Rewarding the unicorns: attracting and keeping your best staff

Feb 1, 2022

Building a great team is the cornerstone of success in the hospitality industry. It’s also why venues need to work hard to keep their best staff and attract new employees in a very competitive market.

Offering people incentives to stay with your business can bring great benefits and help enhance your reputation as an attractive place to work. But there are other ways to do it than just through a competitive salary.

Here are five ways to reward and retain employees:

1. Create opportunities to learn

Matt Jenkins, Group Human Resources Manager at Applejack Hospitality, says the key to keeping staff motivated and committed to your business is by valuing their contribution and helping them grow.

“Our kitchen teams are probably the most stable kitchen teams I’ve ever worked in, and I’ve been in the hospital industry a long time,” says Jenkins. “Our turnover is very low and it’s down to creating opportunities for people and providing feedback to help them grow.”

Those opportunities can include helping people step up to more senior positions when leaders are on leave or trialling different positions throughout the team.

2. Professional development

Melanie Aldred, Owner and Managing Director of East Brunswick local pub Teller, says offering formal training and development to all staff is a sign that you value their skills and want them to continuously improve.

“We have a training and development leadership course that everyone gets an opportunity to go into if they want to,” says Aldred. “It’s not compulsory but it’s available if people want to develop their skill set.”

Some of these courses could be to provide barista or bartender training, or to get the necessary hospitality certificates.

Jenkins says providing leadership training is also a great way to build a strong and healthy culture. “We chose leadership management courses because you can easily teach someone the hard parts of how to run a business, but the real value is in developing leadership qualities and emotional awareness. That benefits everyone in the team.”

3. Listen to your staff

Your staff are the eyes and ears of your business. Listening to their opinions and acting on their ideas and feedback develops a sense of trust and encourages respect throughout the business.

For example, Applejack holds regular development days to hear from all staff and remind people of the value of being a team.

“I think it just comes down to creating a sense of purpose for our teams,” says Jenkins. “I think a lot of hospitality businesses fall into the trap of just thinking their managers are there to open it up and then lock up. Whereas we really want to give people a sense of purpose so that they are not only developing themselves professionally, but also personally.”

4. Healthy treats

Working in hospitality can mean long, unsociable hours and hard physical tasks. It’s important to look after your staff and let them know their health is a priority.

Aldred says apart from providing regular breaks and reminding people to eat well and stay hydrated while working, it’s a good idea to offer other rewards. “We get a great company once a month to provide 15-minute massages to anyone who wants one,” she says. “Everyone asks to be rostered on the day they come!”

Jenkins says acknowledging the long hours and finding ways to help people balance their work and life is also a good tactic. “We do rotating rosters because we want to give our chefs and our managers weekends off and have a life,” he says. “That comes at the cost of having a higher labour percentage, but in the long run giving our staff the time off means they’re staying with us longer.”

5. Rewards programs and discounts

Offering staff a discount to eat or drink at the venue isn’t new, but it’s still a great way to show recognition of your staff’s contribution.

Many businesses are also developing rewards programs, where staff can build up credit based on the length of time employed, extra tasks they’ve taken on, or ideas they have brought to the business.

Jenkins says in addition to providing staff with credit through a mobile app (based on how long they have been with the business) that can be spent in any of their eight venues across Sydney, rewarding individual staff for excellence is a good strategy.

“Every night the managers in each venue nominate a front of house or a kitchen staff member who went over and above their role for that particular evening,” he says. “At the end of the month, each venue looks at all the nominations and chooses the ‘Unicorn of the Month’, who gets $100 on their Applejack app. They also get a T-shirt. We make a bit of a fuss and it’s a lot of fun.”

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