Cross-Industry Hiring Decisions: Recruiting Leaders from the (System Chain) Restaurant Industry – Opportunities and Threats for Lodging Operators to Consider


Hoteliers have historically considered the Food & Beverage (F&B) department as a loss leader, a ‘must-have’ to appease paying hotel guests. To put it bluntly, money was to be made on the rooms side of the business. Yet, times and attitudes have changed. Clients have become more discerning and thirstier for authentic and local experiences to tease their taste buds whilst hoteliers have recognised that their in-house F&B offering can be a point of differentiation.

With a hotel’s restaurant and bar proposition suddenly in the limelight more than ever, the industry is increasingly focusing on how to turn things around and be more profitable in the F&B department. Having already worked on tweaking concepts, luring in guests with celebrity chefs, altering layouts and rolling out open-lobby concepts, the attention has often turned to swapping out senior leadership.

The amount of times Aethos’ clients from the accommodation sector have sought assistance to poach and retain senior executives specifically from the (system chain) restaurant, contract catering or retail space to “bring on board and instil ‘high street’ thinking” has probably quadrupled in the last 24 months. However, is this really the ‘silver bullet’…?

The High Street Is Dead – Long Live The High Street (Thinking)

It is slightly ironic that the accommodation sector would be looking to find a solution within the retail and high-street space when the very sector is experiencing, at this moment in time, a considerable downturn. Retailers and high-street restaurant chains alike have been sending out profit warnings left, right and centre, and are apparently struggling to keep up with the changes in consumer behaviour.

However, this should not reflect upon the leadership capabilities of executives within this space. And, to be frank, many of the companies are struggling not because they are operationally unsound or because the concept is out-of-date, but because the firms have been overleveraged and/or been pushed too hard by ownership to expand too quickly.

Be that as it may, hoteliers have identified certain skill sets and character traits that such ‘industry outsiders’ could bring to the table that could be very useful within the accommodation sector. When it comes to recruitment and leadership aspects, however, there are many nuances to be considered – the following SWOT illustrates some of them:

It is considered a fact that players in the (system chain) restaurant and retail industry have to fight off tougher competition to stay in business; the churn rate of innovative concepts to stay ahead of the game is a lot higher. Consequently, hoteliers often are of the opinion that leaders in those industry subsegments have developed much stronger commercial acumen than their lodging counterparts. Undoubtedly, the accommodation sector could benefit from such ‘new talent,’ and there is certainly something to be said to promote greater industry ‘cross-pollination’ and a more diversified leadership talent pool within both the lodging and restaurants industry. At times, this indeed can be the ‘silver bullet’ that organisations are looking for to turn around operations and/or departmental profitability.

Yet, Aethos™ has observed that not all players in the hotel and lodging industry are as open as they might think to take on board senior leaders from other sectors, nor do they appreciate what it takes financially speaking to secure some of this talent. At face value, they are eager to instil this often-quoted restaurant ‘high-street’ thinking – but they are seemingly easily ‘blinded’ by the upside of recruiting from outside the sector whilst ignoring some of the potential pitfalls. Yet, the accommodation sector would be fooled if it based its hiring decision purely on those perceived strengths of restauranteurs and retailers. Things are more nuanced than that. For example, to innovate and ‘be different,’ many hotel and lodging organisations are specifically looking for restaurant lifestyle experience – yet, often, they forget that such lifestyle restaurant operators are often very small in scale and not as multifaceted as the accommodation business. Therefore, if executives from such ‘disruptors’ are not properly ‘partnered’ with senior leaders who understand the scale and complexity of a globally operating hotel business, things unravel very quickly. The lodging sector should be encouraged to take such ‘leaps of faith’ and pursue new avenues, but it needs to be fully aware of some of the potential ‘limitations’ of restaurant leaders versus the experienced hotel F&B managers – and, above all, proactively manage those.