TRAIN: Five smart staffing solutions for small hotels

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Many couples working in hospitality nurse a cherished dream: running their own small hotel, the sort of hotel that a growing number of people are seeking out. It’s not a pipe-dream either, as the independent boutique hotel sector continues to grow, setting new standards for guest experience.

There’s no gainsaying the fact that if you have experience of working in hospitality already, you’ll be stacking the odds in your favour, but it’s also true that even decades of combined experience is not a guarantee of success. It is immensely hard work too, particularly in those all-important first few seasons.

At the Luxury Academy, we often get approached from new owners of small hotels, all of them facing the same challenges.

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Let’s meet the fictional — but not untypical — Mr and Mrs Boutique, proud owners of the newest hotel in town, a 10-room boutique hotel. They serve breakfast and pre-booked suppers, and have a small yet perfectly-formed bar area. Mr and Mrs B have five questions for us; luckily, we have five answers.

Overstretched
The problem: We simply don’t have the staffing resources to cover everything: front of house, food and beverage, housekeeping, kitchen — the list goes on. We’re going to be stretched pretty thin, what can we do so we cover all departments?
The solution: Well, yourself and Mr B are likely to be multi-skilled, both of you already having hotel experience, so multi-task and play to your strengths. The pressure points of a hotel vary, but the clots are most likely to form in front of house and F&B. Divide the two areas between you, perhaps one taking on front-of-house responsibilities, including reservations, reception, housekeeping and marketing. Over at F&B, the other oversees the kitchen, taking charge of inventory and stock ordering, and the running of the restaurant and bar.

Seasonality
The problem: We’re already filling up for the summer high season but room bookings are likely to be quiet from November to March when we think we’ll see more local business — the bar is already a popular meeting place. I think we’ll struggle to afford full-time staff all year round. What should we do? We don’t want to overextend our payroll costs when we don’t need to.
The solution: Have staff when you need them, and don’t limit yourselves to one or two full-timers. People working in the hospitality sector are multi-skilled and acutely aware that work is seasonal. While zero-hour contracts have come under unfavourable scrutiny recently, they’re nothing new in hotels and most staff understand how these contracts work. Employ three or four general assistants on a casual basis, who you can call on when you need them and who can turn their hands to a variety of tasks — two to help in the bar in the run-up to Christmas, say, a full complement during the busy months like Christmas and New Year.

Payroll
The problem: Much as we’d like to have an accountant in the office, it’s unrealistic for now but we do need help with the accounts and the payroll. The last thing we want is to end up with a shoebox full of wage slips, bills and receipts.
The solution: There are many ways around this. You could employ a local book-keeper on a part-time basis to keep you on the straight and narrow. Or you could use an online accounting software tool, designed for small businesses (for example, FreeAgent comes with most Barclays Business Accounts). The best of these are secure, user-friendly, and cloud-based applications that help you automate payroll, VAT, tax etc. If you decide to engage the services of a freelance accountant, you’ll be able to let them access your accounts online; you can scan receipts and use a programme such as Dropbox to put all your receipts in. Remember, think outside the box, book-keepers don’t have to be in the same town or even the same country as you, use sites like Odesk.com or Elance.com to find talented freelance admin staff.

Poachers
The problem: Summer brings lots of visitors to the area. How can we be sure our best casual staff will be available? Competition for the most reliable people can be fierce.
The solution: Be the kind of employers people want to work for and are loyal to. Think of creative and meaningful ways to reward your team, which can be as simple as a heartfelt thank you at the end of a hectic day — it’s always surprising how overlooked praise and thanks are, and how far they go. When you can, create openings for staff to acquire new skills. Don’t worry that those extra skills will walk out of the door into a rival hotel; staff are more likely to see your hotel as a place of opportunity and variety. Remember, a little goodwill goes a long way.

Forecasting
The problem: Let’s say that we have our pool of casual staff. How can we allocate tasks effectively? We are trying to anticipate what our hourly staffing costs are and come up with a reasonably reliable payroll forecast.
The solution: Work with what you know. How long does it take to clean a bedroom and bathroom? We would expect this to take between 45 minutes and an hour. If you know you have 100% occupancy, that’s 10 hours per day you’ll need to budget for housekeeping. By the same token, 100% occupancy will probably mean a busy breakfast and busy check out, could you work it so your casual staff can do breakfast and then when it quietens down, one goes to housekeeping to start on the rooms while the other one finishes off breakfast and then goes to help them? Leaving you and Mr B to handle check out, cooking breakfast and manning the bar? The key to staffing productivity is your team being flexible and multi-skilled.

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