Let’s face it, working in the hospitality industry is tough. Arguably one of the hardest industries to work in. Hours are long and unsociable, the pay isn’t always great and caffeine deficient customer after customer want their skinny latte warm, (not hot) with an extra shot of espresso, a shake of something and a permanent smile. So isn’t it inevitable that employees will leave in droves and turnover will be high?

Well, not according to the companies ranked highest in The Caterer’s Best Places to Work in Hospitality in 2019. Many of their turnover rates are impressively low, and their employees, who were surveyed, said they valued the following: 

Being part of a team that has fun and respects each other.  

Employees felt empowered to generate ideas and be entrepreneurial, they said they had an approachable manager, fun and quirky competitions (on an internal social channel), they worked where diversity was embraced, and one even said their manager regularly welcome them to work with a hot drink and freshly baked goodies. Particularly appealing, to me, was the idea of receiving a doughnut on Blue Monday or working for a company where the staff room had Smart TV, a PlayStation and brightly coloured bean bags!

Having flexibility and a work-life balance.

Team members said life was easier because they had set days and evenings off, childcare and study requests were accommodated where possible, and they were encouraged to take time off to access well-being initiatives like yoga. 

Receiving training, development and career opportunities. 

Employees sighted regular career chats with managers as being key. They had opportunities to sign up for courses and apprenticeships, mentoring from senior managers, a visible talent pipeline, and celebrations when someone was promoted. 


Digital communications platforms were used to bring employees together, conduct polls, share best practice and keep teams informed. Senior Managers used the system to speak to the team and bring a ‘one team’ culture to life, and employees used the tool to ask senior managers questions too. Regular coffee chats to chat about concerns and personal development took place and Team Members described Apps that informed them of who’d been rewarded and recognised. 

A YouGov Staff Retention Survey in 2018 backs this up too. It found the top 3 things what would make employees in the hospitality sector less likely to leave were: better pay and benefits, more control over their work-life and shift patterns, and guaranteed hours and a more stable income.

And isn’t it worth trying to reduce the huge expense of people leaving? According to a study by Cornell University’s School of Hospitality Management, each member of staff who leaves costs a staggering $5,864 (£4,545 as of October 2019 exchange rates). After that, there’s the cost of training new people, reduced productivity and standards, more pressure on the whole team, and an increase in manager workload – the list goes on. It all adds up to serious costs when budgets are tight and Brexit is looming.  

And we all know how excruciating, and time consuming, it can be recruiting good people to replace those who’ve left. In 2017, The Employers Skills Survey found that hospitality, out of all other industries, was the one facing the biggest labour shortage, so it’s not surprising how exhausting the recruitment, and induction, process can be. 

So what are the signs that an employee is fed up and about to head off to your competitor?

The smile could have gone, maybe there’s a drop in productivity, an increase in customer complaints, change in personality and a general lack of oomph when at work. Don’t forget to look at attendance records, lateness and sickness. All of these could be a signal that something’s wrong and a golden opportunity to find a way to coax your employee to stay. A little time taken to talk and to review data and reports you have at your finger-tips could be just what’s needed to re-engage your good employees.

If there’s a mass staff exodus then before you rush out to hire again find out what’s wrong and fix it (fast). What are your employee turnover figures, how do they compare to last year and is there a trend or a trigger which has led to a spike in leavers? Exit interviews will give you an invaluable insight too and employee surveys will always reveal a list of improvements that can be made.

Perhaps it’s now time to focus on doing what’s necessary to keep the good people you have before they even think of leaving? The after-work drinks, Christmas parties and birthday gifts can’t harm, but evidence shows that what actually makes people stay for the long haul is being respected, a fun environment to work in, commitment to development, opportunities to grow, a good work-life balance and flexibility for when people need it. Why not invest in technology which improves communication, helps planning and allow your teams to feel in control of their lives? Maybe even deck out that staff room and buy the doughnuts?

Sounds like there are plenty of easy ways to keep your team members who, day after day, lay on that permanent smile for your tricky customers.

Kate Nicholls

Kate Nicholls


Kate is a writer with over 20 years’ retail hospitality experience gained in HR, recruitment and learning and development. Having made flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes for many caffeine deficient customers in the past, she now combines her time writing, providing freelance recruitment and early careers advice and looking after her cute, but often time-wasting, puppy called Dennis.

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