According to former HR director and independent recruitment consultant Bill Boorman “everyone has an employer brand”. He says: “For a small pub, this might be summed up by what customers think it’s like to work there.”
The very nature of the pub trade is that your employees are in the public eye, and that future workers are likely to come from the community they serve. It is hard to keep an unhappy employment relationship secret when the staff are likely to know the customers, and the customers may recommend future employees. And recruitment is an issue that cuts right to the heart of the current pub business.
“Recruiting is becoming more and more difficult,” says Brian Whiting, co-owner of eight-strong south-east multiple operator Whiting & Hammond. “The market is buoyant, with a massive increase in casual-dining sites flooding the market and putting heavy demand on staff. There are also not enough people coming into the industry so it’s very tough to find people – let alone the right people.
“I know good operators who have had to change operations because they can’t find chefs.”
What is an Employer Brand?
An employer brand refers to the perception current and potential employees have of your business. It is about how they view the company through to what they think it would be like to work for you. An effective employer brand presents your business as a good employer and a great place to work and can, as a result, help with recruitment, retention and your reputation.
In this climate, ensuring that you are not deterring people from working for your business gains critical importance.
Katrina Fox, director of employer brand consultancy Peters-Fox, which has worked with blue-chip companies including Vodafone, believes many of the messages used for big corporates are relevant for small pubs. “I live in a village in Wiltshire that has four pubs,” she says. “Each has a different personality and that is down to the people that work there. I see the importance of employing the right people to a pub’s success.”
Employer brand is a grandiose term for a fundamental aspect of a business, says Fox. “It is just what it means to work somewhere. People can choose where to work so, unless you make yourself a little bit different to the pub down the street, you will find yourself struggling.”
Boorman agrees that employer branding is important for all sizes of pubs. “It’s the same whether you are a Wetherspoon or a Dog & Duck,” he says. “Employer branding is the marketing of you as an employer.
“If you let it be known that you’re looking to hire, would a customer tell their kids a job is available or not?”
Boorman says getting it right is straightforward – even if doing that’s not always easy.
“There is only one way to have a good employer brand and that’s to be a good employer. If people are happy and doing the right things, hiring becomes less of a problem.”
Creating a positive vibe
Making your staff happy has several positive effects on a pub’s individual employer brand.
■ Every business has an employer brand, whether you know it or not
■ A bad reputation as an employer can be damaging on several fronts
■ A good employer will reap the benefits in terms of recruitment, retention and profitability
■ Talk to your employees and see what they like about working for you and want they want from you
■ Consider your relationships with customers and
First, it makes the workers you’ve hired and trained more likely to stay. Second, it makes them more likely to tell their friends – some of them already in the trade, other potential recruits – good things about working for you.
Not least it creates a positive vibe in the pub, which customers will pick up on, meaning that they will revisit your venue and relay it to other possible job candidates.
So how do you create these shiny happy workers?
Fortunately, it’s not all about increasing hourly rates, often employer branding is about good general management. “Provide the right working environment,” advises Boorman. “Be fair with people – tips policy can cause massive disharmony. Share weekend shifts out. Pay staff on time without arguments over hours.
“It’s likely people want the jobs to fit with their lives. Have flexibility and understanding and be consistent with standards and rules.”
Fox says pubs can work on their employer brand quickly and easily. “Do some research. You might think people want to work for you, but ask your team why they have stayed. Beyond the hourly rate, what do you offer? Is it training or community spirit?”
Once you know your selling points as an employer, you need to communicate them as clearly as possible to potential staff, she says.
“You can do this on social media – candidates like to see case studies so you could make a 10-second video of someone saying why they like working at your pub and tweet it.
“More traditional methods include posters on the bar saying ‘Join our friendly team’ or staff badges saying ‘Ask me about working here’. You can use beer mats.”
A good employer reputation
Communicating your employer brand successfully will boost retention, says Fox, as well as attracting job candidates who are a close fit to the business and will therefore be more productive if they are hired.
“Pub management is about time and money. If you have an employer brand that attracts the right kind of talent pool then it will save you time and money,” she says.
Whiting is in no doubt about the importance of employer branding.
“The most important people in the business – above investors, customers and suppliers – are staff,” he says. “Without them we can’t survive and be what we want to be. It would be catastrophic to have a bad reputation as an employer in the current climate.”
As well as using social media, staff benefit schemes and targeted job ads, Whiting has one further tip for pubs trying to attract better candidates.
“Suppliers are important. They are out delivering to places and if they see someone with potential they often refer them. It’s a natural process because they are in and out of businesses all the time,” he adds.
Tom Gee, owner of former Great British Pub of the Year, the Red Lion in Cricklade, says his employer brand is critical to the success of the Wiltshire freehouse.
As such he doesn’t ask for experience in job adverts, focusing instead on passion and enthusiasm.
“Our customers like to be communicated with rather than ignored and we have to instil that into our staff. They are hosts and a huge part of making us a welcoming place.
“I have an informal management style centred on empowering people so they become my eyes and ears. I don’t micromanage because I don’t believe that’s the way to get the best out of people.
“We don’t insist on vast amounts of experience, we ask for enthusiasm and passion – you can train everything except personality.
“It takes people a short time to realise this is a great place to work. Our staff turnover is minimal. The three people who work close to me have been here for nine years and the students come back for all holidays.”
Dark Star Brewing Company
Dark Star Brewing Company last year signalled a major point in its history. The firm, which started in 1994 as a brewery in the basement of a Brighton pub, took on experienced entrepreneur Heath Ball as head of its fledgling pub estate.
Director James Cuthbertson says: “In the early days, staffing had been people from the other side of the bar working a few shifts, but I wouldn’t say it worked particularly well. Heath allowed us to raise standards, and we now have fantastic sites underpinned by professional behaviour.”
Ball says the business’s success is attributable to its people.
“Our staff turnover is low, we pay well and create great pubs to work in. We keep a balance of fun and professionalism,” he says.
“Most of our staff could run their own place within a year. We invest in training – cellar management, yield management and so on. We equip people for careers because we think there are careers in pubs.”
The company uses a range of methods to attract its future stars. “We have built up a following on social media and look for local people.
“It is a constant conversation, as we are always recruiting. You don’t poach from competitors though – life’s too short.”
Employer brand is critical to get the right people through the door. “We try to build a good reputation so that when people ask what it’s like to work for us they are told: ‘we demand a lot, but give a lot’.”