Interviews

Exploring the challenges in catering team management

Hospitality and catering expert Nitin Radhakrishnan shares his views on the current challenges facing the industry and how to address the skills shortage

With almost two decades of experience in hospitality and catering, Nitin Radhakrishnan has worked at London’s Savoy Hotel, Marriott International and managed a city-centre hotel during the London 2012 Olympics. Now a lecturer in management at Le Cordon Bleu cookery school, he is currently doing a PHD in Hospitality and Human Resources, focusing on the skills shortage in hospitality. Here, he shares his tips for running your catering teams and shares insights on what the future of this industry will look like.

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Nitin Radhakrishnan_click
Nitin Radhakrishnan

Click.: What are the main challenges in running catering and hospitality teams today?

Radhakrishnan: It is quite multifaceted really, in terms of challenges. The customers don’t want to have the same experiences again and again. Gone are the days people enjoyed the experience and they come back for the same experience again.

Customers want variety and the operators need to inspire the guests with unique offerings for continued patronage. This is the biggest challenge most of the industry should be worried about: how to inspire the guests to just make sure that they come back again.

Another pertinent challenge is staffing, getting the right people and skilled staff. I don’t think anybody has the correct solution, but it’s about retaining staff.

In terms of finding the right staff, engaging with schools and colleges is one of the ways to inspire people. Also, having structured training so that when a prospective applicant applies for a specific job in one particular hotel or restaurant, they are assured there is a career mapped out for them and they have opportunities to achieve a certain level of success based on performance in a realistic time frame.

Increasingly, the modern workforce values a better work-life balance, especially youngsters who are the backbone of the entry-level jobs.

Click.: How can you help staff members get the best work-life balance?

Radhakrishnan: The long working hours are inevitable in hospitality. One of the options which some of the employers are practicing is a four-day work week with three days off, which will help the employees to be more rested especially in the culinary areas. It is a great thing and it is slightly disrupting the market in a positive way.

There are employers now trying to attract women in the frontline by providing flexible working, especially for those with young children. Job sharing in hospitality will be a great opportunity for employers to embrace.

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catering workforce_click_Photo by Jesús Terrés on Unsplash
"Increasingly the modern workforce values a better work-life balance". Photo: Jesús Terrés, Unsplash

 

Click.: What are the essential elements of building a great team in catering and hospitality?

Radhakrishnan: There should be a level of enthusiasm and passion within the team. That needs to come right from the top.

There also needs to be a proper communication strategy – from the vision of this particular place that you are talking about to the larger issues, like its values.

The other thing I would say is about language – having language skills, being multilingual, always goes a long way in hospitality. This is especially when there is a lot of movement of customers from the Far East or from the Americas. Any extra languages within your team will always be a good thing.

Click.: What are your tips for keeping catering staff happy in such an intense work environment?

Radhakrishnan: A regular, structured chat from the manager or line manager will ensure the employees progress is being monitored and developed. They need to feel that there is a feedback mechanism and constructive criticisms shared on a timely basis, and they need to be aware of what they have to deliver on.

Also, if the employers give a realistic understanding of how the business is going, it gives a value for them. If, for example, they say this month the business was not so good, transparency there is beneficial – what the employer is trying to do is overcome that and staff can engage in activities where they can make a contribution. When the employee feels they are being appreciated for their contribution, that makes for happy staff.

Click.: How has catering and hospitality changed since you started your career?

Radhakrishnan: The entire hospitality industry is being influenced very much by technology. Right from the transactions – people used to pay cash, but the majority of the transactions happen by card or online– to the reviews. Reviews will be instant. If you have taken the trouble to create an experience, that experience will be shared to the entire world in pretty much instantaneously using something like Instagram or other social media platforms.

In terms of menu planning, veganism has become a thing and food allergies and intolerances are more common. The lifestyle of the guest has changed. For example, I used to work at the Savoy and the terminology of gluten free was so alien that if anyone came with a gluten-free request, we just had to ask other people, what is gluten-free? We are not talking a long time back, about 15 years. Now, this has become the norm.

Click.: What is the future of catering in hotels?

Radhakrishnan: I find it very bright, very optimistic but also challenging. Challenging in terms of staffing, challenging in terms of expectations, challenging in terms of keeping your clientele on a regular basis.

People want to have new things, they want new experiences. Gone are the days of traditional fine dining. I expect fine dining will evolve with a hybrid of showmanship and greater interaction of customers at the table.

There will, of course, be Michelin stars to keep that unique end of the business, but elsewhere it will be more like casual sharing platters and small plates, which we have already seen disrupting the market. In-room dining concepts will slowly start phasing off as more and more travellers prefer to dine out rather than dine-in.

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Hero image: credit to chuttersnap, Unsplash

Takeaway
  • The biggest challenge in catering today is garnering repeat customers. People no longer want the same experiences over and over again
  • A shortage of skilled staff poses the biggest threat to the catering industry, but engaging with local schools and colleges can help ensure you get the right staff
  • Offering a career platform, not just a job, and the promise of a work-life balance is essential for keeping your staff happy.

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