More is more – the pressures and pleasures of the festive season
Staff retention – the foundations for success?


8 min read

Staff retention – the foundations for success?

Kitty Finstad

Kitty Finstad

Jan 15, 2024


    Krzsyztof Dudkowski, Three-Chimneys

    Copyright Planday 2024

    Picture this: you’re GM of a successful destination restaurant whose (nice) problem to have is managing demand for bookings – covers are booked months in advance. Given its remote location, though, servicing those bookings with enough engaged, happy staff is a different problem altogether.

    So how do you attract, recruit and retain the best people for your kitchen, floor and front of house?

    With over 16 years in hospitality on his CV, including a stint as F&B and operations manager at the five-star Fife Arms in Braemar, Krzysztof Dudkowski is now general manager at the renowned Three Chimneys Restaurant and rooms on the Isle of Skye.

    Here he shares his strategies for making sure his team feels rewarded and remains engaged and committed. His philosophy isn’t anchored in salary and benefit packages (even though they’re attractive), but in recruiting the right people, encouraging work-life balance and removing the barriers to making the leap across the bridge to the Hebrides.

    Kitty Finstad asked him about all this and more…

    Meet the team

    Who: Krzysztof Dudkowski

    Role: General Manager

    Business: The Three Chimneys Restaurant

    Where: Isle of Skye, Inner Hebridean islands

    Dealing with increased salary demands

    Lots of people in hospitality are finding dealing with increased salary demands understandably stressful. What’s your experience been?

    Well, I viewed that trend as a temporary thing in the immediate period after opening up again, and we refused to participate in that craziness. My view was that, okay, we do need people and we probably need to pay more, but we don’t suddenly need to start paying through nose with much higher salaries.

    The fact is higher salaries are directly linked to levels of experience.

    So for that reason, recruitment was tough. We had to find and select the people who wanted to join us for all the right reasons. People who weren’t just looking for an inflated job title or the highest base salary. It was tough.

    But we’ve always looked after our existing team very, very well, so our retention levels were already really good.

    Baking staff retention in

    The Three Chimneys has an excellent reputation and bookings are consistently high – that’s attractive when recruiting. But why are your retention levels so healthy? What are you doing to make good people stay?

    Our package is attractive, but retention comes down to how we recruit. From the off, we’re completely honest about all the pros and the cons that come with moving to the Isle of Skye and what it means to live and work here.

    Obviously the location is amazing, and for anyone who loves the outdoors this is a huge attraction. So when we’re having those initial conversations, we pitch to people who are after that sort of scenario.

    Take two perfectly suitable candidates, both after professional growth and development. But one is a city person who wouldn’t feel comfortable in this kind of location… You know who’s going to succeed and who isn’t.

    Planday helps you manage your whole team from one app so you can focus on building your reputation.

    So you look at people’s lifestyles too, something that rates highly on hospitality workers’ wishlists for lots of reasons.

    Working here, it’s an incredible dynamic to be part of. We have a close, well-integrated team who have fun together and learn from each other.

    The quality of the work environment is something we really pride ourselves on.

    But if you enjoy going to cinemas, clubbing and shopping on your days off, this isn’t the right place for you.

    That’s why our recruitment strategy is to offer the right people a good work/life balance within the context of this environment.

    Balancing the work/life equation

    How big a part does flexibility play in work/life balance in 2024?

    Shorter working weeks have become de rigueur in some establishments. We introduced a four-day week quite early. We recognise that hospitality is not always the easiest industry to work in, but if you’re considering it for the right reasons and you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s great!

    In peak season, our team can work up to 50 hours a week. Splitting that over five days leaves them tired. So what happens on their two days off? Day one’s spent resting and day two on catching up on life admin – there’s not time for anything else. So the four-day week has made a big, big impact – it absolutely helps to moderate work/life balance, giving staff more time to rest up and to enjoy life, especially during busy periods.

    Going into our third year of the four-day week, we’ve found efficiencies that mean some team members will be working well under 50 hours a week. More balance again, plus staff can swap shifts if it suits their colleagues. Meaning someone who normally has Friday-Saturday-Sunday off could potentially swap out their Monday-Tuesday- Wednesday shifts and get six days off in a row without touching their holidays.

    Set up custom rules in Planday to help your team rebalance their work/life equation.

    I can see the appeal! When I worked in restaurants in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was always trying to max out my days off. And there wasn’t anything like extra pay for longer shifts. If it took you an extra half hour to cash out after your shift had ‘ended’, too bad! Please tell me things have improved in terms of payroll…

    Ha! Things are certainly better now. Most of the team here are on fixed salaries, and the majority get their basic salary for working contracted hours. But whenever they work extra hours, they get paid the equivalent hourly rate.

    Say I have a chef de partie whose contract is 41 hours per week on an annual salary of £24,500. Through the season, if they actually work 50 hours a week, they’ll get paid for each of those extra hours in excess of 41.

    There’s no old-school hospitality ‘exploitation’ like, ‘Here’s your salary and you will work all and any hours that we ask of you without being paid extra.’ We do not do that.

    We reward people for the work they’ve done. This is a huge hit – especially with the chefs. In other places, very often they’ll get a fixed salary and work crazy, exhausting hours, in excess of 60 hours a week. We don’t do that, and as a result we have a very happy team.

    Happy and happily housed – good-quality staff accommodation must be one of the key reasons people commit to working with you. I’ve heard so much about the shortage of affordable housing on Skye.

    That situation doesn’t help. That’s why we’ve invested heavily – more than £1.5 million since 2021 – in more and better staff accommodation. We have 10 staff house properties, which is a lot, but if we’re going to recruit and retain people, we need to house them.

    Some locals work for us, but most of our team comes from outside the Isle of Skye. Because here on the island, people work in hospitality or there’s no labour because there’s no housing. So we make it attractive: we charge £250/month for high-quality staff housing which includes bills – sheltering staff from the rising cost of living.

    That’s one of the real benefits of working at The Three Chimneys, along with being closed for around four weeks over Christmas and New Year so staff can have a proper break and spend time with their families. A lot of seasonal businesses here close from around mid-October, not just because footfall goes down, but it’s also when the students, who come to work out of term time, go back to uni.

    But we have students who come back season after season. One young woman who worked for us in 2022 as a kitchen porter came back in 2023 as a waitress – she’s absolutely brilliant. And she’s coming back again.

    And because she’s had a good experience, she’ll tell her friends. Maybe they’ll come join her next year.

    Send the right message to the right people, through Planday to help your team on the whole page, and feeling connected. Wherever they are.

    Building off your reputation

    It sounds like the best tool you have in your recruitment and retention arsenal is making sure people have a good experience at work – having fun, feeling looked after and respected, and enjoying a healthy work/life balance. All that feeds back directly into the business’s reputation.

    Spot on. I believe that if you look after your people and they’re happy, they do their best. And we’re constantly looking for ways to do even more. Last year, for example, with the rising cost of living, only the 60% of our staff who live onsite were sheltered from energy costs going through the roof. We also introduced a Skye living allowance for full-time salaried employees who live in their own accommodation to help with rising bills.

    That shows genuine care and leadership, as well as innovation.

    I know everyone says their team is like a family, but I really mean it. We’re a group of people who stick together, who look after and support one another through the good, the bad, the ugly. I listen, I encourage my team to talk to me and I want them always to feel heard, that their views and opinions matter. That’s what I mean by family.

    Schedule satisfaction, with Planday

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