Ensure you’re covered
Recent research by hospitality skills council People 1st has shown that 84 per cent of hospitality businesses are not planning to make any change to their staff numbers during the Olympics, yet 16 per cent of workers (responding to a survey by recruiter Badenoch & Clark) said they’d consider pulling a sickie to watch the Games, with the number increasing to 28 per cent of 16-34 year olds.
Staff shortages may not just arise from people ‘skiving off’ either, as transport routes being closed to give priority access to athletes or affected by the sheer volume of people using them could mean staff are simply unable to get into work. And, don’t forget you, or some of your staff may have been lucky enough to get tickets for events, which may well clash with usual opening hours.
So what can you do if you don’t want to be juggling things on your own, particularly if you’re busier than usual?
“Depending on where their staff live, some operators may need to think about housing staff either on-site or close to the restaurant, pub or hotel,” says Ian Lacey, a market analyst at Elliott Marketing & PR and recent visitor to former Olympic city Vancouver.
He also recommends considering extra staff for the period of the games. “Certainly don’t cut it right to the bone. Make sure you have enough people working for you and if it means looking at changing shifts or recruiting more people then do that to make sure you’re covered and can keep the business ticking over.”
Check the whole thing works
Although there has been a lot of attention on improving service levels in hospitality in the run up to the Olympics, it is dangerous to simply focus all your attention on improving your front-of-house warns Lydia Hirst, director of LH Consulting .
“Customer care is more than just front-of-house,” she says You can’t rely on bar or waiting staff to handle things when it’s busy if the beer pumps need changing or things aren’t coming out of the kitchen quick enough. Now’s a really good time to check that everything works well and that there are no bottlenecks anywhere, because you won’t have time when the event starts.”
Hirst recommends asking staff to fill out a loyalty survey, much like those given to customers, to find out what, if any, issues there are surrounding their daily work routine. And, she says don’t ignore the seemingly successful places either.
“If you’ve got a chain of restaurants and one’s doing better than the others then find out why. A staff survey can really highlight what strengths and weaknesses are in all your restaurants. Find out what one’s doing better than the others.”
Keep motivation high
The Olympic Games are on for 17 days and the Paralympics for a further 12 days, so it’s a long period of time to expect staff to remain enthusiastic and energised, particularly if you are thinking of extending or changing opening hours and are busier than usual.
Lacey suggests introducing a bonus scheme for staff during the Olympics period and adding an automatic service charge onto all bills, which he said worked well for restaurants in Vancouver as staff knew they’d be guaranteed tips. It also sped up the whole payment process and thus improving turnover. However, he also reminds operators to be sensitive to the fact staff may not be thrilled about working when such an exciting world event is happening.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for your business, but it’s also a once in a lifetime opportunity for your staff. Don’t forget that,” he says.
And remember, although you may be tempted to open all hours to maximise profits during the Games, it may not be a good idea for your business or your staff.
Lacey adds: “The message I was given when I went to Vancouver was that extending opening hours didn’t necessarily make the business more profitable, so work out what’s going to be profitable before you drastically change hours and if you do open later then make sure staff feel comfortable about that – check with them how they’ll get home if public transport has stopped running by that time.”
If you’re in the capital or near an Olympic venue, there’s a big chance that the majority of your customers will be from outside the UK and may not be able to speak English, so ensure staff know how to deal with foreign customers and are sensitive to different needs they may have.
“There has been a lot of focus on developing the infrastructure for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games but not enough on ensuring that we have the softer skills and the people needed to welcome the world to Britain,” says People 1st’s Brian Wisdom.” It’s anticipated that up to half a million visitors will arrive for the Games and we need to ensure their experience of Britain is a very positive one.”
The service module of People 1st’s WorldHost programme, which is aiming to train 200,000 hospitality and tourism in customer service ahead of the Games, warns against stereotyping visitors which ‘could interfere with effective communication and lead to conflict’ and instead recommends trying to respect different cultures and values.
It also recommends making more time to listen and be patient with guests struggling to communicate: “Even if you can’t have a long conversation because language is a barrier, the sincere and honest effort to communicate will go a long way towards making someone feel more comfortable.
“Remember that people visiting your country will appreciate your attempt to make them feel welcome and comfortable and your patience and effort to communicate will help our visitors enjoy their stay,” it says.
Language skills are, nevertheless a boon, according to Lacey: “Language skills are important, so if you are looking at recruiting more people, you might want to consider those who speak more than one language. And if you have got people with language skills already working for you then shout about it.
“Put boards outside to inform customers you cater for them and get staff wearing their national colours. It’s a great way to be involved in the competition without having to spend lots of money on marketing material.”
To view all articles in our Planning for the 2012 Olympics feature click here