· Features

Forgetting Facebook: how Dishoom rebuilt internal comms

Restaurant chain Dishoom used the pandemic as an opportunity to bring employees together despite business grounding to a halt, finds Nosa Omoigui

The organisation

Restaurant group Dishoom has become a hit across the country since its first restaurant popped up in Covent Garden in 2010.

Co-founded by cousins Shamil and Kavi Thakrar, and brothers Adarsh and Amar Radia, the group sought to bring the best of Bombay street food to the UK with signature dishes such as black daal, chicken ruby curry and an infamous bacon naan roll for brunch.

The group has nine restaurants, six in London and others in Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, employing around 1,500 people.

It has racked up numerous awards in the last 12 months; ranking fourth on Best Companies’ list of best large companies to work for, swiping best restaurant in Scotland at the British Curry Awards, and taking home the trophy for Best Internal Communications Strategy at the 2021 HR Excellence Awards. 

The business is run on the principle of Seva, the Sikh concept of selfless behaviour which is performed without any expectation of result or award for performing it. This concept is at the heart of Dishoom’s employee engagement strategy, forming a key cornerstone of the company culture.

“The shared values of making sure you have each others’ backs and making sure that you always do the right thing when no one’s looking has had a huge impact,” says Tyler Rose, internal communication and team engagement manager at Dishoom. 

“We need to make sure that each person that joins feels like part of the family and the shared values are an important part of that, whether that’s shared values internally with Seva, or externally through charity work.

“The impact it has is that from day one – or before even day one – when they have their interview, and they have their induction, it’s about how we bring them into our world. Explain to them our culture, how we all look out for each other, and our values.”


The problem

When founded, Dishoom relied heavily on Facebook for its internal communications. As the business expanded and the social media landscape evolved, this method of interaction began to lose traction.

The company saw low levels of engagement from employees and knew that had to change.

“For a hospitality company, the team are normally on the younger side,” explains Rose. “Each year that we’re alive as a business, the demographic gets one year younger.  

“Most young people don’t tend to use Facebook so much, so we just didn’t have that much engagement.”

Though it became easier to reach employees when the pandemic hit and they were working from home, it also gave the company time to rethink its strategy.


The method

To develop a new communications strategy, the team asked three questions: what can we give employees that is tangible? What can we give them that fits in their pocket? What can we give them that keeps them engaged?

The tangible piece came in the form of an internal newspaper. The Dishoom Samachar (Hindi for news), first launched in February 2021, and was modelled after a 200-year-old Indian newspaper known as the Bombay Samachar. Used to keep workers aware of company news, it was first sent to employees’ homes in lockdown, before eventually being delivered to restaurants for people to take home with them. 

For something pocket-sized and engaging, the company then created an app – Dishoom Wallas (Hindi for person in charge of) – which streamlined communications for the whole company. 

The app is a central hub which displays staff rotas and deals with holiday requests. There’s also a team chat function and a news feed to keep employees up to date. More important company updates, which require more explaining, are still reserved for emails, but the bulk of Dishoom communications come from the app. 

Rose adds: “With the app, we made sure that we focused on user experience and we really geeked out on the user journey mainly looking at apps that already exist for inspiration. We now use it as our main communication tool.”

Overhauling an entire company’s communications strategy wasn’t going to happen overnight. It’s taken Dishoom a year and four months to get to this point, but the original seeds were planted during lockdown. 

Rose says: “All the pre-work started in lockdown; doing all these online events, sending out packages to team members, creating graphics of team activities which the team found engaging. We then were able to take the benefits of that and then implement them once we reopened.”

Rather than rest on its laurels, the company is now looking to expand the app. Plans are in place to launch a new page called Life Hacks, which will provide workers with ideas to help with the cost of living crisis and displaying what Dishoom is doing to help its employees.

Rose says: “We’re focused on growing the tools that we have, which is the app and looking at what we do on the app that will improve everyone’s wellbeing, get people to engage with it more, and be proud and happy to come to work every day.”


The result

The ultimate goal of revamping the communications strategy was for Dishoom to see greater employee engagement across the company – an objective it has definitely achieved.

Rose says: “We’ve got great engagement. For the Dishoom Wallas app, 92% of our team are registered. On top of that we have 78% active users. We also have 15% engaged, whereby people are generally scrolling on the app – we’d rather them scrolling on our app instead of Facebook or Instagram.”

Employees are also posting on the app regularly rather than passively scrolling through. The results of the increased engagement can also be seen at in-person Dishoom events like its annual mela summer party (pictured above).

Rose continues: “People post a lot of content on there as well, so it’s a lot of user-generated content as well as content that the senior team put out there. 

“Engagement is definitely through the roof now, especially at our team events. For the mela that we had in July, we had 2,030 people come to that – basically all of our team and their family and friends. 

“We know that the engagement and the retention is high and people want to come to our team events. We use the app and our posters and newspapers as our port of call for comms to make sure everyone gets invited.”

By overhauling its internal communications, Dishoom has been able to show more care and attention to its staff. Building on the work started in lockdown, workers have seen that their employer cares for their wellbeing outside of a global pandemic. When it comes to implementing Seva principles, Dishoom walks the walk and talks the talk.


The full article of the above first appeared in the September/October 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.