Could there be a Pandemic Silver Lining for the Hospitality Industry?

Our industry, like many others, has experienced a very rough past 20 months (to say the least) and is now on a long path to recovery that requires adaptability, creativity and resilience probably more than ever.

What Covid-19 Changed in the Hospitality Industry

Covid-19 is indeed synonymous with a wide range of circumstances and situations that considerably changed the way we all have to do business, from coffee shops to full-service restaurants, hotels and more. Think of all that has changed:

  • consumer habits
  • work/life balance
  • corporate travel
  • entertainment
  • employment opportunities
  • real estate terms

It really feels that all our beliefs, intellectually speaking, and our standard operating procedures, practically speaking,
have both been questioned, if not completely ditched.

Issues Covid-19 Just Exacerbated

Yet, several years ago, I clearly remember reading that by 2030 half of the American workforce would not go to the office anymore, at least in the way they used to until then. By the same token ghost kitchens did already exist before March 2020. Or, from a human resources standpoint, we can all acknowledge that it has been difficult to find talent and retain them for a long time, way before that infamous spring as well.

I could continue with similar examples, but I believe you got the point: the pandemic did not trigger most of the issues we are dealing with, it only made them exponentially more prominent, forcing us to address them almost all at once.

The Hospitality Trends We Chose Not to Embrace

So, as much as it has been and remains drastic, how about embracing the challenges and make the most of this situation to simply become a better industry, one worthy of any benchmark with any other? Again, it is not so much that we did not know before about the necessary changes, but more so that we frankly chose to look away. Such examples come to mind:

  • Disregarding the rise of takeout and delivery
  • Not taking the technology aspect of our operations seriously enough
  • Not realizing the increasing number of dining occasions each individual business has to compete with
  • Ignoring how weak our compensation systems are

Each of these topics would of course deserve a much more thorough analysis, but let’s focus on something that we  as consultants or operators, deeply care about and want to help change for the better: the way we treat the people working in hospitality.

When Enough is Enough

Covid-19 was a “enough is enough” kind of moment for many working in the industry as a whole (restaurants first and foremost). First, most of us lost their jobs overnight, and then, when it was time to get back to it, it was the realization that it was not worth the sacrifices. Employees were dealing with bad pay, inequality between positions, poor benefits, difficult hours, etc.

We collectively should have fixed these problems a long time ago, like the restaurant Giant in Chicago, IL which opened several years ago with a health insurance plan in place for their employees and has ever since being a champion for fair compensation packages, but it now definitely is the only way forward if we still want to convince people to choose this career path.

The Change Needed in Hospitality

Hospitality as a career is actually a very ambitious goal that will only be reached if we first figure out proper hiring methods, training plans and management principles, flexible schedules, adequate benefit programs, retirement plans and more (yes, just like everybody else in their own fields).

A Broken Tipping Industry

Just a few days ago, even DOL announced that limits on tip credit use would be back in play by the end of the year, which for me just shows how broken the tip system also is. As if nobody really understands what needs to happen “behind the scenes” for that guest-interaction time to be successful, or in other words as if not all job positions were equally valuable in the process of delivering proper service.

Coming from Europe, tipping has always felt problematic to me, especially when it comes to pay disparity between back and front of the house, but in a post-pandemic world it just is completely inadequate. Just ask yourself the following question: Which other industry has their customers directly pay their employees and control how much they make? I think you will find the answer is: none.

Lean Into New Business Models in Hospitality

It is time for owners and operators to take a risk in different business models. Change is good for everyone, and also inevitable.  Want to join us?

About the Author:

Nicolas Simon is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.

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