Professional Comment

Retention In Hospitality: Building An Attractive and Engaging Work Environment

Ben Gabbitas, Talent and Resourcing Director at Valor Hospitality ( explores how hospitality providers can attract the best candidates, and retain them.

The hospitality industry is coming out of a difficult period, with Brexit and a global pandemic having led to staff shortages and a loss of key skills across the industry. This has forced businesses to dig deep to recover. Having the right recruitment and retention strategy in place is crucial. Employers in hospitality can reap the benefits of a people first approach, with improved productivity and overall job satisfaction leading to increased retention and an attractive work environment.

Embrace the positives
Whilst hospitality can get a bad rep, it’s important to shout about the positives of the industry when it comes to attracting candidates. The flexible hours, for example, mean a great work-life balance – gone are the days of working 100-hour weeks. This can work around family commitments or studying, and even allow for shorter weeks.

Educational pathways such as apprenticeships and T levels are offered by many hospitality businesses and give the opportunity to develop and build a career whilst working. These coupled with internal development programmes can see quick progression from entry level roles to management positions.

The opportunity for a rewarding and fruitful career is plenty, with entry level roles starting at £22k and rising to £60-80k plus for a general manager, so it’s crucial to make the opportunities for progression and earning potential clear to candidates.

Working in hospitality doesn’t just mean working in the traditional roles of in restaurants or kitchens, whilst these roles are critical to the operation there are also opportunities in central functions like marketing, sales, finance, or HR.

The care gene
Having a jampacked CV filled with experience and qualifications shouldn’t be the priority for jobs in hospitality, instead it’s important to look for people who fit the culture of your business. Seek candidates that show the right attitude. A key thing to look for is ‘the care gene’. Will they smile and say “good morning” to a guest? Will they catch the eye of a customer at a busy bar and let them know they’re next?

These small traits are things that you can’t train but looking for them at interview stage will ensure a successful working relationship later down the line.

The first 90 days
It’s estimated that around 30% of hospitality workers leave in the first 90 days because the job isn’t what they expected, or they didn’t have the right training for the role. The best way to combat this is through clear communication and employee engagement. It can be as simple as ensuring that a staff member has the right uniform and knows where the canteen is on their first day. If you can keep an employee for 90 days, they’re 50% more likely to stay on in their job.

To encourage retention within the crucial first three months, it’s also important to show an honest picture of the job at recruitment stage. This could be showing the interviewee a room a guest has left or getting them to observe a busy breakfast shift. As with any job, it comes with its challenges, so employers should avoid selling the dream at interview stage.

Upping retention rates
Improving retention is a process that must be constantly assessed. If someone leaves in their probationary period, hold an exit interview with them, find out where the gaps are and take action to make it better. When new team members start, take it back to basics – make them feel welcomed by finding out how they take their tea, or their favourite chocolate bar – these things will make them feel valued. Ensure that they have an open forum on their first week to air any issues, assign them a buddy to shadow on shift and get to know them on a human level. This will help them engage with the business in those first crucial 90 days, creating a culture of belonging which makes for a low churn rate in retention.

Prioritising people is the best way to increase those all-important retention rates in hospitality. Assess what the first 90 days look like for a new starter, make sure they have opportunities for one-to-one time with a manager to discuss concerns, ensure they understand what the job entails upfront and take stock of this on a regular basis. If someone does want to leave their role, hold an exit interview, and look at areas to improve next time.

With such a huge part of the UK’s workforce being employed in hospitality, there is a responsibility for employers to work with their employees to make it a rewarding career path that consistently attracts the best talent.