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Don’t skimp on staff training

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Don’t skimp on staff training
Written by:

By now you’ve most likely broken any resolutions you’ve made, but one promise you must keep is to develop your team. Experts and operators tell Tom Vaughan how they’re planning the training and inspiration to get the best out of their staff




Giving up smoking; joining a gym; starting that diet; deep down, we all know that our New Year resolutions won’t last a month when it comes to the crunch. So rather than making yourself promises that you won’t keep this January, why not make your staff promises you can keep, and put aside some time to properly map out a training programme for the coming 12 months?

The more prepared among you may well have had this all wrapped up long before the Christmas presents – ask Fred Sirieix, general manager at London’s Galvin at Windows, who by early December had a daily, weekly and monthly training programme planned for 2012. However, it is by no means too late to sit down, on your own and with your staff, and work out what you are going to do to develop them over the coming year.

If the purse strings are tight in these dire financial straits, don’t make training the fall guy. It is a common misconception that training has to cost a lot of money, says Institute of Hospitality chief executive Philippe Rossiter. “People think that training has to mean sending staff on a course and it is simply not true. Soft training is a great weapon to have, especially in the quieter months such as January. It is generally accepted that there is a skills deficiency in hospitality, especially when it comes to customer service and leadership. Use that time to bring someone in for some cost-efficient training or refresher training. Rather than send them off on a course, set aside an hour, bring someone in and do a masterclass.”

And while it may not be the most riveting side of training, says Rossiter, the amount of e‑learning now available for topics such as health and safety and food hygiene means employers can easily sit employees down at a computer during a dead hour.

Jane Sunley, CEO of hospitality training firm Learnpurple, says that looking for outside help should be a company’s last option. “There are so many cheaper, more cost-effective ways of training staff that you should think of first. For example, one that we recommend very highly is a mentoring scheme. It takes a bit of organising, as the mentors need to be trained slightly in their new roles, but otherwise it is a no-brainer – you have people in your business with knowledge, and people without. Why not team them up?”

The most important thing, says Sunley, is to know what qualities make your employees stand out from the rest, not to try and outsource every aspect of training. “It’s a strange thing for a training firm to be saying, but we work best with people who know what they want from their employees. Leadership needs to be taught from the bottom up, by people who know what leadership within your company involves.”

If you are planning on doing a lot of the training yourself, it’s imperative that you enjoy it and – for the staff’s sake – that it is not just a money-saving exercise. “Not every good tennis player makes a good tennis coach,” says Sirieix. “Just because they can hold a racquet correctly and hit the ball correctly, it does not mean they can show other people how to do the same.”

However, if all the feedback suggests that training is a particular forte of yours, or if you simply want to give it a go, there are many ways of going about it, from pricey days out to simple and cost-effective sessions. “Try, for example, having a wine tasting,” says Sirieix. “This is very much a part of training. Then, once you have gone through the wines, have a blind taste-off among the staff.”

If you have the budget to send staff away for training, then the scope and flexibility of college education may surprise you. “Training is not all about government-funded courses such as NVQs,” says Geoff Booth, director of school hospitality at Westminster Kingsway College. “It is also about upskilling certain areas – doing a specific course to improve your all-round knowledge. The range of short courses on offer is huge these days, and colleges are very flexible. A chef can come in on part-time day release and do, say, a course on sous-vide cooking or desserts. What’s more, employers can tailor courses exactly to their and their staff’s needs.”

Whatever the budget, there is scope to introduce new ways and means to train and inspire your staff in 2012, and it is imperative that employers implement them. Rossiter says: “All of the evidence we have suggests a skills shortage in hospitality. Why don’t people have these skills? Because they haven’t been trained. Employers can’t go, year on year, saying that it is not their fault. If they are your employee, they are your responsibility. Anything you can do to reduce those skills deficiencies will be beneficial to the employee and beneficial to your business.”

Jane Sunley_150tips for training and development on a budget

Jane Sunley
Chief executive, Learnpurple




● Mentoring schemes
Train mentors within your company and pair them up with less-experienced staff

● In-house library
Invest in building a resource of educational books for employees

● Job swaps
Get employees to switch jobs for the day

● Shadowing
Ask a junior employee to follow a senior colleague for the day

● Assignments
Ask an employee to eat at or visit a competitor’s establishment and write a report

● Sharing the management
Ask employees to help chair meetings, or have a roving chair

● Working on corporate social responsibility projects
Such experiences not only introduce employees to new people from different walks of life, but gives them the opportunity to become part of a committee


Nabiel El NakibNabiel El Nakib
General manager, the Hinds Head, Bray

At the Hinds Head, we are concentrating on communication and team building, staff development and retention of employees in 2012.

Training involves using visual aids to enhance the learning, including wine bingo, dish photos to aid the explanation of positioning at the table, blindfolded, Lego bricks tower building to help understand communication difficulties, as well as wine tasting.

We’ve also planned visits to several vineyards for the next year, including English vineyards as we are adding home-grown wines to our list. Cellar management (and master cellar management) training is also about to take place with one of our breweries.

We’ve introduced a mentor system, pairing new members of staff with existing members of the team which both aids in training and staff retention.”

Nick GalerNick Galer
Head chef, the Crown, Bray

We actively encourage placements elsewhere within the company as part of continued learning and development. Our chefs have placements scheduled at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal to train with Ashley Palmer-Watts so my team can see the workings of a different kind of kitchen and a couple of my chefs have done placements at the Hinds Head.

Periodically I take the staff either out to visit suppliers or out for lunch or dinner. We see this as important for their personal development and to give them an understanding of our market. As an informal aspect of the training programme, I try to take as many members of my team as possible to industry events, product tastings and presentations.

Claire WhitehouseClaire Whitehouse
Learning and development manager, UK Park Plaza Hotels

This year one of our key achievements has been to build solid foundations in learning and development. We have identified a team of key people in each hotel who have a real passion for training and have invested in their development throughout 2011. These “Hotel Delivery Teams” are made up of coaches who will support on-the-job training in their department, and inspirators, who will deliver great guest service training in their hotel.

Having developed these teams in 2011 will enable us to deliver a great learning and development offer in 2012, which will see targeted training for all our colleagues.

By focusing on this together with our leadership development agenda, we will ensure that Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts is well placed to offer the very best in learning and development for all of its staff.

Allan PickettAllan Pickett
Head chef, Plateau, London

We try and send each member of the kitchen team on a different training day. So, one chef might do a stage with a Michelin-starred chef like André Garrett at Galvin at Windows and another might be sent to learn about how Parma ham is made and carved.

We have various internal and external training sessions that go on throughout the year. For instance, my sous chef has just completed a management training programme called RISE to enable him to understand the next level of business management that he may not normally see, and we have more enrolled on the course for next year.

We are also sending staff on WSET training. On top of this, we are always trying to introduce new ways of learning. People remember more if it is visual so I am trying to organise days out from the kitchen to see our suppliers.

I recently went to one of our suppliers, the Rare Breed Meat Company in Essex. They have allowed us to send a couple of chefs to the butchery unit for a day so they can learn different cuts of the animal we use.

Michelle Cruz GarlickMichelle Cruz-Garlick
Human resource manager, Feng Sushi

We have recently introduced an incentive programme for the sites as a way to engage the team to work together. We champion six seasonal menus and as a way of upselling our new dishes the management team has come up with a solution to make it fun and interesting for the employees.

We will reward the team which sells the biggest percentage of the new seasonal menu compared with eat-in sales and will be rewarded with a £200 tab at the establishment of their choice.

Chris PiperChris Piper
Commercial director, Artizian

Next year we are focusing more on chef development and introducing more unusual training, such as sushi workshops.

We are placing greater emphasis on commercial management skills to assist our managers in these more financially pressured times and are trying to do more fun team training. Most contracts have less management involved, as we have had to reduce our cost base to meet our clients’ budgets.

Having three Saturdays a year for team-building activities helps put the fun back into our industry. This year we have also implemented for the first time ever a training programme for business development, so that we can grow our own talent in this specialist area, and we will be looking to continue it in the new year.

Finally, we are set to continue doing more work with companies like People First to help improve the number of women in senior positions.

David MulcahyDavid Mulcahy
Craft and food development director, Sodexo

Each year at Sodexo we run three Salon Culinaires in Ireland, Scotland and at Ascot. On top of this, we have the Sodexo Chef of the Year taking place at Hotelympia on 28 February, with all the finalists going on a mentor day beforehand.

Plus, the Sodexo Culinary Team will compete in La Parade des Chefs on the same day. All things being well I am looking to take our Sodexo Chef of the Year winners and culinary team to Italy on a foodie study trip next year. I recently took some chefs to Hastings to do some fishing to build understanding around the work of the Marine Stewardship Council and our supply chain.

Next year we hope to put additional emphasis on our apprentices and on providing extra support and mentorship for them from our senior chefs. We are continuing all our training courses on skills such as butchery, fishmongery, gluten-free cooking, vegetarian and healthy eating, as well as some of the more indulgent courses on pastry and chocolate work.

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