THE co-owner of an award-winning café in Tyndrum hopes to challenge the hospitality sector’s “poor reputation” as an employer after securing a prestigious accolade.

The Real Food Café has today been named as one of the top 30 best places to work by industry publication The Caterer.

Designed to celebrate operators who lead the way in people engagement and culture, the awards are presented to businesses following recommendations by employees.

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The Real Food Café achieved a score of 92 per cent after answering a series of questions on what is important to staff and how employers deliver on those priorities. It scored highly for its culture, engagement with staff and pay and conditions: The Real Food Café has been a Living Wage employer since 2019 and last year distributed £24,500 in bonuses to its 25 staff.

Sarah Heward, who owns The Real Food Café with husband Alan McColm, said: "The Real Food Café has won some very prestigious awards for our food, customer service and overall business, all of which we are proud of. For almost 20 years, we have been driven not only by our mission to serve customers great food of the highest standard, but our vision of becoming one of the best employer brands in Scotland.

“We have worked hard to build our reputation by taking care of our team, suppliers and focussing on authenticity; being kind, working hard and building a strong culture of warmth, friendliness, and inclusivity.

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“This award is solely focused on our team and the leadership of that team, and this win is for my husband Alan McColm who leads the people side of the business and his management team headed up by Charles Mair our operations director.”

Ms Heward added: “I am bursting with pride that our team have validated his strategy and the consistent and sometimes challenging work he has led over the past decade to reach this point. The journey will continue, we are a work in progress but for now, we’ll take this as a win and enjoy the moment.

“Sadly, hospitality generally has a poor reputation as an employer which is a significant disadvantage to the sector particularly in a very tight labour market. Initiatives like this from The Caterer are great because they help highlight that there are some companies doing exceptional work and which are great places to work in our wonderful industry.”

The award was presented to The Real Food Café shortly after Ms Heward voiced her disappointment after an unsuccessful bid for levelling-up cash for an industry-led training scheme. Ms Heward devised the Hospitality Unlimited training and rewards platform to help businesses attract staff in light of a people shortage that has become acute since Covid and Brexit.

Her application to Stirling Council for £200,000 under the Shared Prosperity Fund was refused.

Ms Heward told The Herald that "it is pretty poor that this problem is so evident – everybody and their grandma can see it – and yet there doesn’t seem to be anyone with any power that is even talking about this, never mind supporting it.”