Windward Management: Irish Hospitality Industry Remerging more Attractive than Ever
The recently-reported case of the Ivy Restaurant in Dublin has highlighted the kind of negative narrative that many have come to associate with the hotel-and-catering sector – that of an industry where people are not appreciated, are ill-educated and taken advantage of and who aren’t compensated correctly for the work they do. The same establishment got into hot water two years ago when it was revealed that they were taking in tips as company revenue even though they were clearly destined for the staff.
Another example of unwarranted negativity towards the hotel and catering sector came in the form of the furore surrounding the National Gallery of Ireland’s restaurant. Here, it was a number of artists who felt that a company supplying catering services to Direct Provision centres (US company Aramark) shouldn’t have a place in the National Gallery; in spite of the fact that Aramark had successfully passed a transparent tender process to be awarded the management of the National Gallery’s restaurant.
For companies based in Ireland, there is a strong realisation that hotels and restaurants need to improve their offer if they are to attract and retain staff. This is a trend that had already been well established before the Lockdown but which has been exacerbated by it and many companies had already been putting the elements in place in what is turning into a national movement, making careers in hotel and catering more attractive than they have possibly ever been.
Take Windward Management, for example. This Irish group operates fifteen hotels in Ireland and the Continent, including Harvey’s Point in Donegal, Farnham Estate in Cavan and the Gresham Belson in Brussels.
“Recruitment and retention have been among the biggest challenges for our industry,” says Amanda Meade, Group Human Resources Manager at Windward Management.
During the Lockdown periods, she says, the challenge became more pronounced but it also gave them time to reflect on the offering that their staff were getting:
“We took the time to have a look at what it is that we were offering our team members,” says Amanda, “and to see if we could improve both the pay-related and the non-pay-related aspects of the working conditions; to bring people into the business and to keep them here.”
One of the biggest initiatives Windward Management undertook was to review the pay rates of the company.
“The hospitality industry is known as a minimum-wage industry and we realised that that’s not attractive for anybody anymore, and we also realised that we’re competing with the likes of Aldi or Lidl, who are paying the living wage.”
Windward Management took the decision to up the entry-level pay to what they termed “The Modern Wage” – either €11.20 or €11.50/hour. It’s a step up from the minimum wage and it is very possibly the first company in the Irish hotel industry to make such a formal move.
“After six months, they get a further 50c increase and after a further six months, they get an additional 50c increase on their hourly wage.”
This means that when they start, employees are already getting €1 per hour more than they would ordinarily expect to be getting elsewhere (starting minimum wage level) and after a year, that advantage will have increased by €2/hour.
It’s a significant impact on someone working a forty-hour week and it implies a real cost to the company. Whether or not that additional cost is worth the investment is the key question for any hotel business.
“In September 2021, we rolled that out for all positions in the business where the pay rate was under €27,000/year,” adds Ms Meade. “It was something that we realised we would have to do – that even though it cost a lot, we would have to do something to entice people back after the Pandemic… It’s future-proofing, in a sense; rather than waiting for the minimum wage to be imposed upon us, we decided to be pro-active.”
Irish Hospitality Industry Remerging more Attractive than Ever
The company has been pro-active too when it comes to their younger employees, she adds. A their age, there isn’t a legal requirement to pay them the minimum wage, but their pay rate has been moved up too and the company is now no longer a minimum-wage employer for anyone on their staff.
This “Modern Wage” initiative underlines just how important this issue has become and how seriously companies are taking it. With others, the concentration has been more on the conditions than the pay rates or, if the pay rates are increased, they have been done on a less formalised basis than the Modern Wage idea at Windward.
The Galgorm Collection in Northern Ireland, for example, have taken the decision to offer every employee full private medical insurance. It’s not quite a golden handcuff but it’s a very attractive bonus for working with them that can make it all worthwhile.
“The industry needs to wake up to the fact that it’s not just competing with other businesses in hospitality,” says Galgorm head Colin Johnston. “You really need to compete against retail, finance, IT… We focused on the question of how we make the lives for people who work for us better. Money is a big part of it but it’s not everything. If you’re working for 60 hours a week, money doesn’t mean anything because you can’t spend it. So it’s a mixture of the work/life balance and then increase the overall package.”
Their approach in this regard has allowed them to grow, he says.
At the iNua Collection, they’ve increased the overall package too, by improving the wage structure and the working conditions, ensuring that people enjoy their work:
“What’s important for us too is that we’re creating a very happy and fun place to work,” says iNua chief Seán O’Driscoll. “A lot of people work in hospitality because they really enjoy the people interaction and that there’s a nice atmosphere.”
As we all emerge bleary-eyed into the new post-Pandemic world, we’ll hope to have gained something from this difficult experience. Right now, the re-emergent Irish hospitality industry is showing that it most certainly has.