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March 7th, 2013

by Total Food Service

Meet the Newsmaker: Mary Gibb


Mary Gibb, President and CEO of Agencia International has enjoyed an esteemed 24 year career in Hospitality with an impeccable reputation in her industry.


Mary Gibb currently owns Australia’s # 1 Restaurant Reception Venue www.courthouserestaurant.com.au. Now based in New York, a city as vibrant and dynamic as the industry itself, her passions have combined to create an unparalleled energy and expertise. As Manhattan’s newest Hospitality Recruitment & Staffing CEO, Mary is engaged in her mission and excited to be here. Agencia’s mission is to serve the needs of the Hospitality Industry with the same dedication, creativity and tenacious work ethic that our clients exhibit daily. It understands hospitality people and will deliver them in the time, and to the standard, that a fiercely competitive New York City environment demands.

Agencia is founded upon Integrity, Expertise, Reliability and a genuine passion for Hospitality and its’ People.

Where did the idea for Agencia come from?
During one of my many visits to New York, I noticed such a huge discrepancy in service standards sometimes even within the same establishment. So I began to investigate staffing, training and any other related topics in the city, to see how these fundamental basics were being handled in such a fiercely competitive environment. I actually found myself mentally matching staff from one establishment to the next as a better fit for the standard. To my surprise there were so few companies focusing on such a huge industry, and the opportunity presented itself.


As a restaurateur what advantage does that give you in understanding the needs of the Agencia customer?On Feb 14th my Australian Restaurant has again been voted Australia’s # 1 Restaurant Reception Venue. Many successful operators will tell you that reaching a level of success is one thing, and then maintaining it is a whole other game. It is often more difficult and gets even more so with time. I am so aware of the commitment, the dedication, the long hours and the strains of the industry. One of the biggest ones is the human resource – at any given time you can have one of your staff upset a loyal customer you have spent years nurturing, or their actions can make you liable in any number of ways. I want to be able to say to New York restaurateurs that I genuinely understand, and whilst I can’t help with all of their other issues, I can certainly listen to and address the staffing issues. Unfortunately there are too many establishments carrying staff as cargo and the worst affected are the establishments that can least afford it.

What were the needs of the marketplace that you served in Australia?
Australia was experiencing a critical skills shortage in the 90’s, and so many organizations were faced with turning business away because they did not have enough staff to manage. We presented an accelerated and highly focused training program to address this, which I am proud to say has been rolled out across other industries over the years. The program we implemented during this time is still operating and is currently our main source of recruitment. The candidates, whom we did not retain at The Courthouse, were able to step into positions in Australia’s best establishments as a result of the training program they undertook with me. Across my 25 years in the industry I have seen every kind of personality and management style, and have developed an intuitive insight into the people.

What brought you to the US and NYC?
This amazing metropolis widely considered the hospitality capital of the world just seemed like the ideal way to expand on my professional hospitality career. It is a natural fit for my energy and passion and I can’t wait to leave my little imprint on the industry.

What makes Agencia different from firms that you compete with?
I think Agencia is one of the very few recruitment companies, which solely focuses on the hospitality industry. It is also one of the only companies, which can look after a hotel’s Executive Director as expertly as the Porter position. Our executive competitors tend to be multi-nationals with massive overheads, and often only background knowledge of the industry they serve. Agencia’s industry expertise is quite literally up to the minute

Walk us through Agencia's view of the marketplace.
The NYC marketplace is both dense and broad with various styles of hospitality establishments and standards. In some respects the city is too big and can more easily hide less competent and less skilled individuals, who would immediately be exposed in a smaller field. Establishments are bearing the high cost of these “passengers” in so many ways and cannot afford to continue this.

With such a gigantic pool of available people, it is tempting for establishments to spend very little time sorting and fill positions with the knowledge that there will be plenty more people if they don’t work out. High staff turnover seems to be an accepted norm of the city and of the industry, and management decisions are being made around this premise rather than trying to address it. Some of the larger, most successful groups have already recognized this and have implemented successful strategies to train and retain their staff. Agencia hopes to be able to assist with this without adding any burden to the managers.
During our active recruitment process what we uncovered was so beautiful. The variety and skill sets of the applicants were as diverse as our client establishments. If only there could be time dedicated to matching them. Our role would be exactly that, to expertly match these up so that the employees can enjoy their work more and therefore be more productive, whilst the employers had better staff retention and a more efficient workforce.

How do you approach your customer's front of the house needs?
Every member of an establishment, but particularly the front of house staff reflects the company. They are often the first point of contact with the customers either by phone or in person, and should at all times represent the establishment the way the owner/manager would like the company’s image to be portrayed. Just as uniforms inform the diner what kind of standard the establishment is, so do its front of house staff. A friendly, energetic & highly efficient server would be perfectly suited to a fast paced establishment, whilst a more formally attired server with poise and quiet efficiency would work better in a fine dining establishment.

What's the approach to culinary and back of the house needs?First priority has to be the skill set for the back of house staff. It must be in line with the operation’s standard of menu and service. As above a very different approach is required of fine dining compared to a fast paced environment, and when accomplished correctly with the right people both can be achieved. Personality types are another integral approach to successfully balancing an establishment’s needs in the back of house. It gets hot in the closed confines of a kitchen and various temperaments need to be balanced carefully to avoid chaos and clashes.
   
Do you have programs for both temporary and permanent needs?
Agencia has tried to address the specific needs of the industry; part of this is the fluctuation of business and the seasonal peaks it can experience. We can provide staff for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks or a full recruitment according to the needs. This flexibility is so important to a business, and our company size means that we can be as flexible as needed to address these.

Talk about your fee structures and how you arrived at them?
The traditionally high cost of recruitment companies has been the biggest inhibiter for restaurants to use them. In a city with an abundance of workers it seems like an expense they do not need. Agencia has tried to address this by focusing on the City’s specific needs, sorting through the crowd of applications being one of the main ones. Our Shortlist Recruitment Option has been devised to give back time, choice and full control to the hiring manager. We present the best 3 candidates, prescreened and reference checked, the shortlist recruitment fee is $880 and is guaranteed for 4 weeks. We have tried to avoid adding yet another expense to an already heavily burdened industry, instead we have tried to price our service in a way that will save our client’s businesses time and money.

Of particular value is the Subscription Based Recruitment Service. One annual fee for this is $3,500 (still less than one single traditional recruit) provides you with up to 4 shortlist recruitment placements per month for the full twelve months. This is one of the ways we can engage with your staffing needs and take much of the strain away. If an establishment was to take a moment to really think about the time it spends advertising, sorting through applications, interviewing, screening, signing up a new employee, the real cost of high staff turnover starts to become apparent. I strongly believe, that in this big vibrant city there are so many people looking for work and so many positions available that if someone invested the time to “match” these in more detail, there would be far less staff turnover, improved productivity, reduced absences, better customer service, which ultimately translates to a better, more competitive business for our clients, and they save time & money in the process.

You offer a rather interesting "Secret Shopper" program, talk about the goals of that program. The “Secret Shopper” style of our business appraisals is the only way to really see what happens and what is being said in your establishment in your absence. Try as you might you simply cannot be there around the clock. If you are a chef owner in particular, this is useful to really see what is happening out front while you toil away in the back. It is not designed to catch people out, rather an unbiased evaluation tool to firstly identify any issues in particular related to staff and then to make recommendations. Most establishments are shocked at the results these “Secret Shopper” reviews generate. At best it can be used as an affirmation that your customers are experiencing everything in your establishment the way that you intended.

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