altIt’s always nice when your expectations are exceeded.

As a customer this could mean being presented with a meal that surprises, exceptional service or something as simple as having some free goodies in a letting room.

It can make a huge difference to whether you will return to that pub or recommend it to friends.

My expectations were truly smashed this week on a visit to a new training centre.

Truth be told, I was not anticipating a huge amount when Stonegate – the managed group that numbers the likes of Slug & Lettuce and Yates’s among its armoury – invited me to have a look at its new training centre in Birmingham.

No doubt, I thought, there will be a food development kitchen (all the rage these days) and a classroom for managers to go to for licensing updates and the like.

Well it did have those things, but much more as well.

As a company they have completely overhauled the way they approach training and there are things that all pubs can probably take something from.

Previously, the first experience a new recruit would have when joining a Stonegate pub would be to sit down at a computer and go through a two hour Q&A about the industry and the business.

Chief executive Toby Smith explained that this was simply “too dull” for a workforce of which more than half is aged between 18 and 24.

So they have developed a range of new and engaging ways for people to learn on the job. One such way is an intranet. Now, this might not sound overly exciting on the face of it but is clearly a great tool for staff and comes complete with a range of cool and slickly designed tools.

Staff across the company can log on when they want and from a variety of devices – laptop, tablet phone etc – from there they can take their e-learning courses, read industry news, get perfect serve tips from brands, check out job vacancies and even sign up for extra shifts at different pubs.

The latter part could have a huge impact on Stonegate’e business because it means staff can work across their portfolio of pub concepts, gain extra hours, cash, insight and, crucially, could be more likely to stay in the business and progress.

Retaining staff is clearly key to the company's new ‘Albert’ approach to training – which is based on Einstein’s theory of progression and includes a periodic style table of modules that map out career routes for employees.

Star performers are even plucked out and placed on a yearly course for those who are deemed likely to succeed at higher levels of the business.

One of these chaps, a bar manager, was responsible for running the intranet project - a cute move which means it is being delivered by someone close to the action on the shop floor rather than a suit from HQ.

During my visit, these 16 stars of the future where in a lecture which we briefly interrupted to ask a few questions. And while you would expect them to say positive things in front of their bosses it was clear that they were engaged with the course and could see the potential for developing their careers as well as taking tips and ideas back to their respective pubs and bars.

Stonegate expects Albert’s Academy, for that is what it is called, to be full of staff throughout the week.

They expect the e-learning side to continue to grow as well. There have already been 2,000 online visitors in the first few weeks which isn’t bad for a company with around 550 pubs.

So how is this at all relevant if you have just one or even two pubs and are not likely to invest hundreds of thousands into a new training academy.

Well, it doesn’t have to cost that much and whatever level your business is at you will have to deliver training.

How much better will that training be if staff are not just taken through a list of questions on day one in the job? And how much more likely will staff be to stay and work harder if they can see a clear career path that could lead to them running their own business?

One of the biggest challenges for pubs is making staff see that their plans to serve a few pints for beer money of their own could actually be the first step to a successful career.

Stonegate is taking that challenge head on and exceeding expectations in the process.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley