There is no secret to staff retention, says Tom Kerridge. It takes time, effort and perseverance

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

In this day and age, it would be all too easy for hospitality employers to turn to a belief system - to pray to the great and powerful Gods  - to find and retain staff

Celebrated chef and restaurateur Tom Kerridge puts the longevity of his team down to luck, but good fortune is unlikely the secret. Much like his industry peers Simon Rogan and Jason Atherton, who have lifted up their teams with them as they have grown, he sees success as something that can only be shared.

"The Hand and Flowers has been open for just over 17 years and we've got people who have been in that business for 15 years, 13 years," he said, appearing as a guest on The Staff Canteen's Grilled podcast alongside Cara Houchen and her co-host, chef and owner of Benedicts in Norwich, Richard Bainbridge.

The chef and his wife Beth Kerridge's PA, Alexandra Reilly, has been with them for 11 years. Tom De Keyser, the head chef at Tom's two Michelin-starred flagship, The Hand and Flowers, has been working for the company for ten years. Sarah Hayward, head chef at The Coach, joined nine years ago. Nick Beardshaw, head chef at Kerridge's Bar & Grill in London, has been around for eleven years. The wine executive at The Corinthia restaurant, Charles Beaini, has worked with them for eleven years. 

"All of these people have been part of the growth process of the business," Tom said.

A closed loop system

The reason the chef doesn't have any 'copy and paste' advice to give his fellow restaurateurs, is that the success of The Tom Kerridge Group has helped it retain staff, and keeping its teams cohesive has been instrumental to its success.

He explained: "When you open it as a young owner and you take people on, they become part of that journey. You can't instantly make that happen in a different restaurant in a magic space and say, 'well this is how people stay with you.'

"You have to grow, and as you grow, you allow people to grow personally and professionally. You allow them to make mistakes, you allow people to understand. You give them ownership.

He clarified that by ownership, he doesn't mean his teams have got to pay the bills and share the profits. "I mean ownership in terms of the decisions they're making."

"It can't just be this dictatorial, 'this is how it is.' You can lead, but you have to allow people to make decisions. Okay, your choice on this, where are we going to go with it, how are we going to do it. They have to gain your trust, that they're going to make the right decision 90 percent of the time." 

Scaling the business up has given the team space to grow, he explained. "We've been very lucky that so many people have stayed with us - because we lead from the front." 

A family business

Over the years, the company has built its own personality, with a core team of people who may as well be related. When new recruits come on board, he said, "there's this wonderful, family-like feeling of camaraderie that works so well, because everyone has known each other for so long. When you come in, you have to fit that ethos, you have to fit in with their DNA, the way that they work, their work ethics, their standards."

Ultimately, he said, staff retention isn't just giving people the most money.

"We're in an industry where it's not about money, it's about love. People have to enjoy going to work. If you chase money, you might be there for a year, but then you go, 'I still hate going to work.' I'd rather go to work and love what I'm doing and have a laugh with my friends and be involved in what feels like being part of a team."

"Coming away from something having achieved something is way more valuable than cash." 

Be Kind

As counterintuitive as it may sound, being kind doesn't make you soft, or likely to lose your staff to other employers. It can be a means to an end.

"It's purely selfish," Tom said. "If people enjoy where they're at at work, there's never a front of house or back of house divide, we try to make sure that they're always a team." 

When that happens, guests come through the door and "they can feel it.'" 

"They think, 'oh this is a nice place,' there's a vibe, there's a sense of, 'this is exciting, this is lovely,' and when the guest comes through the door and has a nice time, it makes your life easier as a business. And it comes from creating a nicer working environment for people." 

While benefits programmes and good salaries help, what Tom calls a "nice" working environment starts with the basics, "from going into work and someone saying 'hello, you alright today?'" 

That's not to say that even within his restaurant group, they get it right 100 percent of the time, he concedes.

"Sometimes you get it wrong. You can't be right all the time, but the majority of the time, we try to make sure that it's a nice working environment, we look after people, make sure that everyone else looks after each other - and it just transcends to the guest."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 3rd May 2022

There is no secret to staff retention, says Tom Kerridge. It takes time, effort and perseverance