My career in hospitality started at a very young age. My grandfather bought an old country house on the outskirts of Tralee, Ireland in 1958 and turned it into a hotel. My father eventually took over this hotel, and by the time I was born, my family were living in a wing of an upper floor of that same hotel. Back then it was known as The Manhattan, but it was later returned to its original name of Ballygarry House.
I have fond memories of being in and around the hotel as a child. The kitchen team liked to spoil my sister, brother and I with sweets and treats, and the hotel was an intriguing hive of activity, with lots of interesting people constantly coming and going.
My first official job was at age 11, when I became responsible for cutting the grass across the large hotel gardens. This was a great job, as it involved driving a tractor style lawnmower for the best part of a day, and I always enjoyed it when my dad came to “inspect” the work – quality was critical for him, and he had an eye for detail that has clearly rubbed off on me.
Often while cutting the grass, I would observe hotel guests arriving. They were mostly Americans, arriving in what was clearly a rental car. My dad encouraged me to offer assistance immediately, so I would help unload enormous suitcases and golf clubs without hesitation. Much to my delight, I quickly learned this simple act was often rewarded with a handsome tip (five Irish pounds was a fortune to an 11-year-old in the eighties!). It didn’t take me long to realise that this was a quick and easy way to make some extra cash!
In my teenage years, I took on various other positions that invariably involved more responsibility and guest interaction. I managed the Front Office on a busy weekend checkout morning, took food orders and served drinks in the hotel bar and restaurant, and handled payments to vendors for various deliveries or services rendered.
Upon reflection, the most powerful lessons I learned throughout this phase were through either observing my dad in action or through his guidance and coaching. He had trained in Switzerland and the UK and had developed a keen eye and exceptional service etiquette that made even the most discerning of customers feel like royalty! It was only later in life that I began to appreciate how impactful these early years were on my chosen career, and on my passion for service excellence today.
What is especially ironic is that back then those gardens where I cut the grass seemed huge to me. Today, they make up a small part of the footprint of what is now The Estate at Ballygarry. The evolution is dramatic, and very inspiring.
My understanding of what creates a great service culture is deep rooted in these formative experiences, those days of cutting the grass have transpired into valuable life lessons!
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