In our recent Hiring Heroes interview, we sat down with Daryl Sutcliffe, Head of Talent Acquisition at The Restaurant Group, to delve into her 17-year journey in recruitment, navigating industry challenges, and to discuss the value of storytelling to attract top talent.
I have worked in recruitment for 17 years now. It all started when I joined an HR department. I quickly realised my passion for recruitment and began working for an agency called TMP (now part of PeopleScout), where I advised clients across various industries. About 8 years ago, I made the move in-house and joined Co-op, taking on the responsibility of managing their employer brand and talent attraction efforts. When Covid hit, I was overseeing Retail, Funeral Care and Logistics. It was a very challenging time as we supported our colleagues through unprecedented times, and my focus shifted towards making sure we had enough employees to meet our customer needs during this unusual period.
Towards the end of last year, I decided I was ready for a change, a desire to do something different. That’s when the opportunity at TRG came up - a chance to lead the Talent Acquisition team for leisure and concessions. And I’ve been here about 6 months working across high-volume recruitment, employer branding, and my personal favourite - assessment work. There’s been a lot of change since I started, and I continue to learn every day, but I’m truly enjoying it and love the team.
I’m also an ambassador for Girls Out Loud - going into schools, sharing the lessons I’ve learnt in life, and in my career, and showcasing different careers and the opportunities available. It’s something I’m really passionate about, and I think we all have a role to play in inspiring the next generation to do better than we’ve been able to do.
At The Restaurant Group, our brands are widely recognised but people don’t necessarily know who we are. Bridging this awareness gap is one of our major challenges. In fact, a significant part of my role, and one of the reasons I've been brought in, is to start sharing our story. We have the size and scale to offer meaningful careers to the people who want them - and we have a really engaged workforce with the stories to tell. For instance Sameh, one of our Operations Directors, who began in the kitchen and now oversees 42 restaurants - that’s truly incredible! But unfortunately, not many are aware of such stories. My primary focus is on how we can share these narratives to showcase our people and our brand.
That's one significant challenge. The other lies in finding quality talent. We’re still in the early stages of our recruitment journey, and we recognise there are changes we need to make to get in line with the rest of the market. While we generate a substantial quantity of applications, the real challenge lies in screening and identifying high-quality candidates within this pool. Equally crucial is ensuring that these candidates will thrive in their roles. Take our airport locations, for example; they represent a lifestyle choice, and some people absolutely love it. I refer to it as ‘survive and thrive’, as it can be a high-paced environment.
Diversity is another aspect we’re actively focusing on. We’re great in some spaces, but we need to work on others. We recently looked at our entire workforce from a diversity data perspective so we can understand our gaps. We want to attract young talent and demonstrate that hospitality can indeed offer meaningful and rewarding career paths. We have dedicated employees who have built their entire careers at The Restaurant Group in various roles, so we want to showcase the opportunities for growth and mobility within our group.
I joined The Restaurant Group after Covid and Brexit, but I think they instilled a real sense of resilience in our colleagues. You can tell that they care about each other and the business. During Covid, like many in the Hospitality industry, we had to close several businesses, but we’ve been fortunate to see some excellent people return to us.
Brexit presents challenges because sponsorship is expensive, and it has limited some of the talent pools we used to rely on heavily. We need to widen our net, and that's one of the reasons I've been brought in with my experience in attraction – to spread the message and attract more people. We have to be smart about the talent pools we target and how we plan to plug those gaps. It's widely reported around the challenges that Brexit created for both the hospitality and retail sectors, and I think Covid compounded those difficulties. The rising cost of living is also something we're addressing. We're doing everything we can to support our colleagues, both at home and at work. The benefits we're looking at are focused on helping colleagues navigate through these very challenging times.
It's a little tricky because I've only been here for 6 months! But for me, it's about being really honest about what we can offer and what's the give-and-get. We need to be really clear about our expectations of candidates and what the role will entail. Some aspects can be challenging; there are early mornings in the airport. However, what they receive from us in terms of how we look after them, the opportunities we provide – we have an amazing succession planning system in place to help people develop and identify talent early, so we can offer them support if they want to advance their careers.
The Recruitment Group has focused on the internal aspect, and now I'm here to think about how we can showcase the great work the team has done to the market. I want to get to a position where we are casting a wide net and then using assessments to determine who will thrive and succeed within the business.
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that now we’ve streamlined the application process, making it a lot easier for people to apply. This means we receive a high volume of applications for the majority of our roles. We can put up an advertisement, and within 48 hours, we have 150 applicants. And then the manager is left thinking about how they are going to sift through all of these people. That's the 'yes' part.
The 'no' part is the fact that it's still a challenge. Generating such a high volume of applications creates a lot of work for the managers, and my team when it’s for management roles. We spend a lot of time sifting through numerous applications to find the right fit for the job and our organisation. We want to make sure that the job is right for them too. So, from my perspective, we need to strike the right balance. We need to filter out candidates during the process, helping them determine whether our organisation and role align with their goals, and likewise whether they will be successful and perform well for us.
The team has done a lot of great work, but much of it still relies on human input. We rely heavily on managers to guide team members, both front of house and back of house, to understand the commitments they are making, for example are they okay with early morning shifts for airport work or evening and weekend work. While this approach works to some extent, we want to make sure that managers have more time to have the great conversations with the candidates who are right for us.
There is a lot of choice out there for candidates. The candidate experience is so important because it's their first interaction with you as a business, and you need to make sure the promises you are making during that process are then delivered on as they join.
We’re a great business to join, but our processes at the moment are a bit clunky, so people don’t necessarily get the best experience with us in that front end, which might mean we lose a few good people. But I also don’t like a totally frictionless application process, if I’m honest. It goes back to generating the volume; I feel there has to be a balance. It’s about having an appropriate process for someone to go through to help them understand the role they are applying for and the business they are applying for, but not making it so difficult that it’s a game of perseverance.
They are learning about you as an organisation, and you need to make sure they have a good experience. Also, they might never work with us or join the company, but they might eat in one of our restaurants. So it’s a really important dynamic that we have to create, where we make sure everyone has that great experience, and they learn something about themselves or would happily still go and eat in one of our restaurants. What we don’t want is for them to say, 'Oh, that’s a terrible company; I never want to set foot through the doors again.' And that is always in the back of my mind when we think about these experiences.
One of our ops directors talked about how we should treat customers - you should treat customers like they are your grandparents coming round for Sunday dinner. That warm welcome, looking after them, making sure they have a great experience. And I think that's what we want to do for candidates - we want to treat them in a fair way and make sure they have a good experience of us as a business, whether they get a job or not. That’s something I’m really mindful of. But, we’ve got a long way to go as we are just at the beginning of that journey, understanding what those different parts mean.
Data is a bit of a tricky one. And recruitment data is a bit of a challenge. We have some data on spreadsheets, and so I sometimes have to track things manually. But, I understand the vital role data plays in making informed decisions and we’re reviewing how to make the systems we use work harder for us to better inform our recruitment decisions.
The importance of data extends beyond recruitment data alone. It encompasses all the other data accessible to us as a people function, such as attrition rates or whether we are hiring people and they are leaving within 3 months, and understanding the reasons behind it. Additionally, we’re focused on how we promote our internal talent, ensuring that we provide the necessary support and opportunities for people to develop their careers.
Engagement surveys are crucial too: understanding what our employees love and what we need to work on. All of these aspects tie together to create this employee lifecycle and help highlight where we need to work harder. There’s so much information that gets shared with you, whether it’s in passing or via engagement surveys. It’s about how you then take that data and use it to make decisions. So it’s really important to have data at the start.
The other thing I find incredibly valuable is going out and about, spending time with the teams, and actually understanding what it’s like to work in the various different sites. One of the first things I did as part of my induction was to go to quite a few of the airports and our restaurants to speak to people.
So I think data is important, but it’s also about how you overlay everything else. Data should give you the starting point, and then you go and investigate what that actually means. It helps you to pinpoint the areas to address.
Telling great stories. When you're trying to engage the right talent to join the business, it's about how you accomplish that. I believe social media provides an excellent opportunity to paint that picture and educate potential candidates. But there are many different ways to engage people, so it's about how you use the different formats to do that.
I see our role as identifying the potential within people, and then helping individuals make these decisions. Work is such a big part of your life, and choosing your career is such a big decision. It’s hard to navigate, especially considering there are many 'invisible' careers that people might not be aware of or just presume it’s a certain way. It’s actually one of the reasons I became an ambassador for Girls Out Loud; I wanted to be able to show the next generation what their career could look like.
Our role is to showcase the diverse range of opportunities available. Depending on your dreams and how you want your life to be, there are so many different pathways to explore. The key is to present these options in a way that allows individuals to understand what they can gain and what will be required. And we need to give people the opportunity to change careers or acquire new skills —assisting individuals in making the right decisions for themselves.
The big trend that I'm paying attention to is the frictionless application process. So I’m closely monitoring how other organisations are using technology to streamline their hiring decisions and processes, and the benefits they are seeing as a result. There are lots of new things on the market, like ChatGPT (which I love and use daily), so I’m trying to watch and understand how technology like this will impact our processes.
The market is changing fast, and I firmly believe that technology will enable us to enhance our processes while maintaining the essential human interactions. I’m trying to work out how we evolve our recruitment process from a largely manual one to a system where technology assists and empowers these processes and facilitates even more meaningful human interactions.
Try new things! Embrace a real ‘test and learn’ approach. Just because something hasn't worked before doesn't mean it won't work another time. And just because something has worked in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to work.
Things change rapidly. And I think sometimes people can be closed off or take the 'if it ain't broke, don’t fix it' approach. By adopting this mindset, I think people miss so many opportunities to make things better. To me, it’s about staying curious, pushing forward, and being open to opportunities - and use your network. Be open to what others are doing and give new things a try. If they don't work, what's the worst thing that can happen?
And encourage this attitude within your teams. As an individual, remain open to trying new things and foster a culture where everyone feels they can contribute, speak up, and share.