The Signature Pubs Group, which has 22 venues across the country, has introduced loans, discounts, free meals, increased maternity pay, and upped bonuses to help ease pressures faced by workers including food inflation and energy costs.
Nic Wood, director of Signature, said the move is also helping attract and keep staff on an already competitive landscape made more difficult by Covid and Brexit.
However, the firm faces extra costs of around £2.4 million this year that it did not have last year, which includes a massive energy hike, rates pressures, and wage bill, and Mr Wood has called for Scottish Government recognition and support as it invests in staffing.
“We’ve had quite big issues with recruitment,” he said. “A large part of that is Brexit and Covid, a lot of people going home and not coming back.
“You weren’t getting the same volume of CVs coming through the door.”
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He continued: “Before you would have been able to take your pick from the point of view of quality and previous experience so there has been a lot learnt in the last 12 to 18 months on how to make sure that we recruit better and how we train better and how we pull people through the business that way.
“With that, a lot of things we’ve been doing, junior and senior chef programme, junior and senior staff and management programmes all being put into place within the business to try and retain the staff that we have just now, and to encourage them to want to stay in hospitality and want to be better at what they do.”
He said with the “cost-of-living crisis, there’s been a lot of our time spent with everything from wages to the tips system right through to free meals for the staff when you are on shift, discounts when you are not on shift, and in January you could come into the pub and pick up a free meal whether you are or aren’t on shift”.
He said: “We’ve just made sure that what we’re doing is looking after people.
“We have a staff party once a year where we shut every venue, and everyone goes to one venue end has an entire afternoon and evening of entertainment, drinks and awards. That is part of what we do.”
The company bonus system operates from the kitchen to the office, he said.
“Part of the business and the retention is to try and keep people and show them if they work hard and come up with ideas, then they need to get rewarded for it.
“Staff will get tips and their hourly wages but if you want to move up in the business with us and that gives you more time, more privileges, more holidays, that is also part of what we do as a business.”
He said: “So if someone says if I join that pub what’s in it for me, I say that’s not the end of that, that is one pub that is in a group of 22 bars with varying degrees of service right through from a boozer to a high end steak restaurant, or a cocktail bar or a hotel, that is what we are and what we do.
“There are massive opportunities for people starting off as a bartender through to managing a business, to HR to PR, to finance. I also think hospitality helps young people with confidence.”
He said a wage bill that increased by £750,000 was one of many additional costs. “If you take electric and gas last year, we signed a contract and that took us as a business from paying £700,000 a year to over £1.65m a year.
“You have the same issue with rates. As a business that cost us another £750,000 last year more than it should have had.
“If you take those three figures on their own we are at £2.4m, is what that’s cost me to run my business more than it did the previous year.
“That is before we put in the cost-of-living crisis and every single product I buy for my business has gone up by 10 to 20 per cent on a weekly basis.”
He said greater support should be brought forward by Holyrood for the sector, adding: “In the last couple of years, the Scottish Government has not treated hospitality favourably in any way at all.
“They need to realise how much hospitality gives the economy, realise that if they want to build the economy any time in the future they have to support the industries that contribute towards its taxes, its tourism and employment.”
He said: “In Ireland, the VAT rate is still not back to the full rate from Covid.
“They’ve kept that down and that would support the minimum wage increase.”
“The rates side of things in England certainly helped a lot more.”