Find out about the Best Pub Employer (501+ employees) finalists, sponsored by illy Coffee

By The Morning Advertiser

- Last updated on GMT

Employer excellence: the finalists have been highlighting how they look after their teams
Employer excellence: the finalists have been highlighting how they look after their teams

Related tags Publican awards Events Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office

The pub company that demonstrates an outstanding working environment for staff will be presented with this award.

The finalists are:

The Coaching Inn Group

The Coaching Inn Group has almost doubled in size to 35 sites across England and Wales since RedCat Pub Company acquired it​ in 2021, but despite its speedy expansion, the business has retained its people-first culture instigated by founder and CEO Kevin Charity.

‘Hospitality From the Heart’ is The Coaching Inn’s philosophy and is behind every area of the business, including the way it treats its 1,300 employees.

Flexible, family-friendly policies and benefits, such as a 9:30am start time for staff with children at school, an additional paid week off for team members who get married, the happy nappy £300 grant for those with a new baby and a paid day for a child’s first day at school, make it an attractive workplace.

Other benefits include the stay for £1 deal which allows team members to stay at any site for £1 in January, February and March; 50% off food and accommodation for employees and their families; and a health and wellbeing grant. Support is also offered through Hospitality Action’s Employee Assistance Programme.

Team members’ career journeys are crafted through Innspire, a custom-built training programme developed by the company’s People Director Lee Melton. Regular reviews ensure staff develop in the way they want with the ability to move up or across to other departments depending on their needs and skills.

Opportunities for chefs in particular, are strong: Head chefs can be creative with each site setting its own menu while those wishing to spread their wings can join the chef roaming team which gives support to any site in need.

Stonegate Group

Stonegate Group shed 50 sites this past year, but it still remains the UK’s largest pub company by a long run, operating 4,450 sites around the UK and employing more than 16,000 people.

It runs a number of pub, bar and club brands, including Proper Pubs, Slug & Lettuce, Walkabout and Be At One, through its managed estate while more than 3,000 sites in its leased and tenanted estate are run by pub partners.

Success with its new unique operator led managed estate Craft Union, affording freedom to operators to run pubs as they wish with support from Stonegate, means there are plans afoot to convert more sites to this model over the next year.

From a people perspective, the business has seen big changes at the top in the past 12 months with David McDowall joining from BrewDog as CEO in February 2023 while Ian Payne MBE retired​ from the business he founded in January 2024.

Improving work-life balance for all team members has been a major focus for the operator which has forged ahead with the rollout of the Fair Work Week. The initiative means that all staff, including the hourly paid team, salaried site management and area managers, cannot work more than 42 hours a week.

The business’s meritocratic ‘bar to boardroom’ ethos continues to make the company a popular choice with employees and job seekers who are given the chance to rise through the ranks through established training programme Albert’s Theory of Progression.

Access to an Employee Assistance Programme, a 25% discount in managed pubs and discounts with high street retailers and David Lloyd gyms are some of the benefits on offer while GMs and above can access a greater number, including trips abroad and health insurance.

Oakman Group

‘Engaged teams’ is what the first ‘E’ in Oakman Group’s SPEED values stands for (the second is ‘excellent operations’) so its unsurprising that employees are held in high regard at Oakman Group.

Indeed, when it comes to developing its people, the company has clearly had its foot on the gas since its first pub – the Akeman – opened in Tring in 2007.

There has been the creation of its Oakmanology bespoke online learning platform, giving teams the support they need to do their jobs and learn new skills, while its award-winning ninja training programme focuses on continual learning and skills development at every level.

Oakman’s Chef Academy, launched 18 months ago is aiding retention in its kitchens, while there are opportunities for front-of-house ‘Craft Champions’ and its leadership team.

Today, with 42 sites in its estate (33 following the Seafood Pub Company demerger​) and 1,700 employees the business still manages to retain a family feel with founder and CEO Peter Borg-Neal a regular visitor to sites.

Annual celebration Oakfest when the business is closed all day, gives staff the chance to let their hair down with their colleagues, while the Heart of Oakman award recognises staff going above and beyond.

Other benefits include generous service awards for team members celebrating one, five or 10 years with the company; £10 birthday vouchers and up to 50% discounts on food for team members and up to six guests.


Marston’s calls itself ‘a people powered business’ and over the last year it has been working hard to fuel its almost 11,000 employees to enable them to effectively power its 1,404 pubs.

A new pub support centre opened in Wolverhampton in early 2023, providing 300 members of its central support team with new office space and its pub teams with the latest training facilities.

Learning and development schemes have been transformed with the addition of gamified training via Attensi which gives users the chance to learn skills and gain confidence in areas such as customer service by playing individual games and battles. Meanwhile, field-based trainers deliver skills-based training in person and virtually to both its pubs and partners.

As a Top 50 Apprentice employer, apprenticeships inevitably play a key part in training across the group with 300 apprentices at levels two to seven currently in place across the business.

Marston’s, which saw former Merlin Entertainment exec Justin Platt take over as CEO​ from Andrew Andrea earlier this year, has also extended training outside the business, funding a training kitchen ‘The Lock Inn’ at HMP Liverpool, and placing ex-offenders in suitable roles on release.

Aside from training, the pub company has endeavoured to help its employees better navigate the cost-of-living crisis, paying above National Minimum Wage and introducing an incentivised reward scheme, awarding vouchers to be used at an employee’s high street retailer of choice.

Employee-led network groups in seven areas, including diversity, women and have been formed to ensure collective voices can be heard, while garnering the views of every employee through monthly engagement survey has led to tangible changes being made, including the introduction of a £4.50 meal deal available to anyone working a shift.

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