across in schools and colleges.
There are careers for all and the variety of jobs is enormous. At Accor, some 75% of general managers started on the floor Á¢ÂÂ" they are well rewarded and well paid at the top end.
General managers earn above the national average and there are other rewards, such as travel, too. There is flexibility and the ability to take a break from the industry and find a route back into it. ItÁ¢ÂÂs also local Á¢ÂÂ" there is always a hotel, pub or restaurant in the area where you want to live. The message needs to go out to schools and parents that there is great training and career progression Á¢ÂÂ" all the NVQs and qualifications are in place.
Seven hospitality companies featured in the top 25 of the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For 2013, which uses employee feedback.
AP And lots of awards Á¢ÂÂ" Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Gold Service Scholarship, National Waiters DayÁ¢ÂÂ¦
What characteristics do you look for when recruiting?
PG Lots of personality. IÁ¢ÂÂd say 50/50 for front of house.
JP Yes, as long as they have aptitude, technical skills can be taught.
Peter A Every manager at Babylon started out baseline. ItÁ¢ÂÂs satisfying to develop people into managers, who then develop young people. You need robust standards in your business. Delivery in a casual restaurant is as important as in a top restaurant.
JP The problem is that apprenticeships are often viewed as hard work by employers, although that varies between companies.
Philip A But wouldnÁ¢ÂÂt we all love to think we were someoneÁ¢ÂÂs mentor? I have worked closely with youngsters on AccorÁ¢ÂÂs hospitality futures programme with Springboard. Most hadnÁ¢ÂÂt been to a hotel before. When they left, they gave me a signed photo of them all. It gave me huge satisfaction.
Peter A I still love to be mentored and inspired by people in the industry. We need to open our doors to each other. For instance, we send staff to GalvinÁ¢ÂÂs for lunch and they visit us. ItÁ¢ÂÂs healthy and nourishing to sit down with your peers.
What makes a good employer?
JP At TGI FridayÁ¢ÂÂs, everyone is happy to work for Karen [Forrester]. She turned it around from being a negative place to work and people now want a career in that organisation.
Peter A ItÁ¢ÂÂs about money, but also about how valued you feel as an employee. My deputies could make more money elsewhere, but the quality of how they are looked after at Babylon retains them. ItÁ¢ÂÂs about taking time with people. I tell them where we are in the business and they appreciate it.
HR director, Accor UK & Northern Ireland
Peter Avis Restaurant manager, Babylon, the Roof Gardens
Paul Goodale Director, Epicurean Holdings
Emily Perry Head of commercial development, Á¢ÂÂ¨Purple Cubed
Anne Pierce Chief executive, Springboard
Julie Proctor Head of hospitality, Lifetime Training