Restaurants hungry for staff

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am

Labour shortage means Cafe Deco group needs 'a lot of people'

While visitors to Macau marvel at the mushrooming of casinos and state-of-the-art gaming facilities, they also enjoy a wide array of international cuisines, especially with the arrival of The Venetian Macau.

Hiring is at a peak in Macau's food and beverage industry, which is generating jobs at a pace that is in line with the enclave's rapid economic development. Meanwhile, food and beverage operators are battling for talent in a market suffering a labour shortfall.

Among The Venetian's most recent developments is Cafe Deco, the flagship restaurant of the fine-dining venue at The Peak, in Hong Kong. The restaurant, which opened last month, has a mandate to maintain the highest quality of service, despite labour constraints.

'We are still understaffed,' said Jeanie Lee, director of human resources and administration for the Cafe Deco Group in Macau.

'With German Bierhaus and a new restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel opening next year, we will need a lot of people.'

Cafe Deco has 250 frontline and back-of-the-house staff. With a dining space of 33,000 square feet, it is The Venetian's largest dining facility.

The Cafe Deco Group's Macau operation boasts a multinational culture, with staff hailing from a variety of countries, including Hong Kong, the mainland, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, Nepal, Germany, and the United States.

This cosmopolitan staff mix can sometimes pose a challenge to management.

'We are trying to balance the ratio of local to overseas staff,' Ms Lee said. 'We are aiming to increase local staff to at least 70 per cent of our total workforce.'

To ensure the group recruits the best people, Ms Lee makes regular trips to countries in Southeast Asia to conduct interviews and hire staff.

Macau's food and beverage industry, like its gaming and hotel industries, depends on the mainland and Southeast Asia as a source of labour to fill junior positions. Employment opportunities also exist for overseas talent to fill senior and middle management positions.

Ms Lee said her company aimed to hire qualified locals to take up middle management positions for the long term.

'Foreign talent, especially in management, bring in skills that we are lacking, and they are teaching the locals. It's a win-win situation,' she said.

Rather than using a high-salary strategy to vie for talent among rival restaurants, the Cafe Deco Group seeks to attract and retain staff by emphasising the value it attaches to its people.

'We offer our employees a good compensation scheme, and we try to be on par with our competitors by providing market-rate benefits, including hospital and dental coverage among other things,' Ms Lee said.

The group believes in taking care of staff and listening to their suggestions, she added.

'We also give them training and exposure to keep them motivated in their jobs and let them see a career path with our company.'

Most of the staff hired already have years of food and beverage experience, but they still undergo continuous training. Ongoing training is part of the group's human resource development strategy.

Cafe Deco's on-the-job training includes language and work-related courses. 'Our staff from the mainland get to improve their English, and our English-speaking staff have a chance to learn Mandarin,' Ms Lee said.

The ongoing fight for talent from all industries in Macau means that retaining staff is as crucial as recruiting employees.

'My strategy is to keep an open channel of communication for our staff. We encourage them to talk and give us feedback,' Ms Lee said. 'Caring is not enough. We try to do something by acting on their feedback. I don't pay lip service when dealing with staff.'

To nurture a sense of belonging, the group has created a staff referral programme. The rewards include bonuses and an employee-of-the-month award. Other initiatives include an exchange programme for staff to gain work exposure at Cafe Deco operations overseas.

Staff also have plenty of opportunities for rapid promotion. Expansion of the group's operations means a proliferation of career opportunities.

In the pipeline were the German Bierhaus, part of the group's second phase of expansion at The Venetian, and an outlet at the Four Seasons Hotel.

These would require an additional staff of 200 across the board to cope with rapid business expansion, Ms Lee said.

Cosmopolitan culture

The Macau operation boasts a multinational culture, with more than 250 staff recruited locally and from overseas

Senior and middle-management positions for overseas talent

The management values open communication with staff, and offers a competitive remuneration package with market-rate benefits to motivate and retain staff

Training for staff is provided on a continuing basis and is incorporated into the company's human resource development strategy

With the opening of the German Bierhaus and its new restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel, an additional 200 staff will be hired