Smart staffing is key to COVID Christmas trading

Perhaps the only thing we know for sure about Christmas 2020 is that we don’t know what it’s going to look like – and we won’t know for sure until nearer the time.
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With coronavirus cases on the rise and growing numbers of local lock-downs in the UK and a full lockdown in the Republic of Ireland, predicting what will or won’t be allowed in the hospitality sector during December is next to impossible.

What is clear is that we won’t be back to anything approaching “normal” by then, presenting an unprecedented challenge to the hospitality sector, and especially the many operators who cater for larger groups and parties during the festive season. Can they create memorable Christmas and new year celebrations for their customers this year despite constantly changing rules and regulations around coronavirus? 

Unsurprisingly, the changing hospitality landscape is bad news for those employees who would normally be hoping for a seasonal uplift, with additional shifts over the festive season. Latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for the UK show the number of vacancies in the accommodation and food service sector declined by 71.8% year-on-year in the three months from June to August 2020. 

The ONS measured the total labour cost per hour for accommodation and food service at £20.70 in the second quarter of 2020, compared with £11.80 in the first quarter, and £10.60 a year earlier in the second quarter of 2019. This 95.4% increase on the same period in 2019 reflects the cost of the high number of employees furloughed in the hospitality sector. 

Operators should be preparing for a “covid Christmas” by getting maximum value from the employees they are able to keep working. At this stage, it seems the best approach is to make plans based on the current restrictions, including the six-person limit on party size and the 10pm curfew, but to make sure further changes can be implemented if rules are tightened or – unlikely though it seems – relaxed. 

Having the right team members working the right shifts is going to be more important than ever, and business owners, managers and staff will need to be flexible as the situation evolves between now and Christmas.

Bizimply’s Christmas staff planning guide

1. Put your general manager front of house: At times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to have the very best GMs running your pubs, bars or restaurants – and to make them highly visible. A strong general manager leading their team and interacting with customers provides reassurance that the venue will provide a special festive experience, while keeping everyone safe. 

2. Plan your rota in advance… Although this festive season is going to be different in many ways to past years, there will still be a number of familiar patterns to factor in, such as staff members who won’t want to work certain days because of family commitments. So consulting with your team and publishing your rota well in advance allows them to manage their work-life balance and keeps them motivated in their jobs.

3. … but build in flexibility: Chances are, the staff rota you carefully draw up to cover the festive season will have to be redesigned if any of your team members are impacted by coronavirus, either needing to self-isolate or caring for children if schools close, for example. Not to mention any further hospitality-specific edicts from the government. 

4. Speed up staff rota admin: Bizimply estimates GMs can spend up to six hours a week creating a staff rota using Excel or similar. That’s a chunk of time where they’re not on the shop floor doing what they’re best at – managing the business. So equipping them with good software to produce rotas and payroll should be a priority – especially given that staff scheduling is likely to be more complex than usual this festive season. Giving this time back to GMs is why Bizimply’s solutions were designed: one operator using their software is now creating rotas for 60 team members, across five sites, in just one hour a week.

5. Monitor your team’s health: Operators need an up-to-date snapshot of their team members’ health and fitness to work. Bizimply’s Attendance Questionnaire allows operators to design their own questionnaire that automatically appears on-screen as staff members log on to Bizimply’s clock-in app at the start of their shift. By asking a few questions about known covid-19 symptoms, employers can be kept informed of any team members who might have the virus and take appropriate action. This simple, daily questioning reassures staff their employer cares about protecting their health and that of their customers, meaning they feel confident about their working environment, and more motivated to deliver an outstanding festive experience for customers. 

Conor Shaw is the CEO of Bizimply, which offers workforce, HR and operations management and works with businesses with hourly paid employees across the UK and Ireland

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