Continuing our series on Profiting from 2012, Emily Manson explains the importance of a well-trained workforce providing the perfect welcome
No matter how summery the weather, how wonderful the sporting events or how well executed the opening ceremony, if restaurants, hotels and bars don't get their staffing levels right and their teams well trained then the legacy of London 2012 will be that British hospitality is not, actually, that hospitable.
Sharon Glancy, director of the People 1st Training Company, warns: "London 2012 will be deemed a success or failure on the strength of how well we welcome and look after our international guests."
Brian Wisdom, chief executive of sector skills council People 1st, adds: "We know from past experience that former host cities such as Sydney, Beijing and Vancouver under-estimated the impact of the Games, particularly around demand for their products and services, their ability to sustain daily business operations and, just as important, meet the expectations of staff and customers."
And he advises: "With less than a year to go, businesses need to start preparing and planning now."
There's no escaping it, the industry must get its staffing right. The starting point is to assess the impact of the Games on your operation. Look at the type of business and its location in relation to the Olympic Village or other sites, while job opportunities and anticipated skill needs should also be identified as early as possible.
For permanent staff, employers need to start looking at contracts (especially for new starters) and holiday restrictions. Communication is vital, so talk to key staff to ensure they are on board and try to work around staff who want to volunteer or have tickets for the Games. If temporary staff are needed, it will help to start talking to agencies now and agree terms beforehand to avoid paying premiums for last-minute requirements.
There's also the question of money. It's going to be important to offer competitive pay rates to retain staff, possibly with incentives. Mike Gardner, operations manager of temporary staffing at recruitment company Berkeley Scott, warns that operators need to start thinking about finances and contracts now.
All staff working on the Olympic site are entitled by contract to the London living wage, which is £8.30. "This is significantly more than the minimum wage of £5.93 [rising to £6.08 on 1 October]" says Gardner. "It will impact other businesses outside the Olympic village, who are competing for the same staff but can't afford to pay staff such increases."
He advises operators to start engaging with staff now, arranging contracts and establishing which staff will be leaving London and which will want shifts during the games. "Many staff travel in August so it's vital to be prepared. Similarly, if your staff pool is too small and you need to use agency staff, ensure they are primed, as last-minute demands may well incur premiums."
And it's important to ensure that any casual staff are trained to the right standards for your operation. Debrah Dhugga, general manager of Dukes hotel in London, advises the use of a checklist for hiring people and explains that all staff - even temporary, casual or agency ones - are given a work trial.
She explains: "We have a bank of casual staff we use on a regular basis so we can guarantee consistency in service. While a candidate may look good on paper, you only know if they truly fit with your job and the environment once you have seen them in action. You can then develop relationships with candidates long before you need them and know they're not just looking for a job for a quick bit of extra cash."
customer service training
With nearly 40% of London hospitality and tourism businesses concerned about their ability to match customer expectations during the Olympics and 65% admitting customer service is their top training need, People 1st has teamed up with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and WorldHost to offer customer service training programmes.
People 1st is also using its Employment 1st programme -a pre-employment training package for people considering a career in hospitality - to train about 2,000 Londoners living locally to the main Olympic park to help them secure hospitality jobs during the Games - and beyond.
Wisdom says: "We are also campaigning to train 200,000 frontline staff ahead of the Olympics throughout the wider visitor economy, with the aim of effecting a cultural change in the perception of the warmth of the UK welcome, which currently lags far behind other countries.
"It's essential we improve if we are to reap the long-term benefits of a successful Games."
developing a staffing strategy
London-based brewer, pub and hotel group Young's already has a well-developed strategy for staffing during the games. Ed Turner, commercial director (pictured), explains his main concern is whether staff are just going to "walk away and enjoy the fun" rather than work their shifts.
To mitigate this, the group is currently looking at the possibility of paying extra. "Hopefully staff will get better income through tips, but we're not ruling out wage increases," Turner says. "We're also looking at things other than pay, like how we can enable our staff to enjoy the Games, too. It's not always just about the money."
The staffing levels need to take into account issues such as unusual night time deliveries or the Games' evening events - meaning guests may want late-night meals or later breakfast times.
Turner adds: "We have to get the staffing levels right at the right times, from kitchen service hours to night rotas. It needs a total rethink."
The group is also looking at the issues of communication and good service. "We may have to employ many more ‘meeters and greeters' than usual to explain to customers they need to order at the bar. We'll also have Olympic ‘champions' in each pub to help with directions and general Games information," says Turner.
top 10 staffing tips
1 Plan ahead Analyse your venue, its projected demand during the Games given its location and business type. Consider peak times and opening hour requirements and decide on a staffing plan well in advance.
2 Communicate Keep staff informed about events happening in the local area and how the business might be impacted on a day-to-day basis - use staff forums to talk directly to frontline staff.
3 Flexibility Be flexible with staff scheduling. Allow staff to attend events and enjoy the Games.
4 Holidays Work out who will be on holiday and who will be available for work. Remember it's the school holidays so talk to staff about their needs.
5 Out-Sourcing Arrange agency terms in advance if temporary staff are required
6 Transport Have a clear plan for how staff will get to and from their work
7 Budget Factor in pay increases and use incentives to help staff stay motivated
8 Training Train staff as usual, but also consider training in other tasks to give them transferable skills
9 Welcome Add training on welcome, directions, Olympic schedules, local transport and other useful information that tourists will require
10 Linguistics Check what languages your team can speak and utilise their skills
Our Profiting from 2012 Business Tracker series is published in association with ACT Clean and People 1st