Attrition is the norm in Hyderabad’s booming food industry and restaurateurs are going all out to adopt employee-friendly measures

There is a price tag on loyalty in Hyderabad’s burgeoning food industry. Restaurateurs will tell you that it takes nothing more than Rs.500 or Rs.1000 for a member of the kitchen or service staff to switch loyalty and seek employment elsewhere. Getting the three prerequisites — good food, great ambience and impeccable service — of the hospitality industry right are easier said than done. In a situation where new players enter the food industry wanting a pie of the lucrative business, poaching has become the norm.

Owners of restaurants and cafés are leaving nothing to chance — from adopting employee-friendly measures to training junior staff in the eventuality of senior kitchen staff quitting.

Specialty chefs are in high demand and sensing that, Vikas Passary of So and Little Italy feels it’s good to adopt a two-tier system. “You need to have substitute chefs so that if one person quits or goes on leave due to personal commitments, the quality of food doesn’t suffer,” says Vikas.

Balram Narayankar hired two chefs from Greece for his Greek-themed restaurant The Blue Door and amusingly was witness to other restaurant owners trying to lure them with lucrative pay packets. “There is scarcity of specialty chefs in the city. It is so important to have a friendly equation with those who work with you or you end up losing them. Though we opened the restaurant this year, I know the chefs since July 2012. The service staff is equally important but most footfalls depend on the quality of food. You can’t falter in the kitchen,” says Balram.

The owners themselves being knowledgeable about food helps. Chefs-turned-restaurateurs have an advantage in this area. From being able to point out food nitty-gritty during cuisine trials to ensuring quality control in the kitchen, they score over restaurateurs who merely look at their ventures as business enterprises run by their staff. “My staff knows that if there is a necessity, I can handle a few things in the kitchen,” says Vikas.

Swapna Gangadharan, a foodie and partner of Truffles Café, feels there is no room for kitchen secrets. “Experienced chefs should be open to sharing tips and tricks with younger members. That’s the only way you will have back-up staff. It is easy to find chefs who whip up great food. But good attitude is hard to come by,” she says.

If the kitchen has its own challenges, the service staff can also give owners sleepless nights. Here, loyalty goes for a toss for a few hundred rupees. Apart from timely monetary incentives, a few owners also volunteer to help employees during personal crisis. “One of my staff from Nepal had to suddenly go home following his father’s death. I paid for his flight tickets. A few thousand rupees may be a small amount for owners but a huge one for employees,” adds Vikas. Needless to add, the staff member has been loyal to the restaurant.

In many eateries, service staff is paid in cash and dealings with other restaurant owners happen on the sly. There is no offer letter, pay slip or bank account. “The employees are mostly from Orissa, Bihar or the North East, eager to earn as much as they can and send some money home. They don’t realise the need to plan a long-term career. Initially, I found it tough to explain the importance of an offer letter or make them open bank accounts,” says Swapna.

Despite all these measures, a few members of the staff quit without notice. Days of staff crunch are inevitable in spite of back-up plans. Owners and the rest of the staff resort to working over time until new members come aboard. “The show has to go on,” smiles Vikas.