NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Following a pandemic with unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, hotel employers like many other industries in Nashville offer unprecedented incentives to help hire back a full staff.
"Staffing has been a challenge. I think it's a challenge throughout all of Nashville right now," explained Heather Karst, food and beverage general manager for the Dream Nashville Hotel.
"It's definitely not back to normal. It's extremely competitive... The market’s always changing. And there's a lot more hotels coming through the door. So how are we going to stand out? How are we going to be different? I think we really have to think outside the box. So what else can we offer our team?" explained Keli Hewson, human resources director for Dream Nashville.
Dream Nashville offers the following benefits which they said go beyond industry standards: 401(k)s with 4% matching, dental and vision insurance, health insurance starting at $32 a paycheck, an HSA account, long-term and short-term disability, life insurance, continuing education opportunities, referral bonuses, $7 parking within a five-minute walk, two free meals a day, a 30% employee discount at hotel's restaurant and bars, and pet insurance.
Dream Nashville's Director of Rooms Jose Rodriguez said since the incentives were implemented in mid-2021 they already made a difference in the hiring process.
"Offering this kind of incentives and always offering the team a positive work environment and knowing and being able to even give them examples of how growth worked in the company of how much growth opportunity there is in the company it has helped us retain people a lot more than before," explained Rodriguez.
He said hiring was never a cakewalk but the pandemic added extra curveballs.
"Before [the pandemic] they [guests] go to a hotel, they're like ‘Yes, I just want to have fun!’ But now people go to hotels and they're like, ‘Well, yes, I want to have fun but I also want a quiet space but also want a desk. But I also want to be able to work, but I also want to be able to print, but I also want to be able to do this,'" said Rodriguez. "So people now come with a lot more expectations without a lot more requests... And a lot of people [staff] that have been doing this for some time just don't feel comfortable. They just find it harder. They find it a lot more challenging. Some people just are not okay with it. And you, we have seen a lot of people just leave the industry."
With the added demands of the job, he said it has not been easy securing talent.
"People now come with a lot more expectations. Or you know, 'I was home for a whole year and I was making this and I do expect you to come and work do all this work for a little less,'" explained Rodriguez. "'Well, you know, situations are different and unfortunately you're coming back from a much different situation but work is work it's time to come back to realities.'"
Karst who has worked in the hotel industry in Nashville for nearly a decade explained hospitality is a "lucrative career" in Nashville.
She said, "The growth—like just endless possibilities throughout the hospitality industry right now. Because we don't have a lot of really strong operators in this market. So, if you come in and you work hard, and this is something that you truly love to do, there is a very good chance that you will move up quickly."
Part of why she encouraged entering hospitality centered on the idea that if you start in food and beverage and end up wanting to pursue something in marketing or management, those opportunities exist in-house too.
"If you looked at Nashville as a whole in this market as a whole and hospitality five years ago, we weren't taken seriously as all at all right? Like everybody looks at the bigger markets when they think of hospitality as a career. And I think just how busy tourism is here, and how busy hotels are as a result of that like even wages are very competitive compared to other markets, which is exciting because it's giving us better candidates overall to interview and to get in the door," explained Karst.
Other Nashville hotels including the Kimpton Aertson Hotel told NewsChannel 5 they are also offering unprecedented incentives to try to stay competitive.
"Beginning in 2022, our food and beverage team’s benefit packages are improving, particularly with respect to wellness days and paid time off accrual. Team members will receive a minimum of 3 days of paid time off for wellness purposes, as well as eight paid holidays," explained Mark Hayes, Kimton Aertson Hotel general manager. "This is more in line with hotel benefits and counter to historical industry standards for restaurants & bars that have extended only a few to no paid holidays and no PTO."
When possible, Hayes said the Kimton Aertson Hotel will offer work-from-home options but realize that is not possible for all hospitality staff.
"For employees who have a substantial commute, i.e. Clarksville, we frequently provide a complimentary room for the night when they have an evening shift, followed by a morning shift to help provide more [of] them more downtime between their hours on the clock," he explained.
Hayes' hotel is also offering referral bonuses between $500 and $2,000 depending on the position referred.
Although the competition is fierce, Rodriguez said hiring at any hotel in the post-pandemic climate is all about adapting.
"Everybody’s fighting for people and then sometimes you can find somebody that you really like and you think you have someone somebody secure and next thing you know, they decided to go somewhere else for an extra dollar an hour," explained Rodriguez. "It is very challenging, but again, it's just a matter of keep trying."