In a year that proved desperate for many pubs, the Peach Pub Company managed to achieve growth and picked up a Best Places to Work in Hospitality Award to boot. Rosie Birkett reports
It's a troubling time for pubs, which are now closing at the alarming rate of three a day. The year 2008 saw the economic slowdown leave many victims in its wake, yet the Peach Pub Company grew from a seven- to a 10-pub chain, losing no trade in the last - and, arguably, toughest - quarter of the year, and averaging a £25,000-£30,000 per-pub weekly turnover - significantly higher than the £3,000-£10,000 industry average.
While Cash's role as a judge on Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant TV programme did much for the profile of the company, he explains that winning this accolade has had an impact on recruitment. "We've had all our eâ'mail footers changed to say that we're winners, and it just helps your profile in the industry," he says. "That endorsement means people come to the interview wanting the job, rather than being speculative. We're now finding that people really want to work for Peach."
The company employs 210 people across 10 pubs, with a relatively low staff turnover rate of 12% on senior management and 43% for the remainder, many of whom are young people on their travels. "A lot of our waiters and waitresses are from the travelling brigade," says Cash, "and we take special care, particularly with those who may have grown up in not particularly restaurant-heavy areas, that we get them enthused about the customer experience."
When a new person joins the company, whether they're a potwash or partner, they have a one-to-one personal induction with either Cash or co-owner Hamish Stoddart where they are inducted into the Peach company culture. Then they are given a paid opportunity to test out a nearby Peach pub and experience the customer perspective.
This concept of staff engagement and involvement is one that Cash is passionate about, even with the more transient staff, but it's the staying-power of the more senior members of staff which he sees as crucial. "The thing we're really proud of is that a lot of our senior team stay on - we've got lots of people working for us for three, four, five years at a time," he says.
"We do employ a lot of travellers as waiting staff, and although we do have strong retention, it doesn't matter how good they are, they're just not going to build their career with you, because they're on a different mission. It's our chefs and our management that see Peach as a place they can build their career and an industry mark of good training - and that's my and Hamish's goal."
With a background at Raymond Blanc's Le Petit Blanc, Cash knows a thing or two about industry benchmarks, and he certainly has his mentor's attitude to training. Getting staff to think in a way that will radiate the company's high standards of hospitality is achieved through initiatives such as the monthly Peach Adventures. These days give staff the chance to experience things like barista training, cheese tasting, brewery outings and supplier visits.
Cash also runs a course called Heroes of Hospitality. "It's about trying to explain that great moments come from having and using some autonomy and intelligence to give people a great day," he says. "Whether it's someone's birthday, whether they've got their kids with them - if someone's car has got stuck in the car park or they're too drunk to drive - if there's something you can do to make someone's day a bit different, just go for it, and if you spend a bit of our money doing it - just give us the receipt and we'll reimburse you.
"You'll never come unstuck with Peach if you're just trying to do something that goes above and beyond the service standards." Giving staff free rein to dip into expenses for guest satisfaction is something of an unconventional approach, and this unconventionality and informality is something at the heart of the company culture - hence the mantra, "Our house is your place".
Nothing represents this idea better than the company's newly acquired training space. While many companies may rent out conference rooms, Peach staff get the run of their very own rural retreat. "We've just refurbished a dilapidated barn on an organic farm in North Aston, and we've now got a big training room plus a commercial kitchen and an office," says Cash.
Peachy and Quirky
"It's brilliant, because we're just not office people, and now we've got somewhere really Peachy and quirky where we can take staff. I've just created a post in Peach for a chef-trainer, which is based around the great basics of gastropub cookery, involving pÁ¢tisserie and all sorts, which will take place there."
Staff inclusion in company training and decisions is something that has worked for Peach, as Cash explains. "Rather than imposing new systems on people, we take an idea and we'll work on it together to make it as good as we can for Peach. An example of that was that three years ago we started a mystery dining programme, where you can craft the questionnaire to suit your company. But rather than me do that on my own, we sat down with all the general managers and looked at how we'd make that work for us.
"Because they've done that, you get this incredible buy-in to the process. It's really heartfelt and taken in a constructive way rather than as orders from head office or Big Brother."
Another way in which staff are involved is through Peach Pounds (vouchers that can be spent in Peach pubs) and an incentivised profit-sharing scheme that works on a loyalty basis. "It's about sharing the success with the people that make that success happen, and I think the industry doesn't understand enough that you need to do this," says Cash. "I get quite a lot of jokes about running a commune, but our places are busy 5-6 years on, and our staff are happy."
Peach also runs a joint-venture partnership scheme, giving employees a chance to get their hands on a stake in the company, as is the case with three of its current directors. "I totally, utterly believe in owner-operator restaurants," says Cash.
"What we do isn't retail - it requires much more dedication than that. If you're expecting people to stocktake at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night, or serve customers who have just walked in at last orders, and if you want that can-do attitude, you've got to give something back."
Enter now for the Best Places to Work Awards 2009
Do you insist upon impeccable employment practices in your business? Then why not get greater recognition for your achievements? Entries are now being sought for the 2009 Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards. Once again, we'll be asking you to tell us what you do to achieve a positive working environment but the 2009 awards will also be part-judged by the most knowledgeable panel of experts ever - your employees. By involving your teams, we'll be able to offer you an in-depth employee opinion report on your company and its sector, allowing you to benchmark yourself against other hospitality employers.
In addition to our usual core awards recognising the best employers in the restaurant, hotel and contract catering spheres, this year we are introducing four new awards focusing on specific elements of employment best practice. If you believe your place of work excels in any of the areas outlined below, this is your chance to shout about it.
To enter the 2009 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2009, sponsored by Blue Arrow, go to www.caterersearch.com/bestplaces and submit the registration form.
2009 core award categories
- Hotel chains with one to 10 sites
- Hotel chains with 11 or more sites
- Restaurant and bar chains with one to 10 sites
- Restaurant or bar chains with 11 or more sites
- Contract catering companies
- - Individual unit
- Hospitality supplier company
New for 2009
- Innovation in Recruitment and Retention Award
- Employee Engagement Award
- Excellence in Training Award
- Reward and Recognition Award
You must submit the registration form before 31 March to qualify for entering the awards and for the research process to begin.
The winners will be announced at an awards presentation luncheon on 14 September at One Whitehall Place, Westminster, London. If you have any queries about the awards, please call Lisa Goold on 020 8652 3656, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.caterersearch.com/bestplaces.