First Choice Coffee, a Caterer Best Places to Work award winner, views its team as its most important asset.
"A successful company is not just about great product; it's about a whole approach and the staff are the most important cog of the wheel," says Elaine Higginson, managing director.
"In any industry, great service is crucial, but particularly so in hospitality; we've all been to a restaurant where the food has been great, but the whole experience has been ruined by poor service.
"At First Choice, we really invest in our team, so much so that we have a reputation for ‘real people energy'."
Laura Turrell, HR and training manager at First Choice, stresses the importance of engaging with staff to create a positive workforce.
"At First Choice, we nurture our employees and empower them to make their own decisions to create a happy and motivated workforce," she says.
Training staff not only benefits your business, but also motivates your employees by giving them a new set of skills that they can apply to new situations.
"The word ‘training' can set alarm bells ringing for employers, owing to the investment often required, particularly in the current economic climate. But training doesn't have to cost the earth," Turrell says.
"We currently have 30 employees working through work-related NVQs, which has been funded through the Government's Train to Gain initiative, which helps businesses create training packages to help grow staff motivation and confidence and improve business efficiency.
"You can also use the existing skill sets within your company and look at working with suppliers who offer staff training as part of their service," Turrell adds.
Both WildWood and the Stephan Langton have recently undertaken coffee training as part of First Choice's Investors in Coffee programme.
"Nobody can be expected to deliver a high-quality product without the knowledge and training to back it up, which is why our Investors in Coffee programme is such an integral part of what we do," says Stephen Brecher, key account manager at First Choice Coffee.
At the Stephan Langton, the coffee training has given the staff knowledge and understanding of the product, so they have the confidence to upsell when taking dessert orders, enabling them to increase revenue.
Leaseholders Chris and Rosie Robinson are also keen to invest in the skills of the community, as part of their ongoing commitment to the local area.
"A large proportion of our staff are part time - mainly local students who work evenings and weekends," says Chris.
"By training them we're giving them transferable skills; they could, for example, get a job in a coffee shop when they go away to university."
Turrell adds: "Investment in staff training will drive loyalty. I'm sure Chris and Rosie will find that the staff will come back to the Stephan Langton in the holidays, meaning the need to recruit and train new staff will be removed."
At WildWood, Dale Harris, First Choice's coffee expert, has been giving owner Dominic Wood's staff latte art training.
"We've created a premium offer for Dominic, so it's really important that the end product in the cup lives up to the customer's expectations. Latte art gives a high-quality finish and the ‘wow' factor," Harris says.
Incentives and rewards
So how do you keep staff motivated in the long term? Turrell explains: "By keeping your staff involved in the running of the business and offering incentives and rewards, they will feel valued and a real part of the team.
"A little healthy competition is a great way to motivate staff. The Stephan Langton, for example, could create a contest to see which member of the team sells the most coffee each month and WildWood could hold its own internal competition to see which member of staff is the latte art master.
"When I worked for JD Wetherspoon, I used to run weekly competitions based around perfect serve, highest mystery visit scores, lowest till variance and best customer feedback.
"Each week's winner would have one of their shifts covered with full pay," Turrell explains.
The Mulberry Tree in Kent already runs some great employee incentive schemes. One of these is the team meetings, where owner Karen Williams asks her head chef to choose a great restaurant as a venue.
"This is a really good idea," Turrell says. "A different setting always encourages fresh thinking, as well as giving the team a reward for all their hard work."
Over the next couple of months, Turell will be working with Williams to help her add to her existing staff benefits in a cost-effective way.
"At First Choice, we have a Works Perks booklet, which includes a range of discounted and subsidised employee benefits such as gym membership, Denplan policies and childcare vouchers," Turrell says.
"It's worth looking into corporate rates for big companies such as Axa and Denplan, so that you can offer perks to your employees without incurring any costs to the business."