Coronavirus: ‘Resilient’ F&B staff looking to bounce back following redundancies

Published: 31 March 2020 - 6:15 a.m.
By: Hotelier Middle East Staff
Having survived one redundancy in October 2019 and started a new job at a luxury café chain in Dubai in February 2020, Rebecca O’Brien didn’t expect to be job hunting again so soon. But, along came the coronavirus, Covid-19.

O’Brien is one of many F&B staff who have lost their jobs following the almost complete shutdown of the industry in the past few weeks, something few people saw coming just a couple of months ago.

Speaking to sister publication Caterer Middle East, she said: “I expected the situation to worsen, but not to this extent to be honest. I’m sure hospitality professionals all over the world were a little worried at first, but the swift escalation of the pandemic has destroyed people’s businesses at an alarming rate.”

Once more looking for work, O’Brien understands it’s the worst possible time to be doing so, saying: “As expected, it is very slow. No new jobs are being advertised which is completely understandable at the moment. Who would recruit in the hospitality sector or any other industry for that matter while the economy is crashing massively?”

Joining O’Brien in the job search is 30-year hospitality veteran Darryl Downs. Downs also started a new role with an F&B company in 2020 and has been placed on “indefinite unpaid leave” due to the current situation, meaning he is “essentially back on the market”.

Downs is yet to fully commit to finding a new role, but has reached out to his professional network to let them know he would be open to a new opportunity, and is instead trying to stay positive about the extra free time on his hands. He said: “The market is out of the individual’s hands. Someone in my position can only try to better themselves in the interim. This is a time to recharge and get those creative juices flowing. It’s rare to be able to have this time to reflect. We should all try and take advantage of the current situation from that standpoint; acknowledging that many right now don’t have the same luxury I do, to be able to do so.”

In his 30 years, Downs says he has never experienced anything like the current situation, something F&B recruitment experts Food People agree with.

Managing partner Luke Truin told Caterer that it is an “unprecedented situation” and one that is affecting much of the industry. He said: “Understandably, the nature of F&B services is changing to adapt accordingly, with many companies exploring new ways to carry on business. We are noticing that with necessary preventative and precautionary measures for restaurants, the dine-in sector is being affected. However, this has been providing an increased opportunity for delivery.”'

For those who have been made out of work, fellow managing partner Greg Wright say it’s about standing out from the pack: “Considering the current economic situation, people understand that the volume of new opportunities is changing. Nevertheless, there are candidates who have taken this time to be more proactive than normal, continuing to reach out about job opportunities. Proactivity is a quality we support at Food People, and we appreciate people that continue to demonstrate this.”

While Food People is suggesting its partners don’t hire at the moment unless it’s for a role “considered critical to business”, that doesn’t mean out of work F&B staff should give up hope.

Truin said: “It is still important for business leaders to consider talent pipelining. The truth is, we cannot predict what will happen once we have overcome this pandemic. That’s why our approach is to work with our partners to ensure that they are still analysing talent for when the right time comes.”

However, with no one knowing how long it will be until the sector returns to normal, that may be too late for some who don’t have saving or other options in place.

According to O’Brien, the general feeling across the industry at the moment in terms of job security is “sheer panic”.

“The future for all industries and individuals is extremely uncertain,” she said. “Hospitality professionals are being asked to take months of unpaid leave which is extremely unfair. They can’t return home due to flight restrictions so what are they supposed to do? How will they live? How will they eat? There needs to be some government restrictions on employers imposing unpaid leave, as it is becoming a normal practice, which is completely unethical.”

Downs also called on more help to be given to businesses, saying that “a large burden could be lifted off the individuals and closed businesses by potentially halting rent for one to three months and adding those months to the backend of the agreement terms. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to pull together and get through this as soon as possible”.

There’s no doubt that the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be significant, with Downs saying it may result in a “survival of the fittest effect on business in the industry” with the ones that stay true to concept, brand, and their human capital surviving and being much stronger as a result.

For now both Downs and O’Brien are looking on the bright side, with O’Brien predicting “a huge influx of recruitment in the hospitality sector when this pandemic is over and the industry stabilises”.

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