Working in hospitality is all about the hustle. Last-minute requests require businesses and their employees to be flexible, and having sufficient experience and skills to offer helps keep workers in-demand.
Whether you’ve served on the line yourself or know of people that have, being employed in restaurants and bars has its shortcomings, mainly when it comes to ensuring reliable staffing and reliable payment. Filling shifts, making sure turnover is done with little headaches and getting staff paid on time all prove to be ongoing challenges, and a new app hopes to make this daily transition work as smooth as possible.
Hyr is the brainchild of Erika Mozes and Josh Karam, two former hospitality industry workers in their 30s. Hyr launched back in February, exclusively catering to Toronto’s downtown market and has since seen 2,500 talent profiles uploaded and 60 active businesses using the platform.
Mozes and Karam are both Toronto natives. Mozes previously held corporate positions with companies like McDonald’s and Kazam worked in HR. However, prior to Mozes’s stable job with McDonald’s, she, like many other student graduates, was broke and looked to the restaurant business to make necessary cash fast.
Yet it wasn’t until some years later that Mozes really started to see how disgruntled some employers were when it came to finding adequate workers.
“While working at McDonald’s corporate I kept hearing from restaurant owners that it was hard to find people not just to pick up shifts, but also actually getting people to show up for interviews,” explains Mozes.
After much discussion (and recountings of their formative serving years), Mozes and Karam decided to quit their cushy corporate jobs and pursue Hyr full-time. Unfortunately for the Torontonians, the allure of the app initially attracted more response outside of Canada. As with many startup ventures, Canadian investors want to see the actual product in market, and that doesn’t happen without capital. The two were eventually able to secure $40,000 from angel investors in New York City, giving them their initial push.
How it works
Talent signs up and creates a profile on the Hyr platform, indicating their level of experience (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and other small details about their skill set. They select their hourly rate, and can then view open positions listed at that rate or higher. According to Mozes, the average hourly rate is $23 with some businesses continuing to post at minimum wage while others post much above it. It really depends on the scale of work being offered (and those willing to shell out the money).
Talent can sift through available gig vacancies and apply for a shift at a certain restaurant or bar on a specific day. If the business approves, the transaction is underway and the talent is expected to show up and work the shift. There’s also a rating feature offered to both the businesses and the talent, which is an incentive to make a good impression and follow through on both ends. Following the shift talent can expect to receive payment within 48 hours via Interac Debit.
The future of work
Narina Jabari has been working in hospitality on and off for over six years and after hearing about Hyr from a friend, she signed up and has been using the platform since March. She cites her need to pick up flexible ongoing jobs as a main selling point of Hyr, but that it also “allowed [her] to explore different parts of the city that [she] otherwise wouldn’t venture to.”
Jabari also sees this type of service as the “future of work in general as it allows people to take employment into their own hands.” The benefit of speedy payment, which she says has been received within 48 hours consistently, has kept her confident in using and promoting the platform.
21-year-old Ryerson student, Jade Kanagaiyah, uses Hyr on a weekly basis, particularly doing brand ambassador and promotional work at venues in downtown Toronto. She heard about Hyr from one of her Facebook groups, downloaded the app, filled out her profile and got a shift the next day.
“I’ve told so many people, my friends, so many friends,” she notes. “It’s so convenient especially if you have a full-time job and you’re just looking for side work. You see a shift, you apply for it, if you get accepted you do it and you get paid the next day basically. You can’t really say no to that.”
On the business owner side, there’s great benefit too. One of the first to sign onto the venture was Zark Fatah from Capture Group, which owns popular Toronto hotspots like Everleigh, Blowfish and Portland Variety.
After being approached to “have a look” at this new hospitality app, Fatah says he was on board, recognizing the need to help with staffing Capture Group’s numerous day-to-night venues.
“The problem of finding competent staff on an ongoing basis isn’t going to end anytime soon, that’s just the nature of the business,” he explains. Fatah uses Hyr on a weekly basis, mostly to hire promotional staff and hostesses.
“We wouldn’t necessarily use an app like this to hire someone to do mixology because obviously that’s more of a refined craft per se, but to have someone come in for coat check, to bartend, do cover charge or host, well those are pretty basic positions. You’ve done the job, you know what you’re doing,” he explains.
And while businesses may be taking a chance on brand new independent contractors, Fatah notes “it’s better to have someone there working, making drinks that might not be a 100 per cent what you want than not having someone there at all.”
Another added sell for businesses and those who host one-off or regular events is the quick turnaround and last minute security Hyr offers.
“Recently I had a charity event and it was on a Friday night and obviously our staff was committed at our venues, but I needed four to five bartenders, waitresses and busboys,” Fatah says. “I used Hyr to staff everything and it went down without a problem.”
The Uber of the hospitality industry
The app is currently free and Mozes sees the model as similar to that of Uber or Airbnb where riders know the amount being charged ahead of time and a portion of that goes to the driver and a portion goes to the business.
“We take a percentage from the businesses with each being charged between 20 and 30 per cent depending on what skills they are posting for,” she explains. “So, that’s on top of the hourly fee that they’re posting for.”
Mozes points out businesses in need of someone great, within an hour, will pay an extra surcharge.
On the worker side, gig culture is highly popular and being that Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America, the ability to tap into multiple opportunities can provide a breadth of income streams.
It can also potentially lead to full-time work and that’s another incentive to work hard.
In fact, Fatah hired someone full-time after being introduced through Hyr. “We had someone who came in as a hostess, she had just moved to Toronto and she needed to pick up work. She was really good, great personality too, but she wanted to do bottle service, so after working with her for a bit we ended up offering a job to her and now she works for us three to four times a week.”
In addition to quick payment and the ability to hold rank in the system, Hyr also offers another perk: UPoints. UPoints are essentially a way to collect vacation pay and each time a user works on the system they accrue UPoints, two UPoints for every $1 earned. After the worker has accumulated 2,500 UPoints he or she can cash in for a vacation day valued at $75. The accrual rate is six per cent of earnings, which is above Ontario’s minimum standard of a four per cent vacation pay out.
Mozes and Kazam hope to one day be able to offer other benefits such as health and dental plan options.
“We really wanted to provide workers with something different, something that will help them as shift workers beyond them getting the shift and getting paid quickly,” she says. “That’s something just a little bit extra from us.”
The rating system in the app is available for both sides once each shift has been completed. This rating system serves as a checkpoint for those who may think lying about their skill set or embellishing on their background won’t go unnoticed. Mozes sees this as a key feature in servicing authentic work.
“If workers are saying they’re an experienced bartender and they can’t pour a rum and coke, I think that bartender knows they’re going to get rated at the end of the shift so we don’t and haven’t had any issues with someone whose said ‘this’ and didn’t deliver,” Mozes says.
When employees know they’re going to get rated, just like other on-demand service platforms, chances are they’re more prone to tell the truth than risk getting humiliated. Hopefully.
“It certainly helps that the employees have ratings and feedback,” adds Fatah. “You then know what type of person you’re getting; you try someone out and hopefully they fit the role.”
Plans for expansion
So far Hyr houses shifts for numerous front-of-house positions such as bussers, servers, bartenders, hostesses and promo staff. The company has recently started onboarding businesses looking to beef up their back-of-house too, so expect to perhaps see more line cooks, for example, staffed through Hyr.
Mozes hopes to see Hyr expanding into other fields such as retail and the app launches in New York this week.
Toronto and New York are the only two available cities that you can actively use the app and you must have a valid postal or zip code to do so. Currently, over 250 shifts have been staffed using Hyr since launch. On average these shifts range from four to six hours, depending on the venue.
“Toronto and New York are the two markets we’re heavily focused on until the end of the year and then we will decide where we want to go from there,” says Mozes.
Workers have identified some areas where they’d like to see the app grow, too. Feedback from those using the platform suggest that having the ability to upload a 10-second video profile to show one’s personality would be helpful.
Another improvement, as Jabari notes, would be the “opportunity to write a little bio about myself, my expertise and the type of cocktails I like to make.”
After all, the more businesses can quickly screen a potential worker, the better chance there is of getting hired. And, for full-time staff in need of days off or a vacation, Hyr may help service their requests better.