Southampton restaurant owner invests in upskilling and supporting staff amid energy crisis

Southampton restaurant owner invests in upskilling and supporting staff amid energy crisis

With the threat of enormous energy costs over winter, the hospitality industry is on tenterhooks as they try to put plans in place to ride out the increased outgoings.

Instead of cutting wages or reducing opening hours, the award-winning Southampton restaurant and bar, Smugglers, is planning on staying out of the red, while simultaneously growing, by investing in its staff.

Essential outgoings in the hospitality industry are skyrocketing, particularly with the likes of food and drink. Simultaneously, Smugglers’ electricity bills have already jumped up by 40% over the last year, which is a reality affecting many businesses and individuals alike.

“Our margin has gone down even though our prices have gone up,” company director Kyle Wilks says.

Investing in new equipment such as energy-efficient dishwashers was one step toward reducing costs, but Wilks recognised that a larger solution was needed.

The hospitality industry is being hit in the pocket from all angles; with rising operation costs, customers tightening their purse strings, and skilled staff being at an all time low. Many  restaurants are now understaffed, which impacts on the quality of customer service, causing a vicious cycle to occur.

Slowing the turnover of staff and catching them up on their training, which lapsed industry-wide during the Covid lockdowns, is how this company is planning to keep its doors open.

“Focusing on the training and retention of the staff that we do have is the most important thing,” Wilks says. “We can focus on giving staff the best skills that we can and try to help them stay as long as possible.”

Streamlining staff roles is part of this initiative; making the most of a small team without the burnout.

“Another thing Smugglers is going to do differently to other venues is adopt new technologies to relieve some of the workload from staff,” Wilks says.

This includes having automated rota systems that staff can operate from home, and using up-to-date Point of Sale software that allows them to serve customers quicker. Additionally, Smugglers use a digital kitchen labelling solution called Labl.It, which means kitchen staff don’t have to hand-write labels. This all helps to increase the efficiency of staff time.

Smugglers also outsource certain responsibilities to industry professionals, such as marketing and cleaning. Wilks says that hiring external agencies to take care of these roles means restaurant staff can focus on what they do best. By removing additional work from staff, the quality of customer service and job satisfaction increases.

“We’re trying to take away some of those burdens from our staff to make their lives a bit easier, and have a nicer place to work.”

Having happy staff means happy customers, which all helps to keep restaurants and bars in business. Despite the challenges that are expected to increase, Wilks is staying positive.

“I do think that it’ll level out as trade levels out. As spending habits change and people go out less, I think the problem of customer service and labour shortages will fix itself as hospitality starts to contract a bit as there will be more staff available.”

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