Shepherd Neame has implemented a series of dedicated initiatives, including a programme to make its kitchens more comfortable to work in, to improve its chances of hiring “quality chefs”.
The pub operator’s chief executive, Jonathan Neame, said that attracting suitably skilled chefs to the business was a “particular challenge” for the sector, but revealed the company is taking steps to overcome the issue.
“In the last year, we have worked more closely with local catering colleges to recruit new young talent. We have launched an apprentice scheme for chef development at various stages of their career path. We have a programme to improve the kitchen working environments and deliver improved air conditioning,” he revealed.
Shepherd Neame employs almost 1,900 staff across its 322 pubs, a number that has nearly doubled in the last 10 years.
Mr Neame said the business aims to attract, retain and develop the best people by understanding the potential in everyone and inspiring them to achieve their goals.
“In the past year, we have added new systems to help us manage this growing team and support their training and personal development more effectively. In the coming year, we will add further systems to enable enhanced communication and engagement at all levels across our employee base,” he said.
He added that the company endeavours to engage pub teams as much as possible in the development of their individual businesses and to create a culture of empowerment.
Its food teams, for instance, are encouraged to build its online presence by showcasing great fresh food and individual chef stories.
Food sales currently account for a third of Shepherd Neame’s £145m turnover.
The company has focused efforts on developing menus to respond to health-conscious customers and now provides a variety of vegetarian and vegan options. It has launched a new vegan burger and expanded its range of seasonal and fresh produce.
“We have made improvements to the way we communicate our food offer,” said Mr Neame. “We are proud of our position in the community and look to use local suppliers where possible within our menus and have invested more in online engagement with our chefs and communications about our local supplier network via #shepsfood.”
He added: “We recognise that people are often time-poor and some customers may want to ensure that their visit to our pubs is as fast and efficient as possible. In response to these demands we are exploring ways to improve the overall speed of service through automated table ordering and online booking.”
Managed like-for-like food sales at the firm have grown by +1.9% in the past year after falling 1.3% the year before.