Team retention in a challenging environment

Opinion: retention in a challenging environment (pictured: Emma Harrison of the Three Hills at Bartlow)
Opinion: retention in a challenging environment (pictured: Emma Harrison of the Three Hills at Bartlow)

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The hospitality industry is under tremendous pressure. None more so than this year, with extraordinary cost rises across every single area of the business, including a mandatory increase in the minimum wage of 10% for anyone aged 23 and up.

It’s all very well for the Governor of the Bank of England to ask for “quite clear restraint in the annual wage bargaining process between staff and employers to help prevent an upward inflation spiral taking hold” but it’s quite clear that little thought was given in Government to the inflationary knock-on effect of such an untimely increase in the minimum wage.

I overheard a couple of customers chatting at The Three Hills bar a few weeks ago about restaurants in Europe. Their main remarks were that European hospitality staff seem to be older, more experienced and more committed to the industry as a career than the average hospitality employee in the UK.

Comparisons with other countries are often difficult but what is true is that across Europe, the majority of countries charge lower rates of VAT for restaurants and those operating hotel accommodation, recognising the undeniably important role the hospitality industry plays in the economy.

In the UK, despite the constant petitioning of the government to reduce our vat rate to bring us in line with our European neighbours, our VAT remains ridiculously high at 20%. This crippling rate, along with other significant tax burdens, means that many hospitality businesses cannot afford to pay much more than the minimum wage.

This is not to say we are against paying our staff the wages they deserve. One of the most significant challenges facing the UK hospitality industry today is the recruitment and retention of motivated, talented and energetic individuals who are initially drawn towards hospitality, and who are perhaps looking for a long term career.

High standard of service 

They appreciate that they will be working long and often unsociable hours, and is too much to expect that they should be paid commensurately for their hard work?

So within these constraints, what can we do to attract and retain good staff? We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but at The Three Hills we have managed to build a committed, happy team.

The senior management team leads from the front, carefully nurturing the more junior members of the team so that we reflect a unified and professional approach – one of friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff. Our staff are all one family - when we come to work we have fun.

As a result, we employ many siblings at The Three Hills, with more experienced older staff encouraging their younger siblings to apply for a job, and we have students who have returned to work for us every year we have been open.

We work hard to provide our customers with a high standard of service, and as such, we feel we can add a discretionary service charge of 10% to all our bills.

This is distributed equally on a pro rata basis between all staff – whatever their position or role, whether front or back of house.  This has meant that month in month out, our staff receive a substantial and consistent increase to their take home pay. In addition, our senior staff participate in an annual profit share scheme, giving them an incentive to focus on reducing costs and building sales.

Our training approach is to offer a mixture of on the job training (with each new starter supervised by a more experienced member of staff) combined with formal training days, where we practice greeting customers, dealing with difficult customers, opening and serving wine, setting a table correctly, formal events service and menu tasting.

Enhance professional experiences 

We encourage our more regular employees to further their hospitality training through attending courses – a cellar management course, personal license course, food safety and hygiene courses, and WSET wine courses.

As a small rural pub we are very aware that our young team of chefs can feel very isolated, so we work to seek out stage opportunities for them in other kitchens to further their experience. Last year our head chef spent three days in Midsummer House, a three Michelin star restaurant in Cambridge, under the watchful eye of Daniel Clifford, and we are constantly on the lookout for further opportunities to enhance their professional experience.

With many of our hourly staff coming and going depending on their educational needs we keep the staff connected and motivated with a monthly newsletter which focuses on staff training, features an employee of the month who receives a £50 cash bonus, and includes staff competitions.

Staff who work for us 20 hours a week or more enjoy a 25% reduction on their food bill for themselves and up to three guests, and all staff benefit from a 25% reduction on drinks.

Finally, in terms of rostering staff, we allow them to choose their shifts with the help of an online staff rostering tool.

This means that staff work when they want to, as opposed to when we tell them to. As a result, we have very high levels of staff retention. Our staff are happy and enjoy coming to work. Long may it continue.

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