Opinion: Sophie Atherton discusses how to get stars in bars

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Pointing fingers: Sophie Atherton talks issues in recruitment
Pointing fingers: Sophie Atherton talks issues in recruitment
My experience at the hands of some bar staff points to a problem in the recruitment process within the industry.

Around this time of year a jobs website called Glassdoor releases its ‘toughest interview questions’ of the previous year.

There are 20 on the list this time and some seemed tough: “You are stranded on the moon with a group of other astronauts and you need to travel 200 miles back to base, here is a list of 15 items salvaged from the wreckage of the spacecraft you were travelling in. List them in order of importance.” Many, however, were just weird: “What am I thinking now?”

In any case, it got me thinking about what sort of questions candidates for jobs in pubs get asked. While I was mulling this over I came across an article about how people applying for jobs as sales assistants in shops are increasingly being put through day-long interview processes.

These apparently involve all sorts of solo and group tasks, such as making up a play to sell a product, giving a presentation on your most embarrassing moment and coming up with a plan for what you’d do if stranded on a desert island.

The gist of the feature was that it was unreasonable, perhaps even exploitative, to put job seekers through such a process. It likened it to auditioning for a role in a West End show or trying to win the X Factor​, when essentially the vacancies were for very basic retail jobs. I don’t like the idea of people being made to feel bad by some sort of Simon Cowell-style meanie, but surely any employer should be looking for star quality whatever role they are trying to fill – so a job interview, in a sense, is a talent contest.

I’m not suggesting the pub trade goes down the route of all-day interviews with game show-style challenges for candidates. But there is a need for something to both discover and create more stars behind the bar – and perhaps the job interview process offers that opportunity.

Common approach?

I’ve been in pubs where people have undergone job interviews at the table next to where I was having my pint and others where the candidate was in and out in five minutes. I wonder how common this approach to recruitment is in the industry?

I also wonder what sort of questions get asked. Of course you want to find out if the person has experience of working in a pub, but do you also ask what experience they have of going to the pub? And what they think a pub should offer?

I would also want to know: what’s the best welcome you’ve received when visiting a pub, and the worst? How would you advise someone choosing a drink when it’s not something you drink yourself?

And for a toughie (hopefully on next year’s toughest interview questions list) I’d go with, what’s the difference between hospitality and entertaining? I also think the idea of job interview role play could work for the pub industry.

Not some sort of day-long desert island beers debacle! Short, simple exercises that would offer genuine insight into whether a pub is getting a nonchalant shoulder-shrugger or an engaged entertainer who cares how a customer feels.

Candidates could be given written instructions describing one or two short scenarios and the roles within them; an ‘easy’ customer who knows what they want, a ‘difficult’ customer who is indecisive or surly, a tricky order where the customer changes their mind halfway through.

All based on licensees’ experiences so they’d be realistic. It would require an upfront investment of time and additional staff to play the role of the customer, but it might prove to be more enlightening – not to mention time- and money-saving – than finding out too late you’ve recruited a ‘won’t do’ rather than a ‘can do’.

Robust processes

My fly-on-the-wall eavesdropping of job interviews might have given me an inaccurate picture of how pubs recruit. But my experience at the hands of some bar staff bears out the fact there’s a problem somewhere.

Ensuring staff receive inspiring and thorough staff training remains essential, but perhaps there’s also a role for more robust recruitment processes.

In the current gloom hanging over the high street, maybe putting would-be staff through their paces to make sure they can offer customers a memorable experience, instead of just a sales transaction, makes sense. And with the hospitality industry looking ever more precarious, making sure pubs have stars behind the bar could be the difference between success and failure.

To find out more about pubs for sale, lease and tenancy visit our property site​.

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