2014 WINNERS

Village Urban Resorts and De Vere Hotels  - WINNER OF BEST EMPLOYER CATEY AT THE 2014 CATEYS
In a nutshell These brands merged in July 2012, offering midmarket properties under Village Resorts and four- to five-star golf hotels under De Vere
Employees 5,000
Location 25 Village Urban Resorts and eight De Vere Hotels around the UK, with two further resorts opening in Scotland in November 2014 and January 2015
Annual turnover The resorts are a £160m annual turnover business; the hotels turn over £60m
Labour turnover rate 24.3%

As recently as two years ago, these merged companies placed little emphasis on employees. This is reflected in the 2012 engagement results, when only 49% of staff felt any action would be taken as a result of the survey. A rigorous new policy of communication – even writing to employees following each survey – has boosted confidence to 74%. Even better, the 2013 engagement survey showed 94% of teams are proud to work for the company and 88% would recommend it as a great place to work.

Indeed, the company has scrutinised every aspect of the employee journey since the merger in 2012 and created a People Plan to increase engagement, drive performance, ensure development and ultimately improve customer experience and the bottom line.

People development director Mike Williams says: “Our two-year strategy has led to a 15% increase in overall employee engagement, an 80% drop in recruitment costs and our past eight general manager appointments having been from our talent pool. We have been able to show a direct correlation between our employee engagement results and our customer service measure. That’s why we, as an executive team take it so seriously.”

The company has a cuddly side, too. For instance, Employee Appreciation Weeks are held twice a year, organised by the general managers, to thank their teams and ending with a sports day and picnic or party.


The Cartford Inn

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey
In a nutshell A former 17th-century coaching inn, refurbished and opened by Patrick and Julie Beaumé as a restaurant, bar and boutique hotel
in 2007
Employees 68
Location Little Eccleston, Preston, Lancashire
Annual turnover (2013) £1.4m
Labour turnover rate 22.4%

This historic inn on Lancashire’s Fylde coast may be off the beaten track, but it gets plenty of national recognition – from being listed in the Top 50 Gastropubs 2013 to winning the Lancashire Tourism Awards 2013 for guest accommodation.

Success has led to investment over the years, with the number of bedrooms increasing from six to nine and the addition of an art gallery, barn conversion and meeting room all contributing to its £1.4m turnover in 2013.

Owners Patrick and Julie Beaumé reckon its financial achievements are down to great guest service – a reflection of the business’s warm working atmosphere and family culture. Julie reckons the fact that staff have the confidence to express their personalities adds to the customer experience.

“For the staff it’s like a second home. Everyone is friends and they work and play together. There’s also a shared commitment and enthusiasm for what we do that’s integral to our success,” says Julie.

Staff induction certainly gets a homely twist with new recruits invited to meet the team over a Sunday roast. They also get assigned a mentor, with whom they can discuss any problems they have settling into their role.

There’s even a family atmosphere at appraisals, with a meaningful two-way chat rather than a bureaucratic meeting. The owners say it’s not just about assessing training needs, but about finding out how staff can be better supported. Customers are encouraged to give feedback, too. Crucially, however, if a staff member is under-performing, the onus is on helping them rather than being critical.

The lack of formality also gives staff confidence to contribute business ideas. Recently, for instance, an employee suggested maximising the new meetings room by holding a regular Cartford Inn wine club.

Quirkily, the Beaumés support their employees’ outside interests, too. Several aspiring artists among the team have put their work up for sale at the inn, while a kitchen porter who started a free-range egg business is now their sole supplier.

This family formula certainly seems to work – as proved by the fact that staff who have left come back time and again to work for the couple.


Coworth Park

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey
In a nutshell A 70-bedroom five-star hotel opened by the Dorchester Collection in 2010 Employees 220 (50 living on-site)
Location Ascot, Berkshire
Annual turnover (2013) £14m
Labour turnover rate (2013) 24.1%, down from 54.1%

This luxurious property is billed as a “country house hotel that rewrites the rules” – a tagline that could be used equally appropriately when summarising its progressive approach as an employer.

Coworth Park’s aim is to promote an atmosphere of both camaraderie and high standards within the workforce. So, instead of stuffy, hierarchical reporting lines, there is a “one-team” approach, achieved through creating a flat structure that allows staff to have direct contact with their managers.

General manager Zoe Jenkins plays her part in promoting the hotel as an inclusive place to work, regularly inviting a team member from each department to “Take tea with Zoe”. It’s an informal afternoon tea that allows her to outline new developments in the business and the staff member in turn gets a chance to ask her questions.

It’s a young team, with nearly 73% of workers drawn from the notoriously ambitious generation Y. As a result, the HR department is particularly hot on progression and development, with some 42% of leaders promoted from within the business last year alone. This follows the successful implementation of the hotel’s performance development plan in 2012.

Ashley Dominy, HR manager for the hotel, underlines the company’s focus on being involved with its employees: “We understand their aspirations and support them with a comprehensive development journey that allows teams to support one another at every level,” she says.

As for staff retention, the fact it almost halved to 24.1% in 2013 from the previous year proves the hotel is doing something right. For a start, it makes sure that staff retention is addressed at the point of recruitment. To this end, managers attend Hiring Right, a training course on interviewing and selection skills, while psychometric tests, assessment days, group interviews and trade tests are also used.

Once on board, recruits spend three days being shown why they should be proud to work for their new employer. During this induction, known as Engage, they are shown the company’s three UK hotels and given afternoon tea at the Promenade before leaving the training room on the last afternoon fired up by rousing applause from the management team.

Despite the warmth, staff are left in no doubt that professional standards have to be met. Expectations are clearly communicated in the job description, at induction and repeatedly throughout probation periods.


De Vere Venues 

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey
In a nutshell Training, meeting and conference venues, mostly residential, hosting 90,000 meetings each year. Acquired by Starwood Capital for £231m in March
Employees 5,000
Location 33 venues across the UK
Annual turnover £220m
Labour turnover rate 24%

New recruits are given plenty of TLC when they join De Vere Venues. Not only do they get a letter outlining exactly where and when their induction will take place, as well as courses they are booked on to, but they are also sent a De Vere Venues energy bar and teabag, so they can sit back and read all the employment bumph with a treat.

If that’s not welcoming enough, each new joiner is also given a call to check that they have everything they want. This is an invitation for them to ask any questions and an opportunity for the manager to reiterate how excited the company is to have them on board.

It does seem to be an organisation that listens to its staff. Chloe Smith, operations director at the Gorse Hill property in Woking, says: “The thing I love most about working for De Vere Venues is the freedom and flexibility you are given to incorporate your own ideas into the existing culture to create individual and personal lasting customer experiences.”

Staff also talk about its “vast” training programme, such as the Leadership Academy, which develops the skills of first-line managers and has won a National Training Award. Some 21 of the 29 general managers have been promoted internally to larger venues and 10 of these were promoted into their first general manager role from operations or sales manager.

Recognition is a public affair. The company’s five ‘Golden Threads’ values measure staff on areas such as having the right attitude and putting customers first. All general managers are encouraged to reward staff who perform outstandingly in these areas – on the spot and in front of peers


Hawksmoor Group 

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey
In a nutshell 
Four British steakhouses and cocktail bars called Hawksmoor and a neighbourhood restaurant called Foxlow
Employees 460
Locations Five around London
Annual turnover (2013) £26m
Labour turnover rate 34%

The big message pumped out to Hawksmoor staff is that the company is all about careers, not jobs. It talks about having the “nuts and bolts” in place, such as salary, training, job descriptions, high-spec equipment, fair procedures, minimal red tape and so on; and then adding “bells and whistles”, which is basically that management is there to support staff and make them happy. This upbeat ethos is evident in staff manuals, staff away days and in the name of management’s blog: www.workhardandbenicetopeople.com.

This is a growing company that tries hard not to be corporate, spreading company messages face-to-face to keep it personal. In fact, staff can even grab founder-owners Huw Gott and Will Beckett for a chat – their emails are in the employee manual. And feedback is sought regularly through surveys and anonymous feedback, focus groups and chats.

An annual focus on recruitment trains managers on behavioural interviewing and on the personality traits they need to find. Talent reviews happen four times a year and, refreshingly, are not tied to bonuses, on the basis that “if you’re good enough to be here, you should get your bonus”.


Redefine BDL Hotels

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey
In a nutshell
 An independent hotel management company working with IHG, Wyndham, Hilton, Best Western and Starwood
Employees 3,000
Locations 50 hotels and two offices
Annual turnover £2.5m
Labour turnover rate 40%

With a remit in hotel management, this company’s success hinges more than most on the skills of its general managers, because if they fail to meet the demands of the guests, they risk losing the client – the hotel owner.

One initiative to sharpen these skills is a GMs’ Academy, a mandatory two-day workshop that focuses on leadership and employment law. Run by external trainers and solicitors twice a year, it also guides general managers in shaping staff into future managers.

When it comes to the teams themselves, the company believes in getting its people engaged way before they start the job. A detailed handbook outlines how managers should keep new starters interested and feel “wanted” before that first shift. Among the feelgood factors, the recruit might get an invitation to experience their hotel as a guest.

Nothing is left to chance. The handbook also outlines in detail what managers need to cover on the recruit’s first day at work and throughout the 12-week probation.


7. Accent Catering
In a nutshell
 Accent Catering provides food services to the business and education sectors
Number of employees 368
Number of locations/sites 51
Annual turnover £9m
Labour turnover rate 13%

As a contract caterer, it’s essential for Accent to build a connection between staff and company quickly because every time a contract is won, a raft of new employees comes on board through TUPE. So besides getting its brand message out there on social media, there’s a lot of investment in training and inductions to ensure the new staff understand its culture.

Once employees are on board, communication is open and the multicultural workforce is urged to share ideas and opinions. According to HR, staff can pick up the phone to any of the three directors to discuss issues, all of which helps create a shared sense of collaboration and purpose that ultimately improves service.

In a recent staff attitude survey, 97% said they would recommend working for Accent.


8. English Lakes Hotels, Resorts & Venues
In a nutshell A family-run group of individually styled hotels established in 1952
Employees 350
Locations Six hotels in the Lake District and North Lancashire
Annual turnover £15.35m
Labour turnover rate 2012 – 6.7%; 2013 – 6.8%; 2014 to date – 6.4%

To get under the skin of this company, look no further than the welcome given to new starters. Managers might opt to pick the recruit up from the station on their first day or offer them a welcome drink or meal. Not many hoteliers also offer parents of new staff a night’s B&B. This is particularly relevant in helping to settle young team members away from home for the first time.

English Lakes strives for excellence, innovation and inclusivity through its +1 programmes, which reward above-and-beyond kindness and service – not only between employees and guests, but between colleagues.

Chairman and managing director Simon Berry says: “We recognise that every employee has a unique set of skills, talents and creativity. We don’t take this for granted, but seek to nurture, encourage, motivate and empower.”

Staff are also encouraged to blog about their interests and achievements, which can be read by guests and jobseekers. It’s a nifty way of illustrating how staff go the extra mile and showing that the company has a healthy work-life balance.


9. Alyn Williams at the Westbury
In a nutshell Chef Alyn Williams’ three-AArosette and Michelin-starred restaurant, which opened in the five-star Westbury hotel in November 2011
Employees 30 front and back of house
Location Mayfair, London
Annual turnover £1.25m
Labour turnover rate “Low” (43% have been with him since 2011; 23% for over a year)

At Alyn Williams, triumphs are shared. When the restaurant achieved its first Michelin star, for instance, everyone’s contribution was celebrated with Champagne and a lunch prepared by management.

Obviously staff get constructive feedback if they don’t deliver, but managers also seek their opinions and take their ideas on board.

In the kitchen, for instance, Williams gives his chefs the opportunity to create their own dish and present to him. The reward for great cooking is that their dish is put on the menu for a period of time, giving them extra reassurance and a sense of pride.

This culture of listening to staff helps to boost their productivity and ultimately benefits the business. Following a decline in private dining bookings, for instance, the head receptionist was empowered to come up with a solution. She researched local businesses and invited 11 PAs and event managers across different business sectors to the restaurant.

The result was that important contacts were forged and potential business was lined up for the future.


10. Cubitt House
In a nutshell Family-run public houses with hotel rooms in London neighbourhoods, such as Knightsbridge and Chelsea
Employees 230
Locations Four
Annual turnover (2013) £13m
Labour turnover rate not measured

Not everyone will make it through their probation period at Cubitt House, but those who don’t are put out of their misery swiftly with a constructive explanation. Besides friendliness and personality, candidates have to display the core values of hard work, honesty and integrity.

This comes across as a tight-knit family-run business that won’t compromise on getting the right person in the job. Where possible, they try to employ family and friends of the team and promote from within. Once they’re in, however, staff are provided with a rigorous career and training path.

It’s a culture that breeds a strong sense of inclusion and involvement. Communication is encouraged at all levels and there’s an open-door policy making it easy for staff to approach senior management. In addition, head office managers work at least three shifts a week, allowing them to get to know staff while monitoring performance.

The extras sound tempting, too, with “knock-off” drinks, the guarantee of two consecutive days off, policies to limit too many consecutive shifts, bonus packages, incentive schemes and fun field trips.

And staff with a social conscience are kept happy. Cubitt House is a founder member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and was awarded a three-star rating.

11 Knock Castle Hotel and Spa, Crieff, Perthshire


12 Urban Leisure Group, restaurants and bars, London


13 Events and Hospitality at ZSL London Zoo


14 Casa Hotel, Chesterfield


15 Macdonald Windsor Hotel, Windsor, Berkshire


16 Ampersand Hotel, South Kensington, London
This privately owned, stylish, 111-bedroom hotel was opened in 2012. Having defined the business, the senior leadership team then ensured that all employees were inducted and fully aligned with the new venture’s guestcentric values, culture and DNA.

The hotel now turns over about £8m annually, has 65 staff and a labour turnover rate of 10%.

Its general manager, Roberto Pajares, is widely regarded as hotel royalty. His father is Ramon Pajares, who turned around the Savoy in the 1990s and, as chairman of the Savoy Educational Trust, has a strong ethos of good service – something Roberto has inherited.

A born nurturer, Roberto puts team-building at the top of his agenda. There’s an emphasis on continual professional development and regular away-days are held for the senior team to set goals, move the business forward and ensure that every department understands the business’s vision.

This is not a stuffy, traditional five-star hotel. If anything, it pushes the boundaries and combines modern ideas with a funky approach.

This cutting-edge vibe means Roberto has built a team who love working there.


17 Cavendish hotel, London



18 The Lovat Loch Ness, Fort Augustus, Inverness -shire


19 Sam’s Brasserie and Bar and Harrison’s Restaurants, London


20 45 Park Lane, London
Since opening in 2011, the Dorchester Collection’s 45-bedroom boutique hotel has achieved impressive results, not least the fact labour turnover has decreased from 29% to 17.2% in two years. In addition, there was a 10% year-on- year increase in job applications in 2013.

This is down to several initiatives, not least the policy of growing talent from within. Some 43% of the team have moved up the ladder, with 15% being promoted to the flagship Dorchester hotel. Structured development and focused on-the-job training is delivered by departmental trainers and there’s strong attendance at the group’s continuous development Academy. In fact, each employee spent roughly 12.24 hours in training since January.

The culture is one of creating team spirit and working together, with some 50% of the team trained to carry out more than one role. A lot of work also goes into finding out what makes staff happy. For instance, there’s a Your Voice Committee, whereby reps from each department meet with the hotel manager and HR director every two months to discuss how to make life better for the team, the guests and owners. There’s also a We Care Team that promotes team engagement and fun activities, such as pub quizzes and drinks.

The employee satisfaction results speak for themselves. In November 2013, they stood at 90.8%, with five out of the six departments scoring over 95%.


21 Rapport (Guest services division of Compass Group)


22 K10 Broadgate restaurant, London


23 Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel, London


24 Lexington Catering, London 
This independent contract caterer has set out to create a fun and inspirational working environment, but it’s serious about career development. Recent initiatives include an Institue of Leadership & Management-accredited Aspiring Leaders programme and it has also launched Lex Champion, which celebrates talented workers who then become role models and mentors.

Lexington launched in 2002 and now has an annual turnover of £31m, 650 staff and a labour turnover of only 9% – not bad for an industry that is notorious for its high staff turnover, averaging at 40%.

Last year, in recognition of its success as an employer, Lexington was re-accredited with the Investors in People Gold Award and is also an IIP Champion. IIP feedback shows that employees feel that they are trusted to make decisions about their work and, if needed, support is available from managers or colleagues.

“Leaders have created not just an award-winning company, but also a vibrant, growing community,” said IIP assessor Andrea Defries.

It’s definitely doing something right, as a survey using Purple Cubed’s Talent Toolbox found that more than 75% of staff are happy in their role and, in the past year, the number of employees at risk of leaving has halved. In addition, the business has grown by more than 26% and profit has increased by 29% since 2012.


25 The Peach Pubs Company, Oxfordshire


26 Harbour & Jones, London


27 Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa, New Milton, Hampshire


28 Red Carnation Hotels


29 Exclusive Hotels


30 Buzzworks Holdings, Ayrshire
Buzzworks is a group of eight stylish restaurants, bars and bistros in Ayrshire, turning over £12m annually. Behind its success over the past 10 years are some 378 staff who have been trained to understand its culture and its customers.

Tellingly, Buzzworks’ core aim is “To have all our customers leave our venues happy”. Its second core aim is “To have all our people happy to be at work”. Its reasoning is that if you look after your staff, communicate to them and engage them in your culture then they will want to look after your guests. Recruitment initiatives are geared to attract high-calibre staff in the first place.

For instance, interviews are face-to-face and there are also practical working interviews. They also look for young talent by forging relationships with local colleges and schools.

Staff turnover in the past six months sits at just 17%, possibly helped by the number of activities devised to reward and retain the team. Particularly popular are regular in-house competitions, such as chef of the year, barista of the year, mixologist of the year. But there are also incentives, bonus schemes for senior managers, ongoing practical training for all staff, guest trainers and educational days out. Oh, yes, and the Buzzworks Ball, which is the highlight of the social calendar, every January.