Promoting best training practice across five restaurant brands is no mean feat. Lucie Carrington reports on the approach taken by Whitbread’s learning and development director Alison Clarke
Making sure that good ideas and methods are not confined to one section of the business is a major preoccupation for most organisations. The restaurant division of Whitbread decided to tackle this head on and last year set to work on a massive learning and development strategy to share best practice across their five different brands.
“We are bringing together many talented people across the brands and creating something unique within the industry,” says Alison Clarke, divisional director of learning and development.
It’s unique because branding is what the business is about. Whitbread owns five main brands: Beefeater, Brewers Fare, TGI Friday’s, Costa Café and Pelican, which consists of Café Rouge and Bella Pasta.
A Beefeater experience is designed to be different from a Café Rouge experience - both for customers and employees. But Clarke and her learning and development team are pulling together common recruitment, induction and management training programmes, which they believe, can meet individual brand as well as corporate needs.
Their strategy has come out of a major company reorganisation. Over the past year, Whitbread has sold its interests in brewing and pubs, and introduced a matrix management structure. Within the restaurant division, brands are no longer entirely independent and many of the senior managers, including Clarke, now have two roles - a brand one and a central one.
Clarke’s “other job” is as HR director for the largest brand - Brewers Fare. She moved there at the time of the reorganisation last September, having spent 14 months as HR director of the Pelican brand. It was her decision to add training to her brief.
“I had a feeling that learning and development was going to be the most strategic part of HR,” Clarke says. There are, she insists, only occasional conflicts of interest between her two roles.
As L&D chief, Clarke has pulled together a central team to spearhead cross-brand solutions. Jo-Anne Miller is currently lear