Hospitality businesses boost referral bonuses in search for staff

04 May 2022 by
Hospitality businesses boost referral bonuses in search for staff

Hospitality businesses are boosting the bonuses offered to staff who recommend friends for jobs in a bid to tackle the recruitment crisis.

Scottish bar and restaurant group Buzzworks told The Caterer it had paid out £13,775 over the last eight months after launching its ‘refer a friend' programme.

The company employs over 550 people across 17 venues and is recruiting as it expands.

Payments range from £200 for a commis chef to £750 for referring a head chef candidate if they stay with the business for at least three months.

In April, Buzzworks acquired three venues on the east coast of Scotland and has doubled the bonuses on offer for all chef referrals at its new sites.

Nicola Watt, head of people at Buzzworks Holdings, said: "It has been a challenging few years for the industry and there has been a shortage of suitable candidates to fill positions both front of house and in kitchens across the country, including our own venues.

"We know how powerful word of mouth can be, so we have looked to our own people and our communities to refer motivated and talented individuals."

Rick Stein's restaurant group has increased its bonus from £100 to £250 for anyone within the company who refers someone to join. It also offers £1,000 for anyone who successfully recommends a chef for its flagship Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall.

And Rare Restaurants, which is behind the Gaucho and M brands in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds, and Birmingham, pays up to £1,000, depending on the role, as part of its ‘refer a friend' policy.

In London, Ottolenghi group has increased its referral payment by £200 post-pandemic. Both the team member who made the recommendation and the new recruit are now paid £500 after the candidate has spent three months at the restaurant company.

‘Something has to give'

The battle for staff has seen hospitality businesses raise salaries and offer perks such as help with housing, free gym membership and food and drinks in a bid to attract talent.

Pierre Malouf, head of people at Ottolenghi group, said he feared some operators were "offering the world and not delivering" once people were employed.

He said: "[People] might get a bonus when they join but then the situation isn't what they thought, the pay isn't as good, or they end up overworked or training doesn't happen.

"I think a lot of places promise a lot and you walk into it and it's a disaster. I'm all for paying people well but when you end up with a crazy salary that doesn't quite make sense for the experience and knowledge, something has to give."

Malouf added that hospitality had "always had a sustainability problem" with staff, which had been made worse by the pandemic.

He said: "The unspoken thing is a lot of [hospitality businesses] did badly in how they treated people when things were uncertain [during the pandemic]. Some restaurants fired all their staff or didn't include service charge in the furlough pay. Those two things really affected people's mentality going back into the industry because they felt let down, and rightly so.

"All of this has culminated into hospitality being even more unsustainable if we're not careful. If you don't pay a lot of attention to your colleagues working conditions and what you're offering as an employer, it's tough."

Malouf said Ottolenghi's restaurants were busier than they were pre-Covid but the group was putting "a lot of energy" into recruiting.

"We lost people during Covid that went home or left hospitality but generally we retained a lot of people. We're ok, the cake is baked and we're recruiting for the cherry on top."

He added: "I've been encouraging the general managers to almost treat their colleagues like customers. That attention to detail you give to food and service should be reflected in how you treat your staff as well."

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