Tom Kerridge, Rosie Hunt: Employers can't 'sit there and fester' about staffing issues. They need to be proactive

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Until a few years ago, recruitment wasn’t a chief concern for The Tom Kerridge Group. But as the successful restaurant empire has fallen prey to the staffing issues affecting the hospitality industry, it is embarking on a nationwide campaign to recruit and retain talent

Earlier this month, ONS data revealed that the UK had hit pre-pandemic employment levels as 75.75 percent of the country’s active workforce is currently in a job. Meanwhile, the hospitality sector is by far the worst affected by staff shortages, with vacancies hitting 170,000. 

"I don't know a single place that isn't looking for staff," celebrated chef, restaurateur (and increasingly, spokesperson for the hospitality industry), Tom Kerridge said in an interview with The Staff Canteen.

How did we get here? 

We all have a rather good idea of what the causes behind it all are, but lately, the contributing factors have piled up: from Brexit to the pandemic, changing attitudes to work and the cost of living crisis, Tom said: "It’s almost a perfect storm.” 

Unchartered territory

And so here we are. The company has gone live with a central pillar of its recruitment strategy, a website advertising jobs across the group – at two Michelin-starred, The Hand and Flowers, The Coach, The Butcher’s Tap and Grill, The Bull & Bear, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, and within the group’s catering arm, Lush.

The website will also shine a spotlight on members of the group, giving candidates an idea of what might await them should they chose to embark on a career within The Tom Kerridge Group.

And as far as the messaging is concerned, they've got all bases covered, as per Rosie's plan, the group’s HR advisor, who is leading the campaign: they are spreading their message far and wide on social media, flyering at Pub in the Park, as well as working on strengthening bonds with colleges and universities and reviewing their apprenticeship scheme.

“We're looking at finding people in different areas,” she said. “If you're interested in food, we want to have a chat with you." 

Crucial to their campaign is emphasising what has helped them recruit and retain team members for a very long time – some for almost as long as the business has been open.

"The Hand and Flowers has been there for almost seventeen and a half years and we've probably got at least 20-25 people who have been in that business for over ten years - which is huge," Tom said.  "Under them, you've got people that have done six, seven, eight, nine years."

Behind this sense of cohesion, he said, is the the fact that "we've created a team of people that are friends and colleagues. They love that building and they love that business as much as we do."

Bound together by a strong work ethic and a commitment to their cause, the group’s 250 employees are proud of their shared mission.

“They're all part of something that's bigger.”

It’s not all about the money

Aside from offering good pay, the company prides itself in creating a welcoming, positive, diverse environment for people to work in. 

"We all want to know how hard we're going to work and how much we're going to earn," Tom said. "We all need to know that." 

"But actually, what am I going to achieve, what am I going to learn, how am I going to progress, who am I going to meet, am I going to enjoy going to work - all of these sorts of things - that's why so many people work for us,” he said.

Not to lure anyone into a false sense of ease, Tom stressed that there are always going to be hard days operating at a high level.

"It's not Disneyland, you're not coming in and getting on rides and having a lovely time and being given ice cream and doughnuts.

"I fell in love with the industry because it was exciting. It's adrenaline-fuelled, it's fun, there's great people in it, it's an eclectic mix of all sorts of people. It's the most embracing industry that I can think of." 

No matter where you come from or who you are, he said, “if you all buy into what you're achieving, it creates this wonderful exciting magical ball of something that's amazing to be a part of. Trying to keep that energy in that space is what's so important, it's what you buy into. That's where you come in and go, 'this is what's amazing, I love coming to work, I love my job.'"

Room to grow

Scope for progression is also a priority within the group, as Tom explained: “We try to create an environment where, when people push themselves, they can achieve."

"If you create a ceiling where they're not going to achieve very much, they know that they're going to come in, they'll get what they want out of it and then leave and go somewhere else."

"If you give them the environment to say, 'look, you can achieve whatever you want here, there are positions, there will be spaces, you could grow, you could become your own person', they are much more likely to stick around."

So what can other businesses learn from their campaign?

Be honest 

One lesson many have likely learned the hard way is not to be disingenuous about what a role entails.

"We're always very honest about everything,” Rosie said.

“It is hard to work in a two Michelin-starred kitchen, but if you've got the drive, if you're willing to be part of the team, it's an amazing place to be.”

It’s all too easy to sell dreams in the midst of a recruitment crisis, she explained: “You're trying to tempt candidates in and you might sugar coat. But in order to get the best candidates and longevity out of them, you need to be honest." 

Be nimble 

A mindset which has served the group well, Tom said, is to run it like you are a small entity, as it allows you to be flexible.
 
"No matter how big your company is, whether it's a small, tiny little pub that's owner operated or a multi-site place like us or much bigger, or a great big hotel; you've got to feel that you're small, fluid, adaptable. Throw ideas out there, try and connect with as many different people as possible."

Embrace social media

Social media is a great tool for everything from communicating with guests to recruitment, and one which mustn’t be underestimated.

"Even if you're a small independent local restaurant somewhere in a neighbourhood where you just want to create a noise and you need some new waiters and a new chef - it's quite an easy thing to create a bit of buzz,” Tom said.

"Don't worry if it doesn't work - I think you've got to feel a little freer to have a go - and just create as many interesting talking points as possible."

Crucially, he added: "Don't feel like you have to go down the 'normal' route of doing things. That catches people's imagination, that's the bit that people may well buy into.”

Think long term

In adverse conditions, one might lose sight of the bigger picture - don't.

"Think of it long term. We put a recruitment video together that will cost a certain amount. We built a website.

"But actually, if we gain ten candidates from it over two years, how much does that save us in recruitment fees?" 

You don't need to build a website, he stressed, "but you can go, 'okay, what's the cost of doing this, if I get one candidate from it, does that save me a huge percentage in a recruitment consultant fees? Yes. And have I got longevity on that thing that I've invested in? Yes.'"

'You can’t sit there and fester about it'

The initial stages of the drive have shown promise, so both Tom and Rosie are feeling positive about it.

"Time will tell,” Rosie said. “With our recruitment video, we had a 70 percent increase in CVs that came through our inbox, which is huge."

In all aspects of life, Tom chooses to take a “glass half full” outlook.

“I always try to look at the positives of everything. There really are negative effects of not having enough staff, we know that the industry is massively up against it, but you can’t sit there and fester about it. You can't just sit there and wait for people to walk through the door."

"No matter what pressures get put on a business, you cannot as a business owner or as senior management, sit there and wait for this storm cloud or tsunami of nightmares to hit you. You have to be proactive about trying to do something."
 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 1st June 2022

Tom Kerridge, Rosie Hunt: Employers can't 'sit there and fester' about staffing issues. They need to be proactive