Supporting Mental Health in the Hospitality Industry

Today, Wednesday 10th October is World Mental Health. Mental health relates to a person’s psychological, emotional and social well-being. It affects the decisions we make, how we treat and relate to others and how we handle stress.

The hospitality industry can be a stressful place to work. It’s fast paced, the hours are long and sometimes anti-social and there is always pressure to deliver excellent customer service. If we let it, this can become overwhelming.

The newest client to join the Harri family is Caravan; a company that cares deeply about mental health and goes above and beyond to ensure their staff are well supported. We are so proud to have them on board!

Nicole Zachariah, UK Marketing Manager at Harri sat down with Elsa De Jager, Head of People at Caravan to chat about the importance of supporting mental health within hospitality, specifically the restaurant industry. Read the interview below:

Nicole: Why are mental health issues common in the hospitality industry?

Elsa: Working in the hospitality industry can often mean long hours, at times low wages and physically and mentally challenging working environments. Historically, there has been an expectation to just ‘get on with it’ e.g. chefs coming into work when sick, or never complaining even when doing back-to-back shifts.

Nicole: Do you think things will get better within the industry?

Elsa : Well, the positive news is that alongside a shift in the law to better protect employees, the culture and expectations of the industry are changing too. Career prospects, flexibility in the workplace and a culture of respect and well-being is emerging. Mental health should be one of the major things our industry focus on, collectively supporting each other to do better and facilitate improved working environments for our teams.  

Nicole: What is Caravan’s position when it comes to mental health support in the workplace?

Elsa: At Caravan, we have always championed a culture of mutual respect, inclusivity, diversity and support. We are actively looking at ways we can improve how we support our teams, particularly when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. The owners of Caravan- Laura, Chris & Miles- have always fostered and focused on a really positive work environment for their teams- both for front and back of house.

Nicole: Why is fostering a positive working environment and culture so important when it comes to mental health?  

Elsa: Creating a culture of teamwork and support among employees is key to supporting mental health. This is because there is no way we can expect our team to excel at work, if they don’t feel good about themselves in their role and in their place in the business. 

Nicole: What initiatives have Caravan put in place to support mental health?


  • We are currently exploring how we can attract the best people who may not have the flexibility to do the traditional hours of restaurants. We have, for example, working mums who are managers, because we offer them flexible working hours and a supportive working environment.

  • We focus on great staff benefits, team development, staff parties and entertainment.

  • A recent focus of the business has also been to overhaul our process for internal communication by adding support roles (such as mine) so that if team members are suffering from mental health issues, they know they have someone to talk to who is equipped to help them appropriately i.e., what questions to ask, how to listen, and how to best support them.

  • In the future, we are looking to add a “well-being” segment to our Learning & Development annual calendar to include sessions on meditation, breathing techniques, stress control and life coping strategies.







How to Spot a Service Superstar

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You know the type: poised, effortlessly charming, megawatt smile, warm and welcoming, easy to talk to, and genuinely kind. The type of person you want on your team. The type of person you meet and immediately want to clone.

I’m not describing a service unicorn - far from it. I’m describing a service superstar.

In fact, you have people with these wonderful qualities in your operation right now. The key is to figure out who they are and how to entice more of them to join your operation. 

When I was consulting to Le Cirque, a young man with a very charming and warm manner worked as a doorman. He could light up the place with his smile and he had a bounce in his step. He was the perfect person to have at the front door of Le Cirque as he embodied warmth, professionalism, and charisma; this set the tone for the experience to come and he was a small but essential part of the customer experience.

But he wasn’t always the doorman; in fact, he had been hired as a dishwasher. Once Sirio, the storied owner of Le Cirque, met him and saw his smile and willingness to work, he realized that this guy would be better utilized at the front door. He took him to Zara for a suit and gave him one of his Hermes ties. The maître d’ trained him on how to welcome the various important guests, open their car doors, and help them into the restaurant. Sirio was right: this is the guy you want at the front door, not hidden in the back of the operation. 

There are 7 traits that are essential to service superstars. It is unlikely that one person will have all 7, but see if you can find 2 or 3 or these traits in your new hires or in your existing team members, you can identify and groom the stars in your operation and ensure that the most hospitable folks are out in front, wowing your guests. 

Here’s a way to spot these 7 traits: As part of the hiring process (and also as a way to connect with your existing staff members) ask your candidate to tell you a story. It could be a story about how they helped someone make something better; how they helped a team member; how they stood up for the business; or how they stood up for a guest or an absolute stranger. There are many ways to get someone talking authentically. And how they tell the story will demonstrate how they feel about others.

Look for:

  • Eye contact
  • Kindness and decency
  • Empathy and an interest in connection
  • A willingness to help others
  • Curiosity
  • Humor
  • A smile

If someone can share a story with you while looking you in the eye, taking pride in the outcome of their efforts, and demonstrating empathy for others, you might have a superstar on your hands. Make this storytelling a part of your hiring process so you can see if there might be a superstar in the making.

Remember: you can always teach the hard skills of restaurant work. Everyone can move up and develop their skills if they are curious and willing to learn.

Harri's Summer Series: Recruitment and Branding 

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August 2nd marked the third and penultimate session of Harri's Summer Series. Due to a high volume of attendees, we hosted two sessions:  an interactive breakfast discussion and a round-table dinner. Put shortly – it was an extremely productive day for all involved!

At the breakfast event, attendees from brands such as Cote, Mitchells & Butlers, wagamama, and ETM Group gathered together in the beautiful Marx room at Quo Vadis Soho on a sunny summer day in London. The group was comprised of more than 20 recruiters from leading restaurants/pubs and hotel groups, guest speakers from Indeed, The Prince's Trust, and several members of the Harri team. 

The Harri Summer Series is all about the Employee Value Proposition (EVP): how we, employers within the hospitality sector, can make our people feel valued during the hiring process as well as in their roles.  Our sessions break EVP down into 4 pillars: Compensation & Benefits, Recruitment & Branding, Performance & Development, and Engagement. 

This session, which focused on Recruitment & Branding, was hosted by Cleo Clarke (Global VP of HR Strategy & Development at Harri). It began with introductions and splitting the group into teams of four. After the surprisingly difficult task of ‘name your team’ was complete, the session was in full swing! (We'd like to crown ’Hospitality Hotties’ as the winners of the name game.)  

The teams were asked to spend 10 minutes discussing 4 topics - Candidate Experience, Recruitment Process, Employer Branding, and Recruitment KPIs - focusing on best practices and innovation.  

The mix of industry vertical (restaurant/pub/hotel) and company size (small scale/multi-site/global) within the groups turned discussion into debate on the differing visions and strategies a brand could have with regards to the four topics mentioned above. We decided to take the best ideas from each group (or, as we like to call them, the best 'nuggets') and summarize them for you below. Here are our golden nuggets! 

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How should you ensure your candidates have the best possible experience when applying for your brand? 

  • It’s about the candidate - not you. Interview candidates at the site they will be working at, or go to them. Don’t make them come to you for convenience! 
  • Think ahead. It’s not just about the day of the interview – understand the candidate's career progression beforehand in order to help them see and believe there is a future for them with your brand.
  • Scrap the traditional interview. By making candidates fill out endless forms, are you just going through the motions? Get creative with your interviews to make the process engaging and in alignment with your brand.
  • People understand and trust their peers. Have prospective managers meet other managers during the interview process. 
  • Create a relaxing environment for prospective team members. They may be nervous and you'll want to alleviate this as best you can. 
  • Give your general managers a voice in the hiring process to help prioritize positions and find the right people. They probably have a better understanding than you of who is needed.
  • Make sure you have the right "recruitment toolbox" in place. Having the best resources on hand will make the process seamless. 
  • Survey your candidates after the recruitment process to learn from your mistakes and build on your successes. 

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What does your current process look like? Is it in line with U.K. regulations?

  • Right to Work: do it at the first opportunity you have (i.e. at interview stage).
  • Ensure your managers are trained on and understand GDPR.
  • Ensure there is consistency throughout the interview process.
  • Think ahead to whether factors like seasonality, time of year, site location will cause any challenges in the recruitment process. Solve these problems before they occur.
  • Implement a two-stage interview for team members and a three-stage interview for managers.
  • Promoting the position internally should always be part of the initial process!

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How important is employer branding? The perpetual struggle between consumer and employer marketing needs to end. How can we end it, and why do we need to? 

  • Your employees are your consumers (and vice versa); therefore, employer branding matters.
  • Align your employer branding with the vision your company is trying to create. Are you a large brand that wants consistency, or are you trying to be independent and sustain individual identity per site? Hire people who encompass and help define your vision.
  • Don’t shout about yourself – let others shout about you through reviews, social media, referrals, and word of mouth. Let them promote you!
  • Employer brand vs. talent brand is a concept that Indeed practices. The employer brand is what the leadership team looks to create for their employees from the top-down. The talent brand is the reality - how your workforce feels, who they've become, and how they've grown by joining your brand. Focus on your talent brand and then try to connect it to your employer brand. 
  • Employ the three C's of messaging: Concise, consistent and catchy. The Prince's Trust slogan, ‘Youth can do it,' is a great example. Their message is displayed everywhere - down to the kitchen mugs - which really motivated the team and brought the message home.
Employer Brand is certainly important, but equally, it’s crucial to know what employees are experiencing every day. I call this the Talent Brand.
— Matt Price, Indeed
Employee branding Is your employees – it needs to come from within.
— Louise Gallant, Gallant Recruitment

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In the recruitment process, everyone has the standard KPI, including time-to-hire and candidate source. What else can we target? 

  • Focus on the quality of candidates, not the volume.
  • Have a family tree for your business so candidates and employees can see where they fit in and understand how they can grow. 
  • Good candidate experience should be a KPI - survey candidates to measure this. Good candidate experience is the strongest indicator of a great brand to work for!
The staff that stay with the company the longest are those who have been referred from within.
— Stephanie Latham, ETM Group

The session ended on a high note, as select attendees presented their group's takeaways to the larger audience. Everyone left with at least one action item for their business.

The top takeaway was that we all face the same day-to-day challenges within our recruitment and branding processes. Coming together to brainstorm how to overcome them and stay innovative in the competitive, fast–paced hospitality landscape was icing on the cake!

We would like to extend a special thank you to our guests Matt Price from Indeed and Bob Clewley from The Prince's Trust! Here is a recap of what they had to say: 

Matt Price, Indeed: 
Matt asked everyone in the room who had heard of Indeed or had been on the site to raise their hands – unsurprisingly, everyone did. Interestingly, the number of hands raised halved when Matt asked who could actually explain the Indeed model (how it works and how clients are charged). To learn more, connect with Matt at

Bob Clewley, The Prince's Trust: 
Bob started off by stating that while everyone knows the Prince's Trust as an organization that does ‘good stuff,' not many people realize that it works very closely with the hospitality sector. Get Hired is a team within the trust that helps and supports young people by coaching them through mock interviews and providing them with training and guidance. Get Hired aims to match hospitality companies with these young, talented individuals who are determined to get into a career within the sector. The team is free and events where employers can meet potential candidates are hosted once a month. If you would like further information, or if you cannot attend an event but have vacancies that need filling, please connect with Bob at

The Quarterback of Your Restaurant: The Hostess

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When I am consulting to the restaurants I work with I see it again and again: the host is utilized merely as a friendly sentinel at the front of the restaurant and is tasked with answering the phone, greeting and seating guests and being nice to customers. While this is incredibly important, this is not the only purpose of this position. I wonder how many hosts are told: “your job is to make money for the restaurant”? Or “your ability to convince people to wait for a table when they walk in is the key to the restaurant’s success?” The host or hostess will always create the first impression of your business, in person and on the phone. But the host’s primary function is to make money for the restaurant by seating as many guests as possible between the opening and closing hours of the restaurant.

When you empower your host by telling him that his responsibility is to the bottom line it changes things; it creates a more level playing field on the team. Usually the host is on the low rung of the restaurant heirarchy. When the host is charged with impacting the bottom line, the servers and bartenders are no longer the only sales people on the floor. The hosts are now part of the sales team as they are ultimately responsible for making the sale by capturing the sale.  Once we make the hosts responsible for the bottom line we must include the bussers as well. Their ability to clear and reset tables makes it easier for the host to seat another guest and make more money for the operation. The runners contribute to this by keeping up the pace of the kitchen and ensuring that the food is paced out, the guests are served and no one is waiting for their meal to arrive.

It takes a team of people to serve just one guest and it takes a collaborative team to serve hundreds of guests a night.  When you can turn your host into someone with her fingers on the purse strings of the business it is ultimately profitable for your operation. And I have attest to the fact that being a host who knows she drives the business is way more fascinating, empowering and satisfying to her than just being stationed at the front and being nice. As an owner or manager, can really teach your hosts how the hospitality, kindness and etiquette they show to your guests can drive your bottom line in a meaningful and lasting way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Edwards is a speaker, author, customer service expert, and leadership coach based in NYC. She owns and operates Kate Edwards & Company, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in customer experience and leadership.