The Leader of One of WA’s Top Hospo Groups on the Importance of Investing in Staff

We catch up with Kailis Hospitality Group owner-operator George Kailis to learn what it takes  to run multiple businesses, and the importance of finding, training and retaining good people. 

With multiple venues to his name and decades of experience, George Kailis knows what it takes to be successful in hospitality. Along the way, though, the owner-operator of Kailis Hospitality Group (which runs The Shorehouse, Island Market, Kailis Fish Market Café and Canteen) has learnt that you’re only as strong as your staff. He sat down to talk about the importance of good hiring, staff retention, and what the future holds for the industry. Grab a chair.

You’ve spent years building up multiple venues, from Island Market, to Kailis Fish Market Café, to The Shorehouse. How important have good staff been in facilitating the expansion?

In many respects our team is the business and without them we simply cannot function. Kailis Hospitality Group is a restaurant-focused hospitality group that we like to think is all about quality over quantity, and we employ over 300 talented individuals that want to be part of that journey alongside us. In recent years I have intentionally stunted our growth due to the lack of individuals available to facilitate new openings. We simply won’t grow without the right people available.

People sometimes see hospitality as a stepping stone or a casual pursuit, but you have some staff who’ve been with you for decades.

Correct, most of our senior teams have been with for a minimum of five years with most being upwards of 10; one of my senior operations managers has been working with me for over 20 years now. Hospitality had been deemed a casual pursuit in the pas,t but it’s now firmly a serious career option. Just watch what happens in Australia over the next decade – food and beverage will be a huge growth industry. I also have an office of 15-plus working on marketing, social media, events management, financial controls, HR. We even employ an in-house graphic designer. There’s a lot more to it than there used to be.

Do people always come to you with the right skill set, or do you encourage on-the-job learning? 

We are constantly refining and improving our operations systems in all facets. Many people join the KHG team with loads of experience which they put to good use, but they are always then trained in the way we like to operate. That varies based on job function but the more we can educate and nurture them, the greater the chance of the individual staying with us for the long term.

We also firmly believe in leaving very talented people to do their jobs without micromanaging them. We all play our part in the group and each have different skill sets understanding it’s fine not to be great at one thing knowing you excel at another. Understanding that we can then all lean on each other as required as a team.

Do you take any steps in your businesses to facilitate upskilling and growth?

Yes, one-hundred per cent. Not only through traineeships, but generally speaking our greatest successes has been through long-standing team members taking steps up the ladder within our group.

How important do you see the potential for growth and learning as a part of holding onto your staff?

It’s essential. You’d be surprised how many individuals join us because they someday want to start their own business. They firmly view it as their career but also a platform to greater their skills and abilities in the hospitality industry.

Do you think that’s one of the reasons you have so many long-serving staff, and what are some others?

Connection, communication and relationships as a family business. We adopt sophisticated policies to operate without a corporate vibe. I don’t view our team as employees; we all work together servicing our customers as best we can. We all want the businesses to be popular as we are all proud of the brands and what we do to drive them – there isn’t a person I know that wants to be part of the opposite. When you set that precedent from the start you tend to attract similar-minded individuals.

What are the reasons you see for young people to be making a career in hospitality? 

Hospitality and tourism, particularly in Western Australia, is going to be a growth industry for the next decade and beyond. Not only that, but it’s an industry that is interactive, creative and fun which doesn’t fit the typically nine-to-five mould. I’ve always loved that point of difference and flexibility.

For those people who might already have had another career but are interested in moving into the industry, what’s the most important thing they need to have to make it?

Passion. A passion for food, beverage and service. A passion for hospitality. A passion for business. Like anything, if you don’t love it, you won’t make it, and there will always be times when that’s tested or questioned, but that passion will drive you straight through any negative moments into a career and a life you will no doubt thrive in.