Buenas dias, Bolton

La Tasca chain of tapas bars has taken its Spanish employees through a culture
shock to establish a fine set of training practices and win an IIP award.
Stephanie Sparrow reports

Tasca tapas bars exude Mediterranean warmth. Here the feelgood factor is served
up with fresh ingredients by handsome, raven-haired staff. Gypsy music plays in
the background and Spanish conversation predominates.

could be Seville, or Barcelona – but it isn’t. It’s Bolton, or any one of 12
other locations across the UK from Glasgow to Portsmouth where English founder
and managing director Neil Gatt is making his mark.

rapidly growing chain prides itself on its authentic tapas, cosy interior
design and genuine Spanish staff – who comprise 80 per cent of the workforce.
The concept started in Bolton where the head office remains.

is done through Spanish communities in England, English universities, and personal
recommendation. They are supplemented by workers from the Spanish resorts out
of season. There is also a small raft of English students of foreign languages.

student element adds some transience to the workforce, but operations director
Mary McLaughlin and training and human resources manager Nigel Whitworth have
worked hard to establish a bank of training expertise which runs mutually in
two languages and is available to everybody – no matter what their status.


joining the chain two years ago Whitworth has set up training systems, a
customer service initiative known as Winning Ways, seen through the successful
attainment of Investors in People, built up a series of competencies for all
positions and cascaded training techniques through the manager and supervisors.

is sophisticated stuff for the hospitality sector, which has long battled
against a poor image in people development, but seems doubly so for the Spanish

are familiar with family businesses and new to formal training schemes and
McLaughlin admits to noticing “a bit of a culture shock” among those who have
come from Spain.

to McLaughlin and Whitworth gives a clear idea of what it’s like to be at the
cross-cultural coalface as they fit Spanish style into an English framework.
Whitworth meets the challenge head-on with an armoury of visual aids and expert

example, first stop in a career with La Tasca is the induction process.
Whitworth has developed a bilingual A3 presenter that manages to be humorous,
with colourful illustrations, and yet still packs in serious information such
as health and safety instructions.

presenter is backed up by a bilingual foundation manual set around key
competencies and quarterly reviews, known in La Tasca as “job chats”.

is a big thing to us. We get through at the induction that La Tasca is all
about atmosphere and experience, standards of service, our commitment to
Investors in People,” says Whitworth.

say that this is our no-quibble guarantee – we will give you a good induction,
on-the-job training and off-the-job training no matter how long you are going
to stay with us.”

business sense

who had clocked up 10 years’ experience with the Hotel and Catering Training
Company before joining La Tasca in 1999, understands that good coaching is good
business sense.

want to give our customers a good experience and the only way we can do that is
by training and developing our staff, no matter how long they will stay with
us,” he says.

has tackled customer service with an eight-module initiative which he calls
“Winning Ways”.

a new Spanish waiter, with a background in family restaurants, who has perhaps
never thought of customer service as a formalised concept, merely an instinct,
this is can be a surprise.  

La Tasca is wary of becoming too standardised, which brings inevitable
overtones of any large American restaurant company.

not about being a UK restaurant and saying ‘have a nice day’, says Whitworth,
“it’s about being subtle and marrying both cultures together.”

eight modules in Winning Ways incorporate teamwork, attentiveness, self-esteem,
efficiency, complaint handling, up-selling, dealing with parties and coping
with conflict.

is candid that some modules have a more natural fit with the Spanish
personality than others. For example the La Tasca version of estima selfa
refers to self-awareness and also how attitude affects the relationship with
the customers.

really about saying you have a lot of that, let’s build on it, whereas other
modules we run, like complaint handling, have a procedure which has to be
talked through. We say let’s see what we can do for the customer. It’s about a
balance really,” says Whitworth.

reinforces the Winning Ways modules with in-house videos. These were produced
and put together on-site for La Tasca at a cost of £10,000 – some of which was
contributed by local Tecs.

used our own staff instead of actors,” says McLaughlin. “We felt that this would
help everyone buy into the message a lot better and the auditions were great
teambuilding and morale-boosting exercises.”


using familiar faces and locations (the La Tasca restaurants themselves) helped
the Spanish staff overcome any sense of alienation.  

gave the staff who were in it their own copy of the video as well, for their
personal portfolios,” he says.

only cross-cultural training exercise that La Tasca hasn’t attempted wholesale
is to implement NVQs. There are two reasons: vocational qualifications aren’t
part of the Spanish culture and because they can take up to two years the
student might not be around to complete.

we have our own competency-based system of ‘being trained, observed and fully
competent’,” says Whitworth. “Perhaps the Hospitality Award Body could
recognise what La Tasca does and joint certificate it up.”

– be brave and bilingual

has these top tips for training across nationalities:
– Language needn’t be a barrier. Use visual aids such as charts and monitors
because a picture paints a thousand words.
– Analogies such as football are understood by all nationalities and are
especially good for teamwork.
– If you need a translator, use a professional. Employing an outsider
eliminates arguments among staff about regional dialects and variances.
– Interactive exercises will always get an outcome. Once people are familiar
with the exercises they normally take the over and run them in their own

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