The Caterer People Summit: nurturing soft skills, discovering talent and embracing apprenticeships

26 May 2022 by
The Caterer People Summit: nurturing soft skills, discovering talent and embracing apprenticeships

The Caterer's 2022 People Summit gathered the industry's great and good to share new staff engagement strategies, including the latest thinking on nurturing teams. Rosalind Mullen reports

The day got off to a thought-provoking start when The Caterer editor James Stagg invited Laura Christie and Selin Kaizim on stage (pictured above). Describing themselves as "boots on the ground" employers, the pair kicked off by explaining that the pandemic had fast-tracked their decision to throw out staffing traditions at their Turkish restaurant Oklava in London's Shoreditch.

They shared their strategy to create a happy team. "Covid made us tear up the rulebook," Kaizim said. "Not everything works, but we plug away at being good employers in the hope that people bank it in their minds and if they leave, they come back to us later."

The pair see themselves in a pastoral role, acting as mentors in a young industry. "It is more than being a commercial business; it is about being an enjoyable workplace," said Christie.

This includes prioritising staff safety. "Staff leave work late at night, so we have a policy that they have to leave at a certain time to get the Tube home. We are saying: ‘you matter and we care'," said Christie. She added: "As a parent, I see why the industry is not perceived to be compatible with family life. If you work an hour extra every day, that is 25 hours a month. You not only put pressure on yourself, but those below you think that is what they have to do to progress. It leads to burn-out.

"We need to tailor work to people. A good team member is worth compromises. If they need to take their mum to the doctor, let them leave early. It's worth it."

The pair don't allow work emails outside of work hours and have cut hours. "The kitchen was working 60 hours and now it is 48 and they appreciate it," said Kaizim. "They work one double a week and if they work more, they get an extra day off. Those things help create better balance and get the best out of their work."

Maybe most surprisingly, is their decision to abolish tipping. "Staff are not servants wanting a tip," said Christie. "We felt that if people take this seriously as a career, you need dignity – doctors don't get a tip for good service. And it has been a positive change."

New management skills

Karen Baybutt, Anita Bower and Sean Wheeler
Karen Baybutt, Anita Bower and Sean Wheeler

People and culture consultant Sean Wheeler asked his panellists about the importance of soft management skills. In the line-up were Anita Bower, people and culture director at Iconic Luxury Hotels; Karen Baybutt, managing director at Gilpin Hotel & Lake House; and Tim Foster, head of being awesome at Yummy Pubs. Here's a flavour of what was discussed.

Why are soft skills critical?

Karen Baybutt (KB): After the past two years, your staff are facing welfare, financial and mental health problems, and from a business point of view we have retention issues and are recruiting from a smaller pool. So, it is important to understand the challenges both sides face.

Anita Bower (AB): We want to give everyone a good boss, so we've been developing managers. For instance, we hold an annual leadership conference, headed by [executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels] Andrew Stembridge. It is imperative managers get to know their people through things like coffee chats – not just talking about work, but about everything that bothers them. We engage with professionals such as Talent Toolbox, Hospitality Action and Flow.

How do you put soft skills into play?

KB: You need to get on the shop floor, get to know people and understand their personal lives. Then you can find out what motivates them. I sit in the staff canteen and get chatting.

AB: Managers need to be empathic, but also respectful. It is two-way. People need to know they can talk to you.

What is the benefit of a soft skills approach?

Tim Foster (TF): In the pub world, soft skills outweigh technical skills. Covid was a good reset for my leadership style. Now, I am found on potwash and I hear everything, so if I find out someone is discontented, I channel help through their line manager. We have retained good people by fixing small annoyances. In the long run it makes the business more profitable and allows us to spend more on our team. Before the pandemic a four-day week seemed impossible, but we've made it a reality. There has been a drop-off in people leaving the business and we have 35% recommendation into our business for recruitment.

KB: Appreciation helps with retention. We organise social activities and people get involved. This leads to staff retention, which leads to cost savings and better training leads to happier customers.

AB: In the summer we sent staff a ‘chocolate letter' to say thank you and a £50 John Lewis voucher. The card went down better than the voucher. We use it as part of probation process now – it makes people feel good.

Role models

Delegates were inspired by Lanre Sulola, a leadership coach and founder of Inner Ambitions, who helps create working environments that are rich in diversity and inclusion. His message was: "You need to share who you are if you really want to show people the way and encourage and support them."

Top takeaway points included:

  • People need to be their authentic self to thrive. So, to inspire young people, it is powerful to share what you have been through. Let people know it is OK to be scared and OK to be wrong. Show your own vulnerability. Sooner or later, you will stop people from being scared to be themselves.
  • Remember the key people who helped you to thrive and think what you can do to help others. Stories [can impact] whether someone stays in your team or not
  • Share examples of when you have been challenged and the key learning from it. Connect to someone's emotional side and the story will be remembered. People take what they need, learn and move forward.

Retain and attract

Emma Lake, assistant editor at The Caterer, led the questions as a heavyweight panel gathered on stage, including: Greg Hegarty, deputy chief executive and chief operating officer, PPHE Hotel Group; KK Prabakaran, operations manager at Dukes hotel London; and Katie Forrest, head of engagement, learning and development at Dakota Hotels.

How have your recruitment practices changed post-Covid?

Katie Forrest (KF): We knocked on doors and we networked. Our concierges and chefs came with us out into the community. We shouted about our industry, attracting people who hadn't considered hospitality and those who had left. It is about getting talent in and finding something for them.

Greg Hegarty (GH): Gone are the days where you delay making an offer. We upskilled and invested in technology and human talent and get in touch with the candidate within 24 hours. There is usually a role for someone somewhere, so we cross-sell across the business and have dropped titles and roles. But most important is head of department development. Finding time to recruit is hard, but we had to invest in that and need our managers to buy in.

You have changed job specifications?

KK Prabakaran (KP): We are more open and flexible about titles. People are approaching us from different industries, and we are learning from people coming through the door.

GH: We are going back to the drawing board and thinking how we can make a vacancy more attractive by re-evaluating and breaking the job down. We are now attracting British talent at entry levels and have had to repackage the job titles and deskill. Some roles are broken down into three to make it easier and we take them on the journey with us. Ultimately, it is about fitting candidates into job roles.

How to embrace apprenticeships

Lisa Jenkins, managing editor at The Caterer, chaired a panel with Steve Rockey, people director at Home Grown Hotels; Dan Power, head of projects at Umbrella Training; and Livvy Wharam, learning and development manager at PPHE Hotel Group.

How do apprenticeships benefit your company?

Steve Rockey (SR): You will retain someone for three to five years while you are training them. Yes, you have to do the work upfront, but it is a sustainable pipeline and they are passionate about learning. Dan Power (DP): Apprenticeships develop a more rounded individual because they are built on a national curriculum driven by employers.

How can the levy best be used?

Livvy Wharam (LW): Start with an analysis of the roles you need and choose which apprenticeship programme will best support those roles. We are focusing on chefs and engineers, so we prioritise funding in technical apprenticeships.

Do you have to get buy-in from the team?

LW: Yes, you do. There is a correlation between results of the apprenticeships and buy-in from managers. For example, 80% of our engineers have been promoted and that shows success. But our managers need to understand what they need to do to stretch and challenge and support the apprentices. Without that infrastructure it won't work as well.

DP: I would recommend developing mentors. Ongoing support is important because 70% of the time apprentices are being [trained] internally, so by developing mentors you get a better result.

How can an apprenticeship provider simplify the process and make it less scary?

LW: Choose a training provider that makes it easy for you. If you don't understand anything, challenge your provider.

DP: The levy is government regulated, but an expert provider will understand the nuances. It is our job to relieve your problems and explain everything. Your provider partners can take on the risk of Ofsted checks and so on.

What is the retention rate after training?

SR: Ours is nearly 90%.

DP: There is a retention benchmark of 63% in hospitality, but because of the pandemic that has dropped to 50%. When choosing a provider, if they have 70% retention that would be good.

Making time for you and your team

Deborah Hornshaw and Craig Prentice
Deborah Hornshaw and Craig Prentice

Caroline Baldwin, features and special projects editor at The Caterer, chaired a session on creating a healthy workplace. Joining her on stage were Craig Prentice, hospitality talent partner at mum and founder of now pause; Asma Khan, chef and restaurateur at Darjeeling Express; Deborah Homshaw, managing director, education and healthcare at CH&Co; and Philip Addison, personal coach and mental health first aid instructor at Learn Resilience.

All agreed that managers need to get among their teams. "We can't sit in offices. You need to see people to check they' re OK," said Homshaw.

Khan added: "Many people in the industry feel overlooked. Nobody has asked those at the bottom of the heap what their stories are. In the good times we need to make that connection, so that in the bad times they come to you. We should be looking after each other."

Addison pointed out that managers need to be supported, too. "You need to give managers confidence. For instance, how does a 20-year-old manager know how to manage a 50-year-old woman going through the menopause? You need to equip people to handle it."

Asked what advice they would give to improve mental health, Prentice said: "Switch off from social media and news. If you are comparing yourself with someone you follow, delete them. And don't make work phone calls out of hours."

Addison said: "There are five ways to improve wellbeing: being active; being connected with family and friends; giving time to yourself; taking time to be in the moment; and learning and developing.

But Khan's simple message was to restructure shifts. "If there are no double shifts it makes everyone happier. If you arrive and leave work in the dark, you will be affected mentally."

Working intuitively with Gen Z

Giorgia Ferrara, Jon Dawson and Jane Sunley
Giorgia Ferrara, Jon Dawson and Jane Sunley

Generation Z spans the 10-25 age group, which makes them your new talent pool. To find out what makes them tick, Jane Sunley, founder of Purple Cubed, chatted to Gen Z employee Giorgia Ferrara, HR co-ordinator at Sea Containers hotel London, and her employer Jon Dawson, group director of people at the hotel's owner-operator Lore Group.

Ferrara told delegates that Gen Z value immediacy of information. "We want everything now. Our lives move at 1,000 miles an hour. It is about valuing our time when we could be doing other things – it's time management," she said.

As a Gen Z employer, Dawson recognised it was crucial to have great technology. He added that Gen Z also thrive on mutual trust and a looser management style. "Some organisations won't promote people until they have been there for a fixed number of years," he said. "It shouldn't be fixed. Giorgia has been promoted twice. It is about giving them the confidence to develop their career and feel part of something bigger."

So, how best to attract and retain Gen Z talent? "Be upfront about the good and bad sides," advised Ferrara. "Don't sell them a dream that is not real because they will leave. And shift away from a formal appraisal to a two-way review. Sit down and ask whether you are managing somebody right. If someone leaves have an exit interview to get feedback. With Gen Z you need to act on information."

Transforming the employee experience

Luke Fryer, chief executive and founder of Harri caught everyone's attention with his energy and the fact his workforce management technology is designed to build, manage and retain hospitality teams.

A startling statistic was that some 65% of people leave because they are not happy with their schedule. "We have an obligation to provide flexibility. To allow employees to drop a shift or pick one up. There needs to be an onus on workforce technology to ensure the fair spreading of unpopular shifts. And offer differential pay for certain shifts and make it easy to see," he said. "Empathy is the art of retention; the science of retention is how we implement it."

He summarised: "Predictive retention allows you to track an employee over time, pulling up simple data. When you give out a schedule, ask if they are happy. Are they arriving on time and so on. Use this data to better understand patterns of retention."

Social leadership

Rob Liddiard, co-founder and chief executive of Yapster, presented the findings of the workplace messaging platform's Social Leadership report. The top points were:

  • According to Statistica, 95% of working age adults now own a smartphone
  • Successful modern leaders communicate with colleagues using smartphone apps
  • The benefits of using a workplace platform are: broadcasting – you get to tell your story at scale; reacting and engaging – you can improve performance through affirmation, commenting on and liking colleagues' posts; and direct communication – it removes miscommunication and increases company cohesion through private and group chats.

More highlights from the day

Best Places to Work in Hospitality 2022

The Caterer in partnership with Purple Cubed and sponsor Umbrella Training unveiled the top six shortlisted Best Places to Work. They now qualify for the Best Employer Award at the 2022 Cateys.

Hospitality Action

Services director Camilla Woods and Hospitality Action ambassadors James Clark, general manager at Hilton London Bankside and Henal Chotai of the Red Cup Café in Harrow, took to the podium to remind delegates why and how they should support their industry's charity.

"It has been around for 185 years as an industry safety net in times of crisis," said Woods, who told the audience that more than 150,000 workers had been supported through its 24/7 Employee Assistance Programme during 2020 alone, and its grants and advisory service spent some £2.5m aiding hospitality workers in difficulty or crisis during the pandemic. To get involved, go to:

Hospitality Rising UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls took the podium to rally the industry to get behind the Hospitality Rising campaign. Started by Mark McCulloch, this collaborative movement aims to create the world's biggest hospitality recruitment advertising campaign, with £602,476 of funds already pledged and a target of £1m to achieve TV coverage.

Figures from KAM Media, which is supporting the effort, show that 42% of employees are considering leaving the sector.

"Only one in five people would consider a role in hospitality and by delivering a compelling national media campaign we want to double this figure," said Nichols. "Only two in five of own workers would recommend the industry and we want to get that to three in five. We must change the narrative from negative to positive."

She added: "Work with Springboard and apprenticeships. If candidates are not right, point their CVs back to Careerscope. They might not be right for hotels but may fit contract catering. We have jobs for everyone." To get involved, go to:

Sponsored by

Continue reading

You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.

Already subscribed?

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking