CASUAL DINING BLOG Nathan Dumlao Xrb4o75uymo Unsplash

I’ve had several experiences of late where I’ve queued to get into casual dining restaurants (yes, I should have booked ahead) only to find up to half of the tables vacant and the few staff members that are working the floor looking extremely harassed. 

My order often takes ages to arrive and when it does, it's often subpar. As a customer, it's natural to get upset with the staff. However, they're not to blame, and they're just trying to keep the ship afloat.

Unfortunately, a career in the hospitality sector has never been less attractive, given the great staffing exodus post-Brexit and the insecurity of zero-hours contracts. Operators are being squeezed due to rising costs in the supply chain, and the government's lack of support throughout the energy crisis. The frontline staff who are now left working in the sector are feeling the pressure, with little hope of the situation improving in the short to medium term.

Meanwhile, customer expectations are higher than ever. The pandemic has redefined the experience economy, with customers seeking low-frequency, high-impact experiences from their interactions with food and beverage venues. The financial crisis has prompted us all to consider how and where we spend our money, seeking a meaningful return on our personal experiences.

Many operators are investing in marketing to drive footfall back up to pre-pandemic levels. However, even if these efforts are successful, customers' experiences in venue often fall short, causing them to turn away from the brand and spend their hard-earned money elsewhere. Perhaps it's time to reassess employee engagement.

Imagine a world where the emphasis shifts from customers to employees, and marketing spend is diverted to staffing investment. The old adage of "people buy people" has never been more relevant. When human interaction with a brand is that of a stressed-out employee on a zero-hours contract with no sense of connection or progression, customers are likely to become disengaged with the brand.

By investing in staff recruitment, engagement, and retention over customer-focused marketing, brands can create a legion of in-house advocates who will drive customer and social engagement in a compelling, human-led manner. 

CASUAL DINING BLOG Shutterstock 1734541430

Here are some thoughts on how brands can shift the emphasis from customers to staff:

  • Brands with a clear, positive purpose are attracting employees who share their values. Ensure that your brand has a clear, accessible purpose that new and existing staff members can get behind and care about. This will see them through tough times and help them focus on the future.

  • Invest in training programs that help staff develop within the organisation and beyond. Ensure the program delivers against your brand values, while also giving staff a clear idea of what progression within the organisation (and beyond) might look like.

  • Make room for staff to bring their best selves to work, whether it's through allowing them to express themselves or supporting their side hustle. Brands that acknowledge and support their staff's passions are more likely to keep them engaged.

We're now firmly immersed in a new epoch of the experience economy. Customers are more informed and promiscuous than ever, expecting more from the time and money they invest in their interactions with brands. When almost any service is available through the internet, it's critical to amplify human connections within the physical space. When staff are happy, engaged, and feel understood, they are the best advocates a brand can hope for. Invest in your staff, and the customers will come and keep coming back.

We work with a range of clients to create strategies that prioritise staff satisfaction and well-being. Please get in touch if you would like to continue the conversation.

Background 03