The people development consultant, coach and drinks education trainer talks to Lisa Jenkins about the value of training and being an ambassador for delicious drinks
I trained as an actor and singer, but picked up a job as a waiter when I was out of work, and the rest, as they say, is history. I was fortunate to get involved with a lot of new restaurant openings, travelling the country, meeting new people, training new waiters and working as part of a team. I also got to do my wine certificates with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and discovered wine.
I have worked in various learning and development roles, running teams in large national brands, as well as private restaurants and contract catering firms.
I set up Alison Taffs People Development three years ago and I also run my drinks education company, the Grape Society, with my business partner Tom Rayfox.
I think in hospitality we have both a skills shortage and a people shortage. With the huge growth in eating out, more and more eating establishments are opening, but there just aren’t enough trained and experienced professionals to fill all the roles.
As an industry, we have never had a great reputation for detailed, supportive and structured professional training, and I think, sadly, that’s often deserved. Some businesses still rely on the ‘drop them in at the deep end and hope’ approach. I have always worked with my operations colleagues to find practical and realistic learning for everyone.
I think it’s essential that we take care of new talent. I have been working with the Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or competition for the past couple of years, tutoring and judging the students taking part in the college front of house challenge. I love connecting with the young people and seeing them light up when they get a taste for the wealth of opportunities in hospitality. The competition is particularly great at showcasing the different styles and roles available, from fine dining to casual, as well as front and back of house.
We have a mission to encourage everybody to discover more delicious drinks. With the Grape Society, as well as delivering tasting experiences for private events, restaurant guests and members clubs, we are drinks ambassadors for Home House and the new Home Grown members’ clubs. I also deliver tutored tastings for my people development clients.
Investment in the ongoing professional development of all your people is essential, now more than ever. Providing a well-trained mentor for every person from their first day is a great solution. When you train mentors, giving them the right mindset, skillset and toolset, you will see a huge benefit, both for the mentee and the mentor. Competitions such as Toque d’Or are also a great way of encouraging young talent to progress into a long-term career. It showcases community spirit and teamworking. It’s a good opportunity to network and make connections.
The best piece of advice I have been given is to create positive relationships with everyone you work with. Grow your network and help people out whenever you have the chance to do so.
My biggest inspiration has been Nick Taylor, the HR director at PizzaExpress when I started as a trainer in the 1990s. The culture of value in training he built gave me the chance to develop and helped me grow in hospitality.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this industry. Working with food and drink opens up a vast area of exciting and never-ending learning. The mindset and skills you need to excel in looking after people requires creativity in the moment, every day.
March 2016-present Owner, Alison Taffs People Development
January 2016-present Drinks educator/co-owner, the Grape Society
September 2014-September 2016 HR director and then people development director, Peyton and Byrne
April 2013-September 2014 Director of people, Village London Restaurants
August 2003-April 2013 Director of HR and service and then head of learning and development, Tragus Restaurants
June 1996-August 2003 Training manager, PizzaExpress Restaurants