Inside track: Nurturing talent will help staff retention, says Emma Underwood

31 May 2022 by
Inside track: Nurturing talent will help staff retention, says Emma Underwood

Nurturing talent will help staff retention. Emma Underwood shares the advice she would give to industry newbies

The issue of staff shortages in hospitality is no secret. It has been widely reported and hugely discussed for the last two years as the perfect storm of Brexit and the Covid pandemic has decimated our workforce.

There simply aren't enough people to fill our teams and the effects are rippling around with a huge force. Restaurants are now existing, if not merely surviving, through reducing opening hours, amending their offerings or closing altogether. It's a factor that is affecting our guests' experiences and stinting our creativity, but most keenly impacting our teams' motivation and inspiration.

The issue doesn't just lie in attraction, but also in retention. It is so important to keep our teams engaged but to also ensure they have the chance to properly develop their hospitality careers. They deserve the start we all had and the opportunity to thoroughly fall in love with their workplace.

A key comment was about patience: to take the time in learning and developing, rather than focussing on immediate progression and fast promotions

For those starting out in the industry, it is vital that they fully understand how rewarding their working life will be and the steps to keep in mind along the way. As, despite the tough issues we are facing, this truly is a field that can offer the most amazing and endless opportunities.

This morning I had a coffee with the wonderful Darren McHugh, former general manager of the Ledbury and now operations manager of MJMK. We discussed the advice that we would give to those beginning and developing their careers in hospitality. A key comment was about patience: to take the time in learning and developing, rather than focusing on immediate progression and fast promotions.

Be as absorbing as possible, and never be too proud to ask questions and admit deficiencies. Mistakes and shortcomings are nothing more than opportunities to learn. Place value on enriching skillsets, developing a signature style and defining passions.

The most precious asset someone working in hospitality has is their personality, and taking the time to find the right outlet to let that shine is a priority. Stay firm on standards and don't compromise values.

For this, the right environment is paramount. Find a workplace that doesn't just provide a seemingly decent place for the immediate future, but one that can either offer progression or be the right bridge for the next step. At the same time, don't feel under pressure to create and maintain a strict career plan, as the best opportunities can present themselves in an array of places.

Keep your eyes open, always. We are in a time when so much of our consumption and understanding now comes through the visual medium of our phone screens, our grasp of restaurant styles under threat of being reduced to a mere series of photos on Instagram. Remember to go out and experience them, to talk to their teams and immerse in the environment they've so carefully created.

Be generous with your time for others. The industry is small and full of incredible people that will only be too willing to help and support.

Mentors can come in a variety of guises – they aren't just your immediate managers. They could be a peer or from another restaurant. Be sure to properly form and develop these connections as they can be career defining.

Most importantly: have as much fun as possible. Despite the last two years, this will always be an exciting industry to explore and discover.

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