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Best Places to Work in Hospitality 2009 – the winners

18 September 2009 by
Best Places to Work in Hospitality 2009 – the winners

The 2009 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards reached their climax this week. Mark Lewis provides all the details.

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This week, the 2009 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards, sponsored by Blue Arrow Catering, reached their climax at a ceremony held at One Whitehall Place in London.

Since their inception in 2006, the awards have celebrated outstanding employment practice in the hospitality sector. They allow Caterer to recognise the hospitality operators doing most to attract, train, retain and motivate teams and ensure they are well-equipped to offer world-class standards of customer service.

All of the winners consistently go above and beyond the basic HR requirements and are committed to staff development and creating a positive working environment. The winners of these prestigious awards are recognised as an employer of choice - a crucial differentiator in the battle to secure the very best industry talent and, through them, ensure continued business success.

Previous Best Places winners have been selected by a panel of hospitality and human resources experts. This year, Caterer went a step further by introducing a more scientific, web-based judging mechanism. As well as allowing employers to provide details about the environment, training and benefits they offer, their employees were given a chance to provide first-hand feedback on what it is really like to work in their office, hotel or restaurant.

This year, Caterer also introduced four new awards, recognising excellence in the fields of employee engagement, training, retention and talent management, and reward and recognition. All of the winners listed below are exemplars of how to build great teams. In the coming months, the pages of Caterer and Hotelkeeper will focus on each in turn.

If your Best Places awards application was unsuccessful this year, commiserations. The good news is that there is always next year!


Winner: ABode Hotels and Michael Caines Restaurants

ABode Hotels works hard to create teams that deliver on its stated goal of offering stylish, accessible places to eat, meet, drink and sleep, underpinned by traditional values. To achieve this, the company has created a culture based on learning, progression and enjoyment.

More than half of the training offered comprises bespoke in-house courses conducted by licensed trainers within each hotel. These courses include apprenticeship schemes for chefs, food and beverage service professionals and hotel staff, and a customer service training program for all front-of-house staff. Employees' career paths are clearly mapped out through a system of regular reviews. This ongoing investment in training and development ensures that the company is able to identify and nurture its managers of the future.

Employee comments:

  • "I started the ABode apprentice scheme last year and I have enjoyed everything about it from dining on the first night with my parents, Michael Caines and other apprentices to going to meet a gamekeeper and learning how to skin a rabbit."
  • "I have worked for the company for four years and in that time I feel I have had the opportunity to help shape the way it is today. Our directors truly love the industry and their passion for what they do is infectious."

Winner: Red Carnation Hotels

Red Carnation Hotels works off foundations of personalised, warm and consistently exceptional guest service. Its main service standard is "no request too large, no detail too small".

To deliver on this, the owners and senior management team are committed to continually supporting and developing employees. The impressive training and development opportunities see to it that "people are invested in and encouraged to live their dreams".

Effective succession planning is the result - there are many examples of individuals who have risen through the ranks and are now an inspiration to the people they manage or work with. Thus, a sommelier who started out as a glass washer and polisher is now the fourth best sommelier in the world, and a food and beverage manager at the flagship hotel started out as a commis chef.

It's no surprise that the company has won a National Training Award and Training Journal Award for its supervisory and management training and has recently been shortlisted for a Springboard Award for its management programme.

Employee comments:

  • "There are no costs spared to ensure that we have the tools to perform to the highest level and exceed our guests' expectations at all times."
  • "There is a good team spirit, we can speak easily with our managers, we have good training and we can ask for more if we want."

Winner: The Peach Pub Co

Basing a business on a commitment to guests that "our house is your place" only works when all employees buy into a common culture of making their guests feel one of the family. At the Peach Pub Co, employees are encouraged to feel a shared ownership in the company's efforts to delight its customers.

The company operates according to values of mutual support, working together, respect and trust for one other, working with enthusiasm and the intangible quality referred to as "striving to be Peachy".

Mindful of the need to attract more great people to enable the company to sustain its vision over the next 10 years, Peach takes great care to make working for it rewarding and entertaining. Recognition, common purpose, career development, interesting work and fun are all keywords in the approach to staff.

Employee comments:

  • "The company supports your development even if your path leads you away from them in the end. The support and training we get is first class, from management level right through the teams."
  • "The training is brilliant, and the support from senior members of the team is always there if you need it. The ethics and ideas behind the company are inspiring, the staff recruited are passionate about what they do, and everyone is always ready to share their experience to help each other out."

Winner: McDonald's Restaurants

McDonald's Restaurants has become synonymous with great employment practice. No wonder that this year the company completes a hat-trick of wins in this category.

A structured training programme follows the company curriculum; recently, McDonald's has also been offering all employees nationally-recognised qualifications and been accrediting its management training to be equivalent to academic qualifications. McDonald's offers A-Level equivalent qualifications for those completing the basic management course; and an apprenticeship in multi-skilled hospitality for those completing the crew development programme.

McDonald's operates a flexible working programme for all hourly paid employees, and offers even greater flexibility for those employees who are on the friends and family contract, which allows employees in the same position and same restaurant to swap shifts without having to obtain prior permission from the manager.

Employee comments:

  • "McDonald's provides good career prospects and is willing to work around those with families and academic commitments. It also provides a good and continuous training basis and encourages self-development and learning."
  • "I love working for McDonald's because it's never a dull moment. Most of my management team are absolutely brilliant and I have the utmost respect for them. Working for McDonald's is flexible and fits in with my children and home life perfectly."

Winner: Connect Catering

Connect Catering is in the business of delivering professional management, quality food and excellent service while building mutually beneficial relationships with its customers, staff and suppliers. Communication lines within the company are short, meaning that management is able to keep in close and regular contact with employees and ensure they feel a valued part of the company. Training, award schemes, loan schemes and other benefits are all in place at the company, which has ambassador status with Investors in People.

Employee comments:

  • "Connect Catering is a company that values its staff, customers, clients and suppliers. It has great integrity and is a fun organisation to work for, great training and development opportunities for all and a passion for food and service. What could be better!"
  • "The company ethos is based on empowerment. Training is offered and encouraged. If you want to better yourself, you easily can. The management style is to encourage and enable. This allows everyone to achieve their best."

Winner: Victory Services Club

Twice commended at past Best Places awards ceremonies, the Victory Services Club is fully committed to training, developing and retaining its people. The club strives to ensure all staff feel valued, have the opportunity for constructive participation and understand its commitment to their retention and development.

A friendly, enthusiastic, goal-focused environment exists, one that promotes personal and professional growth. The range of training courses available includes a stress management course promoting a healthy work-life balance. Other benefits include a "buddy" scheme for new employees; a range of staff social events; and the "Shining Stars" Awards to recognise exceptional customer service and outstanding achievement.

Employee comments:

  • "The club shows commitment to training and development, internal promotion and the creation of a really positive work environment. It also actively focuses teams and individuals on the achievement of results, rewards people fairly and recognises and rewards achievement."
  • "The culture of the VSC means I am able to work on my own initiative but feel supported by staff, middle managers and senior managers with a strong ‘open-door' policy."

Winner: People 1st

People 1st's mission is to transform skills in the sector. In winning a Best Places award, hospitality's sector skills council proves that it can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. "We cannot champion skills development and training if we don't live and breathe those values within the company," it says.

Quarterly learning and information days bring the company together to work and train as a team; and bespoke training, mentoring and other programmes are in place to support the development of all individuals.

Many people work on a flexible basis within the organisation, in terms of hours and location. And it supports the development of young people, both in terms of identifying training roles within the organisation and funding the study of additional qualifications.

Beyond offering the best benefits package the company can, within public sector resources, it also looks for innovative ways of working with industry employers and other partnership organisations to extend benefits and opportunities to employees.

Employee comments:

  • "The flexibility I have been offered to work part-time at hours suited to my childcare arrangements, yet still be made to feel a valued member of the senior management team, has been a wonderful eye-opener."
  • "I have been offered a range of excellent opportunities to progress within my career. People 1st have recently supported me on a trip to the USA to attend a conference to support my personal development. Mentoring is offered to those team members who would like this, and all staff have access to training and development to support them to meet their goals."

Winner: Red Carnation Hotels

Stand-out initiatives offered by Red Carnation Hotels include: a well-realised induction procedure, training and development at every operational level, volunteer days, full "open door" policy, impressive benefits package, flourishing equal opportunities culture, annual staff appreciation party and a management programme geared for graduates - and tailored for those with no qualifications - that provides a mentor plus direct access to the managing director. These and other initiatives have led to a labour turnover rate that, at 21%, compares favourably with the 64% industry average.

Joint winners: QHotels, InterContinental London Park Lane

QHotels has dedicated HR functions at each hotel in addition to a group training team to develop employees. The training calendar offers more than 40 courses of generalist and specialist training for all levels, delivered in-house or through external providers. Stand-out programmes include a bespoke development course for deputy general managers in which certain modules are delivered by company directors, and which includes a trip to the Cornell Hotel School in Brussels; and a 14-month chef academy programme that spans five workshops, supplier and market visits and leads to a Level 2 NVQ Apprenticeship in Professional Cookery.

The Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane's HR team works hard to instil a strong service culture and track multi-cultural employee needs. Employees receive a bespoke development plan detailing how and when their training will be delivered. This training is delivered through in-house and external providers, and includes some innovative modules, including owne that supports the multi-cultural guest profile by offering country-specific cultural training to help staff relate better to Japanese and Middle Eastern guests.

Winner: Victory Services Club

The Victory Services Club retains and progresses employees through a blend of effective and targeted training and development; a coaching culture that spans one-on-one mentoring, team coaching sessions and supervisory workshops; internal skills management delivered through appraisal and the talent toolbox system; and an impressive benefits package. As a result, the company's latest annual staff survey revealed a 97% staff job satisfaction ratio. Staff turnover has plummeted from 120% in 2004 to 14% in 2009.

Winner: The Brookwood Partnership

The Brookwood Partnership has made recognition and communication the mainstays of its business strategy - but the commitment extends beyond words on a page. Tangible means of rewarding and recognising staff excellence include a profit share scheme, awards schemes, personal thanks from senior management for high achievement, birthday and long-service recognition, staff competitions, a roll of honour and dinner with the managing partners for managerial excellence.


This year's sponsors, Blue Arrow Catering and BLEND Recruitment are keen to demonstrate their commitment to jobs in the hospitality industry. For managing director Nick Gourley, rewarding his own teams for high performance, is top of the agenda - his own award winners for the Blue Arrow Catering 2009 Awards attended this year's Best Places to Work event to celebrate their achievement.

"We all know it's a tough climate for businesses in the hospitality industry at present. But customers still expect brilliant service, so investment in creating a motivated, well-trained and competent team is never a false economy," he says. "Great retention, great productivity and therefore increased profits are the difference between a business succeeding and failing right now. It's non-negotiable!"

Best Places to Work allows employees themselves to "vote with their feet" and tell Caterer and Hotelkeeper who they think has got it right. If we can all emulate the winners' success, then surely we'll see the standards in our industry steadily increase, more investment be made in our sector, and ultimately new jobs created.

TagsAwards and Careers
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