Here’s what three of our members are doing to get ready for a busy summer season.
By Paul Schlienz
You don’t need us to tell you about the importance of high season for your business. If you’re in the hospitality industry in Washington state, you know how much of a boost summer can bring to your bottom line.
The vacation season brings tourists and tourism dollars, and the better weather, longer days and summer time events and activities encourages everyone, out of towners and residents alike, to enjoy life by relaxing, eating out and enjoying new experiences. All good news for hospitality businesses.
“It’s a fun business, and we’re always excited about the summer season,” said Tom Diller, who owns the Lopez Islander Resort in the San Juan Islands.
Any way you look at it, this is a season you want to take full advantage of. Here are a few words of advice from several Washington Hospitality members whose businesses thrive with the influx of summer business.
Not surprisingly, hiring is a primary concern as the summer approaches.
“Although we accept resumes and applications year-round, we start looking for the summer season positions in February and March for proper matches to our team by word of mouth or on Indeed,” said Chris Simpson, director of sales and marketing at The Chrysalis Inn & Spa and Keenan’s at the Pier in Bellingham. “First impressions are key.”
Bret Wirta, CEO and owner of Wirta Hospitality International, a company that owns three properties in Sequim – the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Quality Inn and Suites and Brown Bear Diner – in addition to the Magnuson Hotel Papago in Scottsdale, Ariz., concurs with Simpson on the importance of hiring early for the high season.
“Ideally, what we want to avoid is having candidates just before you need them,” said Wirta. “The cardinal sin is to wait too long to start the hiring process. If you do that, you’ll be forced to hire anyone who walks through the door and end up with warm bodies rather than really good candidates for your positions. We make sure that by summer, our interviews are all done.”
Diller has a unique perspective, operating a property on an island accessible only by ferry.
“We are a destination, and we have to be very conscious of the season,” said Diller. “Hiring is something you do with the season. We put out ads and look locally for candidates. We advertise in May and June. We’re on an island, so it’s a little different for us. We’re looking for people who live on the island or those who are willing to go to work on the ferry each day. It’s a higher level of commitment.”
Once you have your staff, the next step is to train your new employees, so they’re prepared to face the crowds and pressures of the high season.
The Chrysalis Resort utilizes a unique and especially clever way of getting its new hires up to speed.
“We pair our new employees with a designated trainer or the manager for at least two or more shifts,” said Simpson. “The trainers have the new hire shadow them. Then on the third or fourth shift, as appropriate, the roles shift, and the trainer shadows the new hire, correcting any errors made or training items missed during the initial two or more days of training.”
Wirta, for his part, uses two very different training tracks, depending on whether they are prospective managers or regular staff members.
“If new hires are management candidates, we put them in a 90-day training plan,” said Wirta. “Regular staff training is a combination of corporate and franchise training.”
For Diller, one of his chief concerns, at the Lopez Islander, is making sure his new and old employees are fully integrated as a coherent staff.
“We always try to have an initiation meeting,” said Diller. “That way, we can help our new employees learn the lay of the land and introduce them to our experienced staff members. We have a core group that comes back every year. We always work hard to integrate our core group and the new people. Our approach is meetings first, then training. We also keep in mind that not everyone is going to arrive on June 1. As a result, we have ongoing training.”
As the summer approaches, revamping menus is another way restaurants take advantage of the season and all it has to offer.
“We have a series of internal discussions about the summer menu,” Diller said. “We talk through what people like, what they may not like as much, and we look for opportunities for experimenting with new items that are available. Plus, we always hold onto the tried and true. Our summer menu is 80/20. Eighty percent is core items, while 20 percent will be new items.”
Summer revamps are also very much on the menu at Keenan’s on the Pier.
“We try to match as many cocktails and wine to the season,” said Simpson. “Magazine publications like Imbibe, Wine Spectator and Decanter are useful as well to offer inspiration and inform us of new trends and guest expectations in wine and spirits. For the foods featured on our spring/summer menu, we look to what will be in season and available locally. Lighter, brighter foods and preparations are highlighted.
“Sometimes it is just a matter of what we, as a team, are currently enjoying and want our guests to try.”
For Wirta, whose Brown Bear Diner franchise was recently honored as Diner of the Year out of 108 Brown Bear Diners, menu planning is not an option.
“We created our hospitality business a dozen years ago,” Wirta said. “We chose the franchise model. Decisions regarding menu are out of our hands. We have a corporate chef who serves the entire chain and is responsible for that. We do make decisions with daily specials, not seasonal decisions, but daily decisions. For example, if we have prime rib left over from last night, we’ll have prime rib omelet special in the morning.”
Social Media and Technology
While Wirta is not active in menu planning, by contrast, his company is very active in social media.
“We have a very large Facebook following that is close to 3,000,” said Wirta.
“We extensively use Facebook and other social media. As soon as weather turns nice, we’ll show photos of the scenery, our activities, and features like our pet-friendly deck at the restaurant. We are on social media 365 years a year on the Olympic Peninsula. We probably post more than anyone else around here. Among other things, we work with Yelp! and the Peninsula Daily News.”
Additionally, Wirta is looking at tech upgrades, especially for the back-of-the-house at his Black Bear Diner
“We are always looking at tech upgrades,” said Wirta. “Black Bear is looking at ways of reordering the kitchen, making the ordering process more efficient. Still, we’re fairly low tech other than tech in the kitchen and the tech ordering processing. We don’t take reservations although we do have a new takeout ordering system online that’s good to go for the summer.
“We’re high touch people as opposed to high tech people. Hospitality is always the first thing on our minds whether in the summer or any other time of the year.”
GETTING READY RESOURCES
Here are several ways Washington Hospitality can help you get ready for the busy season that is just around the corner.
Free Online Job Listings
Thanks to the partnership between Washington Hospitality and the Washington Employment Security Department, hospitality employers and future hospitality employees have a powerful website to build staffs and launch careers.
WAHospitalityCareers.com is focused on the hospitality industry and provides tools that make it easier for employers to find and hire qualified candidates. You can post jobs and manage candidates on the site, all at no charge. The site is within WorkSourceWA.com.
In-Person Hiring Events
On May 31, the Washington Hospitality Association will present a special Hospitality Hiring Event at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma.
Participating employers will have the opportunity to hire pre-screened, employable and ready-to-interview candidates actively looking for hospitality employment, all made possible by the Association’s partnership with the Employment Security Department and the Washington State Department of Health and Social Services.
The Hospitality Hiring Events are designed to help candidates get past typical roadblocks to employment such as a lack of transportation, certification or permit, uniforms or food assistance. Eligible applicants can receive a food handler’s permit, free or discounted Orca Lift cards, childcare assistance vouchers and other resources for their first 12 months of employment. Receiving this type of support will help employees be more successful and fully engaged at their new workplaces.
Look for more information about this and other Hiring Events in upcoming communications from Washington Hospitality, or call 1.800.225.7166 for details.
The Washington Hospitality Association Education Foundation is your go-to resource for employee training, and EF’s new training menu makes it easier than ever to provide your employees with training to help them deliver the highest standards of service and safety.
Top on the menu are perennial ServSafe favorites ServSafe Manager, ServSafe Alcohol and ServSafe Allergens training, followed by Hospitality Workplace Safety, First Aid/CPR/AED, Bloodborne Pathogen and Customer Service Training.
Learn more at wahospitality.org/education-foundation-training-menu.
Free Access to Consultants and Industry Experts
If you’re in a pinch, the best way to get quick advice from an expert is to tap into the Advisory Network that comes with your membership. Advisory Network consultants span a wide range of fields and expertise, and they can help you address operations, HR or other issues. Lease renegotiation issues, P&L concerns, overtime rules, termination questions are among the frequent topics members bring to their membership partners. Your area coordinator can set you up with the right Advisory Network expert for 30-minutes of free consulting.
Your Membership Team!
Washington Hospitality has a membership team dedicated to helping you get the information, resources and services you need to succeed. Your Area Coordinator can connect you to all of the resources listed on this page and much more.
If you don’t already have your AC on speed dial, call 360.956.7279 to get connected.
(Source: WA Hospitality Magazine, April 2018)