The 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
La 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.
This 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.
The 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.
Recruitment 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.
The 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.
From 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.
This 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 staff.
Many 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.
Talking to McLaughlin and Whitworth gives a clear idea of what it’s like to be at the cross-cultural coalfac