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Winner’s profile: Malmaison and Hotel du Vin

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Winner’s profile: Malmaison and Hotel du Vin
Written by:

Winning a Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality award is not just about putting another trophy in the cabinet – it can have business benefits, too. Just ask Malmaison and Hotel du Vin. Emma Allen reports

As any employer knows, being able to attract talented staff is the key to growing a successful business. But when it comes to promoting itself as a rewarding career choice, the hospitality industry still has some way to go.

Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2008, run in conjunction with sponsor Corecruitment, are aiming to change that. Now open for entries, the awards are all about publicly rewarding those companies that really go the extra mile for their staff, helping to set a benchmark for others and to highlight the many opportunities that the industry offers.

In this year’s awards, the winner in the hotels with 11 or more sites category was Malmaison and Hotel du Vin. Judges said the group was “incredible at what they do”, and had “a real focus on the product”. What particularly impressed them was the brands’ ongoing desire to innovate: ideas introduced this year included new recruits staying as guests, and monthly food and wine training workshops for staff.

Of course, everyone likes to be recognised for a job well done, but for Sean Wheeler, group director of people development, winning a Best Places to Work award has brought tangible business benefits, too. As well as positive PR and brand exposure, he says the award has strengthened internal messages about career opportunities and how staff are valued. “We’ve had some fantastic feedback and people in the industry are aware that we’re a Best Places winner,” he explains. “Plus, one of our executive chefs told me recently that the calibre of applicants has improved massively since we won.”


At the group’s new Cheltenham Hotel du Vin property, which opened earlier this month, general manager Tom Ross also feels that the award has had a beneficial effect on recruitment. “I was impressed by the number of people who gave Best Places as being one of the reasons for wanting to work here,” he explains. “It definitely helped us to attract talent.”

For Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People 1st and one of this year’s judging panel, awards such as Best Places not only rightfully celebrate individual employers who are leading the way, but also help to raise standards across the industry. “For employers who recognise that retaining and upskilling people is critical to the success and profitability of their business, the awards are an important endorsement,” he says. “Malmaison is a fine example of an employer that takes its responsibility very seriously indeed.”

So what won the award for Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, and for this year’s entries, what will the judges be looking for?

Among the many initiatives praised by the panel, what particularly caught the judges’ eye was the group’s dedication to training and development. Broadly divided into two areas, the first is all about “giving people the best start”, as Wheeler explains. “We’ve spent a huge amount of time on this, because we know if we don’t give people the best start when they join, they’ll leave,” he says. “So it’s all about engaging people in their first 12 weeks and giving people the confidence they need.”

All new staff are given a full starter pack and induction on joining, and a mentoring scheme is in place to make sure new recruits settle in. Under the “Be My Guest” scheme, staff, regardless of job function, are also encouraged to stay at the hotel, so they can better understand the guest experience.

The second area is ongoing education. Numerous training opportunities are available, and in keeping with the brands’ aim to be seen as restaurants with rooms, F&B is a particular focus. Each property has its own food and wine training school, offering sessions on topics such as different produce, wine regions and seasonality.

Regular supplier-funded trips are also used to educate staff and reward good performance – a visit to the Champagne region was one recent success – while e-learning programmes in English, health and safety and sales are made easily accessible to fit around individual work patterns.

Improve retention

Wheeler has spent the past two years fine-tuning training and development with two clear aims in mind. The first, he explains, is to improve retention and reduce recruitment costs. The second is to support the group’s ambitious opening schedule. With recent Hotel du Vin openings in Cheltenham and Liverpool, and Cambridge and York coming online in a couple of months, plus a Reading Malmaison opening in July, the priority has been to make sure that, as he puts it, “the right people with the right skills are in the right place”. Looking ahead, five new hotels are planned for next year with a further five in 2009, so long-term succession planning is also a priority.

So far, the initiatives seem to be working. Turnover has dropped from 50% to a more respectable 30% since 2005, and recruitment costs have dropped by half. An “exchange” programme set up between Malmaison and Hotel du Vin allows staff to transfer internally more easily than before, while the Recruit a Friend scheme, where staff are paid £300 for introducing a personal contact as long as the candidate stays with the group for at least six months, is proving a cost-effective success.

Not only does the scheme cut down on expensive agency fees, but Wheeler feels it gives managers more control. “The chances are that the new person already has an idea of the culture, so in a way, you’ve got more of a guarantee that they’ll like us and stay,” he explains, adding that there’s also the responsibility factor. “If a member of staff recommends someone, and has put their name to that person, they’re far more likely to look out for them and help them settle in.”

While he concedes that having strong brands such as Malmaison and Hotel du Vin does help enormously to attract talent, he stresses the importance of good management once people join. “People work for people, not a brand, and it’s their relationship with their line manager that really matters,” he says. To facilitate this, an online appraisal system was introduced two years ago, giving staff a feedback channel, as well as the opportunity to identify career goals and training needs.

Something else that has cut costs and boosted retention rates is the group’s policy of promoting from within. At management level, 80% are home grown. The head housekeeper at Malmaison Edinburgh, for instance, recently became the hotel’s brasserie manager after expressing an interest in moving into F&B. After training with a tailor-made development programme, she’s now one of the group’s highest-performing managers.

According to Wheeler, it’s a question of identifying transferable skills. “In the past, we were effectively cutting off people’s careers because we weren’t looking hard enough at the talent we already had. We pigeonholed people into their existing roles,” he says. “Now we take calculated risks if we think the person is right.”

Keen to keep up the training momentum, two new apprenticeship programmes, one for chefs, the other in F&B, have just been launched. A sous chef development scheme was also brought in this January. “Chefs might be fantastic cooks but they need other skills to succeed,” Wheeler explains, “so this covers areas such as leading and motivating a team, health and safety and profit and loss.”

Both brands have also worked hard to improve work-life balance. Improved planning and multiskilling teams allow rotas to be more flexible, and average working hours have now been cut from 55 hours a week to about 40 hours.

Wheeler is clearly proud of the progress that the group has made in the past two years but stresses that there is still a way to go. “What’s important is to try constantly to improve, keep moving things on and to make sure we reinvest in our staff.”

What the judges look for

An expert and fully independent judging panel has been selected for the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2008.

The judges have a wealth of experience in all areas of the hospitality industry and HR and are drawn from leading trade and industry bodies and trade magazines. Judging of the various categories will be carried out against specific criteria, which have been outlined in the entry details.

The judges will look for evidence of enthusiasm and fun, as well as benefits. Entrants should demonstrate their commitment to staff development, highlighting examples of creativity. What range of skills is developed? How integrated is the learning? What is the balance between internal and external training?

Judges will also look at how much being a good place to work feeds back into adding value to the business – through better service, quality, and customer understanding.

Businesses should show what they are doing above and beyond the legal HR requirements.

How to enter

Do you run a successful business and treat your staff well? Then why not get greater recognition for your achievements? Get your entry in for the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2008.

Go to and complete the application form.

2008 Award Categories

  • Hotel chains with one to 10 sites
  • Hotel chains with 11 or more sites
  • Restaurant or bar chains with one to 10 sites
  • Restaurant or bar chains with 11 or more sites
  • Contract catering companies
  • Public sector
  • Individual unit
  • Hospitality supplier company

The closing date for entries is 31 October. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on 18 February 2008.

If you have any queries about the awards and how to enter, please contact Lisa Goold on 020 8652 4200. Alternatively, send us an e-mail at

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