By Kate Denston, Founder/Director, Rare Food

Five years ago, I sat down with my accountants and discussed our pay structure.  I’d already worked out that the more we paid people the better calibre of staff of we got and I wanted to see how I could make that happen. My accountant confirmed to me that the cost of attrition, recruitment and training would definitely outweigh the cost of paying people higher wages – something I was passionate about doing.

That’s when we decided to switch to paying the London Living Wage as the minimum and introduced written contracts for everyone. It’s called the “Living Wage” because that’s precisely what it is – the bare minimum on which people can live. If I didn’t pay at least £9.75 an hour people couldn’t afford to turn up for work. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t compensate people to that level. In fact, the lowest paid of our wait staff gets £10 an hour, while some get £16-18 an hour.

I have a full-time team of six and then call on more than 100 freelancers. Even in a business where most of them are freelancers it is possible to set a company culture. My hard core group of 25-30 have all got the same mind-set – nothing is too much trouble for the client because every time we are hired it is to make a special occasion exactly that – special. By treating my staff well and demonstrating that I value them, they’ll then exhibit the kind of standards and values that I want them to use with the client.

Many of my regulars have been with me since day one in 2003 and they’ve gone on to become event managers and help to imbue the same ethos in the newer members of the team. Before the start of every event we give the whole team what I call the “Hill Street Blues chat”, reminding them why we here, what we need to do and that this isn’t just another work shift. I find that it helps them to engage and gets them involved in the occasion. Realistically, not everyone is going to enjoy their job all of the time, but if we can make it fun and enjoyable and rewarding in every sense possible, then that helps.

As well as paying people fairly I’m a big believer in ensuring that people don’t burn out by working ridiculous hours. We carefully monitor that and try and ensure no one works more than 40 hours a week. If they do go over that then we give them time off in lieu. That’s not just about being a considerate employer. It makes complete business sense too because people stop performing so effectively and start making mistakes when they are tired and that’s when things start to go wrong.

I’ve also found that breaking up the daily routine with opportunities to learn is another good way of keeping people motivated and enjoying what they do. That’s why I encourage the chefs to visit our suppliers and I send other team members to awards events.

My golden rule is that it’s all about the client, always thinking about what they want from their event. In my opinion we are much more likely to stick to that rule if everyone feels properly valued and rewarded. Paying my staff a proper living wage keeps them happy, pleases my accountants and means I’ve got satisfied customers too.