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Innovative now, sustainable long term

We meet Marco Reick, People Director at Leon Restaurants and judge of our People Awards 2017

“ People Awards are so important as a bench mark in this industry,” said Marco Reick, People Director at Leon. “As an industry, we all have to work towards making the sector one of choice, one where people choose to come for a career. That only works if we all become better and better and better as employers.”

Marco Reick is having an impressive career. One of judges for the 2017 People Awards, Marco moved to the UK from Germany in 2003, he entered the hospitality industry and has never looked back. He joined The Restaurant Group in 2007 and helped grow and shape the company as Head of Recruitment; “When I started at TRG, there were 260 restaurants and when I left they had 450. So with that rapid growth, we had recruit from across the country in a tough market.” Marco also nurtured TRG’s development programme, creating their first graduate scheme, which afforded newcomers to the industry the chance to rise to a General Manager position in just 18 months.

In 2013, after more than six successful years at The Restaurant Group, Marco went on to join the fledgling Bill’s, where the situation couldn’t have been more different. “Bill’s, at the time, was very small in comparison to TRG,” explains Marco. “We opened more than 20 sites every year that I was there. There was huge expansion, very intense, but a real joy to be involved in such a success story at that time. Their environment was very entrepreneurial and very creative.”

With more and more employers realising the importance of company culture, Marco, last year, entered into talks with Leon co-founder John Vincent about a project role but “Within two days, it turned into a permanent role,” he said.

According to Marco Reick, the industry is facing ‘significant headwinds’. “As a sector, the supply in the pipeline of people is our biggest challenge. We saw a small decline in applications after the Brexit vote, but that quickly flattened out. Regardless, we are concentrating on retention. We’ve found there are many people leaving the UK and their jobs in hospitality to head back to their homes in Europe and this is worrying. The government stating that those already here can stay has given us and our hard working team members some reassurance, for now. But what happens after Brexit in terms of our future talent pipeline remains a mystery, we need much better answers from the government.”

Marco is pleased with what he and his team have achieved so far. “At Leon, it’s our mission to enable people to eat well and to live well,” he said. “It’s true for customers, but just as true for our team members.” Naturally, all Leon employees get their lunch and dinner free, but Rewards and Benefits go way beyond that. “We support our team members in ways they probably couldn’t imagine. We have a well-being team. We take this very seriously, we want everybody who works at Leon to be physically fit and active and we want them to have a balanced life. We have regular events throughout the year, we have running clubs, sports days, well-being days in East Sussex where we have different activities available, therapies, massages, reflexology etc.” Also available to all employees is Leon’s wellbeing space known as The Kwoon; an all-day gym where staff can drop in and take training sessions free of charge, and although there are professional instructors, The Kwoon is primarily for Leon team members by Leon team members. Marco explains, “Whatever talent you might have, we try to capture that and allow you to share that talent with other team members. we want you to express yourself. There might be a barista in one of our restaurants who may also be a qualified yoga instructor. We encourage that person to teach their class in our wellbeing space. Your colleagues get a lesson for free and you get paid for doing it.” Every month there are up to 200 Leon team members using The Kwoon.  It’s been a huge success, but it doesn’t end there.

When Leon opened their Shaftesbury Avenue restaurant, deep in the heart of London’s theatre district, they wanted to fit in with the neighbourhood. “We thought, let’s make it a musical theatre-themed restaurant and let’s make our team members the stars. At certain times of day, songs are performed live by the team,” Marco can’t help but smile as he explains. “They are all singers, some are musicals singers, some are in bands, some are session singers. The thing that brings them together is that they all need to pay the bills. They could work as a barista or a waiter anywhere. The thing that Leon offers is the chance to do that – and sing.” All team members in the Shaftesbury Avenue restaurant wear shirts with their names on their backs “just in case a West End Producer pops in for lunch.” Leon liaises with the local theatre community and wants their staff to be discovered, “staff turnover for that restaurant is taken out of the equation,” Marco said, “but we find that our team members keep coming back to us after having left to do a show”.

Marco Reick is excited about this year’s People Awards. He is passionate about the hospitality industry and is pleased that the awards are there. “They act as a forum,” he said “where all the great work that hospitality employers are doing can be showcased. I’m looking forward to seeing entries from companies that do things differently, employers who put people first. We need innovation in order to survive as an industry, but innovation needs to be sustainable. I believe that all the entries can act to attract new blood, new talent to hospitality, and we need it now more than ever.”

Entries for the 2017 People Awards will close on July 10th. Judging will take place on July 19th with the shortlist announced soon after. The glamorous awards evening happens on October 5th at the Park Plaza, Westminster Bridge, tables are available now. Contact for more details.