Hospitality operators need to combine investment in technology with a new approach to people management if they are to recruit and retain the best employees and deliver the best customer experience.

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Those are the findings in From Agile to Fragile: How to Navigate the New Era of Hospitality, a new report published y workforce specialist Bizimply and consultancy Hospitality Mavericks.

Technology that frees up frontline staff to have autonomy to deliver great customer service, rather than hampering their efforts, is the key to retaining the customer service edge in a competitive market, the report finds.  

It is based on a survey of senior operators representing hundreds of outlets, employing thousands of staff, in the UK, Europe, and the USA. Respondents came from across the hospitality sector, from fine dining and hotels to pubs and bars, coffee shops and fast-food outlets. The report is available from the Bizimply website.

The survey found that since the first lockdown, in 2020, 70% of respondents have rolled out new or updated digital tools, and 59% have implemented new people policies. However, nearly three-quarters (72%) either have no formal people strategy, or one only partly developed.

This is despite a majority of operators recognising that positive change would transform their business; 49% said they would like to implement more agile working methods and 41% want to give their front-line teams ​​greater decision-making powers.

Empowering frontline teams

Resistance to change was cited by 34% of respondents, while one-fifth (21%) said their frontline teams lacked the capability to implement change, and a similar number (23%) felt customer-facing staff didn’t understand the 12-month plan for the business.

Forty per cent recognised that implementing new technology could make their staff teams more efficient, but only 34% thought it could improve employees’ experience and job satisfaction. More than half (55%) feel they have invested sufficiently in digitalisation to optimise their business.

In response to the current staffing shortage, 21% of respondents are taking no additional steps to recruit new employees or retain existing team members. A third (32%) are increasing their training and development, 21% are increasing pay, and 10% improving staff benefits. Eleven per cent are looking to change working patterns, such as offering four-day weeks.

Bizimply chief executive, Conor Shaw, said: “The findings of our research make fascinating reading as the hospitality sector emerges from 15 months of on-and-off lockdowns, which gave many operators unprecedented time to review their business, and accelerated the pace of change in many areas, particularly technology.

“However, what’s also clear is that as an industry we are still largely working with a ‘top down’ approach to people management, even though we know that empowering our front-line teams leads to a better result for our business. We see more agile working practices delivering transformational change in many other sectors, and now is surely the time for hospitality to catch up.

“Investment in the right technology empowers hospitality staff at the front line, making all the difference to customer service.”