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NH Hospitality Evolves with Changing Marketplace
 
Published Wednesday, March 22, 2017
by Eric Goodwin

The hospitality industry in NH has changed dramatically over the past two decades and continues to evolve rapidly. The influx of chains and new independent restaurants and the rise of social media have raised the bar for NH establishments to remain competitive in an increasingly diverse marketplace.  A simultaneous shortage of hospitality workers continues to be an issue across the country, but keenly felt in states like New Hampshire that rely on tourists. The good news is that these challenges can be met with savvy management and by leveraging the many advantages of professional outsourcing for recruiting.

Chains and “Indies” Driving Change

The number of chain restaurants in NH has increased exponentially in recent years, with nearly every national brand opening their doors across the state, even in the smallest towns. While ramping up competition, this influx has also forced independent owners to step up their level of operations to match and exceed what chains have introduced: new culinary experiences and set of expectations for a reasonably priced experience in a cool, modern building with an enticing atmosphere. 

Locally, new independent restaurants have created higher demand for casual upscale bars with small plates, replacing traditional “white tablecloth” settings. The result is that favorites from previous eras, such as Yokens and Green Ridge Turkey Farm, have virtually disappeared. In their place are leaner, modern facilities that are agile in responding to evolving dining preferences.

“Indies” also play a major role in influencing guests’ culinary preferences. The introduction of farm-to-table menus, craft beers, and gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan offerings has had a tangible effect on the overall dining experience. Guests now want to know what’s in their food, and appreciate local, fresh ingredients. This is forcing restaurants to be more mindful of their sourcing practices. New Hampshire businesses can benefit from the state’s many farms and markets, who are proving to be excellent business partners in meeting this new challenge.

Going Social

The rise of social media has turned ratings platforms such as Trip Advisor and Yelp into key influencers for the general public in selecting where they choose to eat or stay – a positive change, but potentially flawed. The benefits of social media as a promotional tool all too often turn against proprietors, who are nearly defenseless against bad reviews. Professional public relations agencies can play an important role in conquering the new ratings world, bringing expertise in combining active management of social media channels with traditional media outreach. Looking at what’s in store for the lodging sector, Expedia and Travelocity have been game-changers on the hotel side, but the impact of AirBnb, the “new kid on the block,” is just beginning to be felt in NH.

Focusing on Talent

The hospitality business is the second highest employer in the United States, after the government, and the employment landscape in the NH hospitality industry is competing for talent.  In the past, restaurant and hotel management was considered a somewhat staid sector. Fast forward to 2017, and the culinary world has increased its “coolness quotient,” becoming much sexier as a career with the popularity of cooking competition shows on TV as well as food itself trending high on social media.  As a result, the new creative and innovative nature of restaurant menus has transformed the talent pool.

Statistically, between 2000-2010 the hospitality industry was short 1.6 million managers and it is still short 1.8 million managers. This across-the-board manpower shortage is a net gain for both high-potential candidates and those who broker talent.

Severe hospitality talent shortages in New Hampshire and around the country mean casting a wider net for talent has become essential. That is why large companies—and even one-unit restaurants, hotels, inns and contract food services—are turning to search firms to gain access to a larger pool of professionally vetted candidates.

Learning Leadership

Successful hotel and restaurant companies have learned that building a strong team is essential to achieve the company’s mission, meet and exceed its standards and ultimately provide a positive guest experience. There are several important keys to success in recruiting top talent in the hospitality industry. First, it’s important to understand that recruiting top talent is three-dimensional, going beyond just salary. Second, far too many establishments operate reactively rather than proactively. Interviewing, hiring and training must be a focus 365-days a year.

On the management level, a business has to offer more than money; on the list of importance for candidates, salary is ranked 3rd. The top two requirements on the list are quality of life and feeling a part of something. A successful manager strives to contribute to a larger mission, wholeheartedly believing in the mission of the organization, and craves challenges. 

With regard to staffing non-management positions, finding top A+ team players is the main priority. However, teams should be developed with clear pathways for professional growth, and include challenging projects. Communication and responding to feedback are also important to teambuilding, so surveying staff on the important day-to-day operations, and being open to change when needed are good business practices. Allowing the team to participate in setting goals as business partners is also vital to maintain a high level of engagement.

In the hospitality business where there are many types of job candidates, selection often it comes down to hiring personality vs. experience.  Nearly anyone can be taught about the business, so what matters more in this industry are the personality traits a person exhibits.   All great companies hire to fit a very specific profile, but the hospitality industry often tends to “wing it” too much. Having a candidate work a day or two in the spirit of “a day in the life” is also important, giving everyone a feel for each other which provides a better sense of who may be the best fit. Hiring someone who is just a “warm body” is never a good business practice.

Looking to the Future

Although statistics show that the hospitality industry is roughly flat in growth, the reality is that in New Hampshire, more and more establishments are opening their doors each day. Great operators will succeed and have future sustainability, because eating out and traveling are core tenets of life in America.

Since the beginning of time, humans have gathered, collaborated, and bonded amongst the presence of food. It is essentially in our nature to come together over the dinner table. Just witness what happens when tragedy strikes a community - people gather back in the restaurants and cafés and bars literally the same or next day. 

No matter what, the socialization of food, alcohol, seeing places, exploring, and gathering will always be there. The hospitality industry may have its ups and downs, but it will always be a major player in U.S. business and an important part of American life.

 

Eric Goodwin is founder and president of Goodwin Hospitality in Concord, providing recruiting services to the hospitality industry as well as mystery shopping, mobile field audit technology, guest feedback surveys, and employee feedback surveys, and owns CampusFeedback.com which specifically supports the private education sector. Goodwin Hospitality has been recognized as a 2015 Top 10 NH Business to Watch and a Top 10 NH Family Business by Business NH Magazine. Named the 2014 New Hampshire Restaurateur of the Year, Goodwin is owner of The Friendly Toast restaurant in Portsmouth and will open another location in the new Macy’s development area in Bedford.   

 

 

 

 

 

 


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