Motivation and the importance of the small business team 

Damian Clarkson, owner of The London Kitchen, discusses the value of having incentivised staff.

I was asked recently how I keep my staff feeling motivated and creative and it got me thinking. As managing director of a small business, I rely on each member of my staff to a great degree. I am extremely fortunate in as much as I have a young energetic team who are as passionate about food and service as I am.

With these thoughts in my head, I have looked back to when I first started out in premium event catering and who my inspiration came from. It made me realise that my standards that I now hold, and expect my team to work to, came originally from a wonderful lady called Lucy Gemmell who was original founder of Rhubarb Food Design. 

I worked closely with her for some years and under her tuition learned the importance of attention to detail and how nothing could be achieved without passion, hard work and the right attitude. 

Catering is an extremely high-stress environment to work in. There were times when we were constantly on the go for literally hours and hours without a break. So many things had to be right at the same moment for the full effect to be achieved which took planning, due diligence and jolly hard work. But the feeling at the end of a contract, when all guests had been fed, the dining hall emptied and the van’s packed to take everything back to base, was exhilarating. 

Looking back, I realise that a lot was expected of myself and those that I worked with. Second best just was not good enough, and why should it be? I also realise, that I now expect that of my team members, whether they are waiting at table, preparing food, creating wonderful new food ideas or liaising with potential clients at tasting sessions. The standard is still the same. We have to be the best.

So am I expecting too much of the people who work for me? I will have to ask them, but I know they will look at me and laugh and probably say ‘Absolutely!’ But they also understand that in our game there is no room for complacency and there are certainly no second chances – it has to be right first time. I do know, however, that the team at London Kitchen are as passionate about the food and the service that we provide, as I am. That’s why they still work for me.

But I also believe in give and take. I get great pleasure out of seeing my team have fun and enjoy themselves when the pressure is off. Yes, I mean during work time. It is important that each of us understand the current food trends and standards that are appearing and disappearing all the time across our Capital. How do we keep track of that? We have to go out there and test it all out!

That means that members of The London Kitchen team will often be seen enjoying networking breakfasts, lunch in high end restaurants and also dinner at a trendy wine bar or bistro. It’s research! No, it really is – it is also the upside of working long hours, starting at 5 am and working through until late on some contracts and on occasions not seeing much of their bed over the period of a week or so. 

So it gives me great pleasure to give them these assignments during less busy times and it is certainly a treat. But it is also crucial to keep the creative juices flowing and an understanding of what else is going on in our sector. We have also taken trips over to New York to pick up ideas and tips to bring back across the Atlantic.

As a small business, there is no board of directors who sit down and chew the fat about strategy, sales figures or perhaps a new brand or product range. It’s just me and my team. Their opinions are worth a huge amount to me and I am consistently in awe of their insight and energy. Yes, I do have high expectations, and I’m delighted to say that they deliver time and time again.

Nothing is perfect, and people come and go as in any working environment. Circumstances change and people move on. But our culture of openness, honesty and communication and the willingness of those I work with to embrace that culture, means that our company is moving in the right direction through turbulent times.

So, I was glad I was asked the question that I started this article with. It has made me think, and although I may not be a Lord Wolfson with a £2.4 million bonus to share, I will continue to be aware that my team are the reason things are working well and that is a fact that must not be overlooked.

D Clarkson

Damian Clarkson

Damian is the MD and Founder of The London Kitchen and a consultant working with hospitality sector companies.

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