By Prue Stamp, Head of People & Culture at Urban Leisure Group

Ever been completely taken in and sold the dream by a new restaurant opening? Stunning Instagram, slick website, gorgeous menu, maybe an exciting chef and industry known GM?  You make your booking, gather your mates and head in with high expectations. Open the door, look around hopefully and… it’s a shambles. Ignored by the host, confused about where to sit, not sure if it’s table service or order at the bar, can’t find the loos, no signage anywhere. How did you feel? Annoyed? Unconvinced? Sold a dream and got a lemon? Like you wanted to turn on your heel and find somewhere that has their shit together? Now imagine all those feelings but it’s your first day at a new job.
There’s no denying that hospitality has been through the wringer in recent years and the fight for talent has been ON. Businesses could be forgiven for really hamming up how great they are to work for in an attempt to outdo the competition and make those key hires – shouting about benefits, great teammates, flexibility, it’s all shiny, shiny, shiny! Then it comes to the crunch, you’ve landed some great new talent, they’re ready and excited……and the shine wears off.  They’re chucked in the deep end on their first day, no training, no venue tour, no understanding of the business, just handed an apron and expected to crack on. And have they even signed their contract?
Let’s talk about onboarding. Retention is a big issue in hospitality. We’re notorious for our high turnover of teams (generally double the UK average) and some studies have shown that up to 30% of our new starters leave in the first 90 days. Ouch. Effective onboarding is probably our greatest weapon to drive down these silly numbers. So, what does a great onboarding experience look like and how can it make all the difference to our teams (and in turn, bottom lines)?
One thing that all great onboarding processes have in common is that they are planned and intentional – this is not something you can wing and get away with.
When developing an onboarding process, it can be helpful to remember the four C’s: Compliance, Clarity, Culture, and Connection.


Boring is important. Make sure your new starter has a contract, copies of any policies and procedures, has completed their day one paperwork and compulsory training, and is fully locked and loaded. Not only does this step firm up all the legalities but also sends a strong message to your newbie that you know what you’re doing, and this is a real, grown-up place to work.  The Two Factor Theory, developed by psychologist Frederick Herzberg in the late 50s calls these elements the “hygiene” of a job and, without them, people tend to feel pretty dissatisfied and insecure in their role. These foundational elements are so important – there’s no point telling a new starter how great you are and then not nailing the basics.


Don’t assume that your new starters know the ins and outs of their role. Even if they’re experienced, they’ve likely never worked in your venue before and will need some bits spelling out for them. You can think of this part as the early doors training – explain their role, are they floor or bar, or perhaps in the kitchen? How does the venue operate and what are the expectations for steps of service, using the till, running food, dropping dishes or glassware, cocktail specs, bar set up and so on. Make sure it’s crystal clear so they don’t feel lost and end up blagging it! It’s better to teach someone to suck eggs than to assume they know and leave them to it. Clarity gives confidence, watch how much quicker your new starter gets into the swing of things once you invest some time in really showing them the ropes, intentionally. What else does a well-trained, clear newbie do? They sell and engage with guests, make less mistakes, find their feet quickly and slot into your team with ease.


This is the big one and the trickiest to nail. Your culture is likely what attracted your new hires in the first place, so getting this one right is crucial. Culture can’t reallllly be taught but it can be demonstrated and is HIGHLY infectious – culture is catching. You need to make sure that your actions match your words and that you really walk the talk. Say you’re a friendly team? You better actually be friendly. Espouse values of sustainability? Your CSR better be on point. Culture is another way of describing what’s “normal” in your business and, while a lot of elements of culture are intangible and a bit immeasurable, you can certainly spell out areas of your culture in action. This might look like:

  • What’s your story? When did the business start and how has it grown? Storytelling, values, shared language and symbols all help quantify your culture.
  • How do people communicate? Is it email, phone calls, face to face chats? Who do you go to for different things?
  • Who’s who? Is there a central team? If so, explain who they are and what they do (having photos in your handbook helps!).
  • Are there team meals or staff food? What time and where do you sit? Do you all eat together or scoff some cold chips while crouching behind the pass?
  • Breaks, working hours, doubles, closes and opens, all of these contribute to your culture so you better spell it out, and mean it.

When your newbies really understand, embrace and champion your culture, everything else becomes easy. We’ve all heard the term “poor culture fit” but are they really the wrong fit or are you just not making your culture clear?


We’re not just talking about making sure that your new starter has the contact list for their teammates and managers here – they’ve got to feel socially connected to the people they work with. In hospitality we tend to work super closely with our team (physically, mentally and emotionally) – we share late nights, early starts, tight bars, hot kitchens and (all too often) tiny, cramped offices. In these high pressure, intimate environments, it is so important that we feel connected to and comfortable enough with our team to be able to crack on without any weird feelings. I’m not saying that everyone must absolutely love each other, but there needs to be enough of a connection to make it both enjoyable and professional.

So, how do you encourage this connection? Assigning a buddy to your newbie is a good place to start – this person should support their first shifts and get into the nitty gritty with them. Make sure that there are opportunities for your new starter to socialise and connect with the established team – team drinks, family meals on shifts, letting them in on any in-jokes or shared language and intentionally welcoming them is a must.

So, onboarding has got to be structured, intentional, and genuine. We know that a great onboarding experience will make everyone feel more comfortable and happier at work, but don’t ignore the undeniable benefits it has to your business – increased retention and engagement (new hires with a structured onboarding experience are 69 % more likely to stay in the business for three years or more!), increased productivity and less mistakes and wastage, and a happy, connected team in full flow, working towards shared goals and having fun doing it. What could be more hospitality than that?

About Prue:

An Australian, settled in the UK nearly 14 years ago with a background in the speciality coffee industry and a love of all things food, drink, hospitality and people. She’s been with ULG for coming up to 11 years, starting as an AGM and Barista trainer, working her way into General Management then taking the role of Training Manager before landing safely in People and Culture 6 years ago. Prue is CIPD Level 5 qualified, a Mindfulness and Resilience at Work coach, Mental Health First Aider and interested in leadership and wellbeing in hospitality. She lives in East Sussex and has a three year old who keeps her very busy.

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