How SEND workers powered 'bed and burger' chain


Employing neurodivergent staff at Mollie's Motel and Diner was eased with the guidance of community partnerships and the faith of the People team...

Employing neurodivergent employees at Mollie's Motel and Diner was eased with the guidance of community partnerships and the faith of the People team.

The matching of SEND workers at Mollie’s Motel and Diner, is key to their talent pipeline and the success of their community partnerships. Carving out roles that suit the hours and abilities of their neurodivergent staff together with throwing away the rulebook on interviews has eased the path. Here, the People team talk why it works and the power of inclusivity.

All day dining and roadside motel with a splash of difference

Cokes and shakes, sundaes and burgers, the classic American diner has been the mainstay of the teen hangout from Lou’s Café in Back to the Future and Frosty Palace where Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta look dreamy eyed at each other. It’s the place where ‘stuff’ transpires, love matches, feuds, the hatching of escape plans – it all happens over a soda and a double whopper.

We wanted to make sure that our people are looked after, nurtured and cared for

Trudi Parr | Head of People Development, Mollie's Motel and Diner

Enter centre stage, Mollie’s Motel and Diner, less Five Guys more Soho House, it’s a quirk in itself, an anomaly on the burger scene because there’s nothing plain about this eatery. Dreamed up by Nick Jones, founder of Soho House, Mollie’s is turning a vintage American classic diner into a one-stop shop that offers a ‘burger and a bed.’ As a roadside motel, the twin location of Bristol and Oxfordshire seem unlikely, yet work. Manchester opens this summer.

The rooms offer a night of recovery from the carb load - the difference to the competition is there is very much the splash of Soho house in the design, yet it’s twinned with prices that make this brand accessible. Conran furniture and comfortable beds offer guests a taste of the ‘upmarket.’ It is, as the marketing PR labels it, ‘The classic American motel-diner brought bang up to date.’

Trudi Parr


Head of People Development

Rebecca Lester


People and Development Business Partner

Stay different

Doing things differently is an ethos that seeps into their resourcing strategy too because a business is only as good as its staff. I talk to Trudi Parr, Head of People Development, and Rebecca Lester, People and Development Business Partner. Parr says that they are very much driven by their customer demographics which range from the ‘transient’ base to corporate customers. It is expectedly ‘diverse.’ “What we started to do was make sure that our people are aligned with that.”

Parr adds that together with Lester, the duo have been in hospitality ‘forever’ and that they are very much driven by a desire to build a brand that could start to change the perception of hospitality through their own ‘little’ contribution. “We wanted to make sure that our people are looked after, nurtured and cared for,” she explains.

Our community partners will come to us with a suggested person, and we find out about them, what their desires are and their capabilities, we then consider how we can carve out a role for them

Rebecca Lester | People and Development Business Partner, Mollie's Motel and Diner

She says that her role as Head of People Development includes everything that exists between the ‘cradle to grave’ of an employee’s time with them. Lester was the Winner of the Inhouse Recruiter of the Year at The Recruitment Awards 2023 and says hiring is very much her passion. “When I joined Mollie’s, The People strategy was to focus upon partnerships and the community.”

Forging community partners

Parr says they sat down together and scoped out a plan for all community engagement areas, “We didn’t want to be tick boxy in anyway and when we looked around the room at the senior leadership, the diversity within that was evident. We all come from very different backgrounds, and we are proud of that.”

It was clear from the start that inclusivity was a key value and added to this the pair decided that being part of the community was also going to be a key partnership they wanted in place.

Lester put forward two diversity community partners. Yellow Submarine Charity is an award-winning Oxfordshire charity that believes people with learning disabilities and autism deserve to live life to the full, they work with employers to place those with learning needs into traineeships and paid employment. Step and Stone is a Bristol-based bakery, they work with young people with learning differences to help develop their skills and confidence so they can move into employment. Through these partnerships, Mollie’s Motel and Diner has positioned itself as an employer that supports team members with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). The pair draw my attention to the fact that only 4.8% of the population with learning disabilities are employed. It’s a key statistic that highlights the exclusion that many of those with SEND have from the world of work.

The 'bed and burger' chain utilise community partnerships to ensure SEND placements are successful

Changing mindsets:

It’s a near perfect score too, on the way staff feel about diversity and inclusion with 96% saying that Mollie’s does demonstrate ED&I. Reinforcing this is the 95% of the team who say that actions demonstrate the business cares.

Lester explains that the community partners have worked with them to offer their expertise and guide them through employing SEND staff. “The ethos is very much about being stronger together.” The charities offer a bridge to employment, placements at both are typically 9 or 18 months long. The bakery at Step and Stone and café at Yellow Submarine, teach team skills and provide learners’ with an important exposure to teamwork together with classroom time to embed what they have gained practically. At the end of their time with the two charities, the SEND young people are ready for their first job.

The match and fit are key. Lester says, “Our community partners will come to us with a suggested person, and we find out about them, what their desires are and their capabilities, we then consider how we can carve out a role for them.”

You have to see that spark and motivation there. If you have that then you are halfway. We hire for attitude and train for skill

Rebecca Lester | People and Development Business Partner, Mollie's Motel and Diner

Lester says for example, they’ve had some start on just two hours a day, performing two tasks to slowly build up their confidence.

They are also aware that a traditional interview can be daunting for many of their neurodivergent applicants. “Instead, we do exploratory sessions which is an interview, but they don’t know it is.” Lester finds out about the person and if the meeting is an obstacle she also gives out questions in advance so they can practice at home first. She says a key ethos is that there is ‘no judgement’ and that psychological safety is paramount.

Hiring for attitude

Of course, employability is still important if it’s going to work and Lester adds, “You have to see that spark and motivation there. If you have that then you are halfway. We hire for attitude and train for skill.”

Helen has special needs and Mollie’s saw the need for extra help at lunchtimes in the school holidays when the diner was at peak demand. Helen has been able to grow in independence, start her shift each day at the correct time, put her apron on and deliver her job of cleaning and clearing the tables.

“Everyone loves Helen. She works really hard, and her focus is for four hours because any more than that and she is exhausted, so we carved out a role for her around what she is capable of versus what our business needs are.” She was an ideal match for us because she can re-set tables, clean them, fill the sauces, and take dirty dishes to the kitchen.

Parr is clear that their mission is not just to find a job for a SEND person, it’s a partnership, the job needs to be performed and the individual has the desire for the role, is capable and will get meaningful work when employed.

There are currently 9 employees at Mollie’s some from community partners and some direct applicants and are working within their specific pathways. The inclusivity drive at Mollie’s is clearly more than lip-service. Hospitality is a fast moving industry, but the placement of neurodivergent staff shows that matches can be made that are both beneficial to the business and help young workers grow at their own pace, even within a fast-paced and sometimes demanding environment. It’s a nod to that vision of turning the roadside motel and diner on its head, everything at Mollie’s is a bit different, ripping up the rulebooks on what works has been key to their very ethos from how an American burger bar and motel should be to who is employed.

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