The retain strain

The retain strain

While it may look bleak, challenges demand change, and in many cases it’s for the better – particularly where the experience of a chef is concerned. The industry is being forced to examine every aspect of training and recruitment, from how it appeals to potential team members, to how it holds onto them and how it can even be a good thing to let them go. Expecting a chef to work 70-80 hours every week is no longer acceptable, double shifts are a thing of the past and the salary has not increased in line with inflation – so operators are being forced to think of solutions that work for both employer and employee.

“The biggest challenge for the sector is retaining staff,” says Bob Cotton, former CEO of the British Hospitality Association and advisor to companies such as P&G Professional and Venners. “If we could only retain our staff longer, productivity would improve, profitability would improve and costs would be reduced. In my experience, people leave people, not companies. Their excuse might be “I can earn more money elsewhere”, but what starts the process of looking to leave is the way they’re treated by their immediate supervisor. What are you doing to motivate and manage your team?”

If career happiness is truly driven by how you’re treated rather than how big your pay packet is, how can operators gauge whether they’re doing enough? While listening to your staff might sound simple and obvious, it’s vital to actively create situations where staff can talk, let off some steam and feel they’re being listened to.

Cotton recommends giving new starters a mentor so they have someone they can talk to and advises that supervisors make time in the first week or month to sit and talk with them, while Barry Tonks, executive chef of Searcys, brings his team together before the lunch and dinner service to eat and chat. Not only does this give team members some downtime together, but encourages the team atmosphere.

“Managers who genuinely care about their staff and brand, and want to see their team members grow and succeed, are most likely to have excellent retention and team growth,” says Luckylink CEO Ben Kaminsky. “We are fortunate to be working with some exceptional managers whose primary focus is their team’s growth and success.”

The team feeling may be good for overall morale, but the fact is that the workforce is made up of individuals and job satisfaction is personal to each and every one. To celebrate and encourage the individuals within the team, Searcys has held Chef Style Friday, which sees a dish from a chef posted on the restaurant’s Instagram page. Not only does this say ‘job well done’, but involves the chef in menu development.

With development in mind, operators need to provide and promote opportunities for employees’ own career progression. The chance for a junior chef to get their dish posted on social media is great, but for people to believe that a career in hospitality can be a permanent and long-term one, they may need to see some more investment from their employer.

“It is important to offer the right professional support with regular training and development,” says haysmacintyre partner Gareth Ogden. “This will not only result in a more competent team, but convince them of the value the business owner sees in them. Staff will appreciate the feeling of career progression within the same business.”

Believing in the benefits of doing so, Bella Italia has launched a Leadership Academia Programme, which sees the company aim to fill 70% of its restaurant managerial positions from its internal talent pool, such as sous chefs promoted to head chefs, demonstrating a commitment to investing in its employees and a clear career path for team members.

“We’ve introduced a structure and a culture that gives employees a clear vision of their career progression,” says Bella Italia HR director Wayne Morgan. “The onus is on the individual to drive their progression. We just provide them with the tools and advice they need to take control of their career.”

No matter the nurturing that you can realistically offer team members, as Morgan suggests, they have to want to do it for themselves. However, what is clear is that in order to tackle the very first hurdle of making people even begin to consider a career in hospitality, it starts with the industry itself.

Work/life balance

One of the most popular terms that has grown increasingly popular with millennials and Generation Z is ‘work/life balance’. Now commonly understood to be important in a healthy and happy workforce, more and more operators are reflecting this in their business. On the launch of Sorrel, Steve Drake claimed that the reason for only opening Wednesday to Saturday was to enable his team to have the time to discover food and be creative outside of the kitchen, while 24-hour restaurant Duck & Waffle offers night shifts so that parents can work around their children. But in the world of casual dining, is this realistic for all operators? Fortunately, there are other ways that you can ensure work/life balance without going to such measures.

“Businesses need to promote a culture and environment which shares the same values as its workforce,” suggests HIT Training managing director Jill Whittaker. “After all, employees are willing to work harder for a company they believe in. It’s about addressing the work/life balance and fitting in with the key attributes today’s workforce look for in an employer – such as flexibility, strong CSR credentials and the opportunity to contribute to society.”

A people industry

In order to crack down on the people shortage, there’s been a brighter spotlight on the initiatives that benefit not only the hospitality industry, but society as a whole.

This has arguably been led by The Clink Charity’s group of restaurants, which trains prisoners in both front and back-of-house roles for a total of 18 months, with the aim that once they have completed training and are released, they have the skills to begin, or further, their career in hospitality. Employers that have previously placed ex-offenders include Aqua Shard,
Vapiano and Roast.

Another enterprise is Home, which is operated by the Maison Bleue restaurant group and owned by the same parent charity as café Social Bite. Both located in Scotland, these two operations take on disadvantaged and homeless people to give them training and employment opportunities. Such a recruitment strategy is all part of the company’s culture, which also sees the restaurant serve the homeless and offer a Pay It Forward scheme.