achieving excellence in hospitality

Paulo O’Kane: Mastering the Art of Hospitality Management

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Updated on March 20, 2024

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Visualize a bustling kitchen, a symphony of clattering utensils, bubbling pots, and the intoxicating aroma of exquisite cuisines. This is the world of hospitality management, a dynamic and complex art that Paulo O’Kane has mastered over the years.

He’s transformed ordinary establishments into popular hotspots, and his journey offers invaluable insights for anyone pursuing a career in this field.

But how does O’Kane manage finances, staff, and marketing while maintaining quality and community support? To uncover these strategies, one must delve deeper into O’Kane’s successful approach to hospitality.

Paulo O’Kane’s Professional Journey


Starting from humble beginnings in Pearson Kerry, Paulo O’Kane embarked on a remarkable journey in hospitality management, gaining experience and knowledge while managing renowned establishments like Bellevue Arms and Marine Court Hotel. His early experiences were marked by perseverance and a keen determination to learn, allowing him to excel in different roles.

As he moved from one establishment to another, his career progression was evident, showcasing his ability to adapt and lead. O’Kane’s acquired skills and leadership, coupled with his passion for the industry, led him to successfully manage and elevate the status of these establishments.

His journey, marked by growth and success, serves as an inspiration for those aspiring to make their mark in the hospitality industry.

Acquiring and Managing Grace Neills

In a bold move, Paulo O’Kane acquired Grace Neills, the oldest pub in Ireland, marking a significant milestone in his illustrious hospitality career. His acquiring strategies were deftly executed, with a keen eye on the historical significance of the establishment.

O’Kane’s management style artfully blended tradition with innovation, ensuring the pub’s rich history was preserved while modern amenities were seamlessly incorporated. He skillfully managed the delicate balance between maintaining the charm of the centuries-old pub and meeting the evolving expectations of the discerning clientele.

His approach has revitalized the pub, transforming it into a bustling hub for locals and tourists alike. This chapter in O’Kane’s career serves as an inspiring case study for those aspiring to master hospitality management.

Establishing Stables and Groomsport Inn

Paulo O'Kane

After successfully managing Grace Neills, O’Kane moved onto his next venture, the establishment of Stables and Groomsport Inn, another remarkable chapter in his hospitality management journey.

At these establishments, O’Kane focused on creating exceptional customer experiences, a crucial element of success in the hospitality industry. He understood customer preferences and tailored services to exceed their expectations.

Operational excellence was also at the forefront of O’Kane’s strategy, ensuring seamless service delivery and high standards of quality. This approach not only enhanced the reputation of Stables and Groomsport Inn but also confirmed O’Kane’s prowess in hospitality management.

His approach demonstrates how a keen focus on customer experiences and operational excellence can lead to significant achievements in the hospitality sector.

Effective Bar Opening Strategies

Drawing from his wealth of experience, Paulo O’Kane has some crucial advice for those planning to open a bar. The first step lies in creating an innovative concept that sets your bar apart from the competition. This may involve a unique theme, outstanding service, or a one-of-a-kind drink menu.

Next, O’Kane emphasizes the importance of strategic partnerships. These partnerships, whether with local breweries, wineries, or liquor distributors, can help you ensure a steady supply of quality beverages. Moreover, partnerships with local businesses can create a sense of community around your bar, driving further customer interest.

Ultimately, the success of your bar opening strategy lies in an innovative concept supported by strategic partnerships.

Running a Successful Bar

Building on the concept of an effective bar opening, managing a successful bar entails careful financial planning, astute staff management, and an unwavering commitment to quality.

It’s crucial to balance cost and revenue, ensuring that every investment, from bar equipment to staff training, delivers a return. A bar manager must also engage customers, making them feel valued and heard. This customer engagement can be achieved through attentive service and menu innovation, offering unique, quality drinks that cater to varied tastes.

Recognizing and rewarding hardworking staff is key, as their dedication and service directly impact customer satisfaction. Amidst the drive for profits, maintaining a relentless focus on quality, from service to product, sets a successful bar apart.

Industry Challenges and Solutions

Navigating the hospitality industry comes with its own set of challenges, including maintaining quality, supporting local producers, and meeting ever-changing consumer preferences. Industry innovation plays a critical role in overcoming obstacles and ensures businesses stay competitive.

Innovations, for instance, in supply chain management can help businesses support local producers. Quality control systems can aid in maintaining high standards of service and food. Additionally, leveraging technology can help keep pace with consumer preferences.

Solutions can be as diverse as the challenges they address. From implementing rigorous training programs to adopting new technologies, the industry’s resilience lies in its ability to adapt and innovate. A successful hospitality business is one that learns to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth.

Effective Marketing Strategies


Harnessing effective marketing strategies can significantly boost a hospitality business’s visibility and customer base. Digital marketing, in particular, serves as a powerful tool. It can extend a brand’s reach, targeting potential guests with precision and personalization. Social media, SEO, and email marketing contribute to a well-rounded digital strategy, fostering engagement, and driving traffic.

Brand partnerships offer mutual benefits, enhancing visibility, and adding value to customer experiences. For instance, a hotel might collaborate with a local winery, providing exclusive wine tasting events for guests. This not only promotes the partner winery but also enhances the hotel’s reputation for unique offerings.

Mastery in both digital marketing and strategic brand partnerships can thus significantly elevate a hospitality business’s market position.

Unique Promotional Techniques

While traditional marketing strategies are vital, it’s the unique promotional techniques that can truly set a hospitality business apart, providing a distinctive edge in a competitive market. Innovative branding plays a crucial role in this process, with businesses developing creative, relatable brand identities that resonate with their target audiences. This not only fosters brand loyalty but also boosts customer engagement, creating a dialogue between the business and its patrons.

Techniques like interactive marketing campaigns, personalized messages, and customer feedback platforms can drive this engagement. Additionally, businesses shouldn’t shy away from unconventional promotion methods. Pop-up events, experiential marketing, or collaborations with local artists can set a brand apart, creating a memorable experience that customers associate with their establishment.

Local Suppliers and Sustainability

Building on the innovative promotional techniques, an equally important aspect of managing a hospitality business is the commitment to sourcing from local suppliers and promoting sustainability. By prioritizing local suppliers, businesses not only foster stronger relationships but also contribute to community support and sustainable practices. This sourcing strategy ensures fresher ingredients, reduces carbon footprint, and stimulates the local economy.

Furthermore, it enables the hospitality business to incorporate seasonal items into their offerings, enhancing the overall guest experience. Promoting sustainability can also take the form of waste reduction, energy-efficient operations, and water conservation. This commitment to sustainability doesn’t just benefit the environment, it can also attract eco-conscious customers, thereby enhancing the business’ reputation and bottom line.

Hospitality Industry: An Overview


Diving into the vast landscape of the hospitality industry, it’s crucial to understand its significant role in the global economy, its relentless focus on customer satisfaction, and the importance of mastering communication skills in this field.

The industry’s economic impact is profound, creating jobs, boosting tourism, and contributing significantly to global GDP. Customer satisfaction is its lifeblood, driving repeat business and fostering positive word-of-mouth.

Stellar communication underpins all facets of the industry, from front-of-house interactions to strategic marketing initiatives. With its multi-faceted approach to service delivery and complex operations, the hospitality industry demands astute management and a deep understanding of its unique dynamics to truly excel.

Emerging Trends in Hospitality

In the rapidly evolving world of hospitality, several emerging trends are reshaping the industry, driven by technology integration, sustainability efforts, personalization, health, and safety measures, and collaborations with local communities.

Smart technology integration is creating seamless experiences for guests, while also streamlining operations and minimizing waste. Sustainability efforts are becoming a norm, not an exception, with establishments going green to attract eco-conscious consumers.

Personalization is paramount, with businesses striving to provide unique, tailored experiences to each customer. Health and safety measures have been amplified, given recent global health concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Did Paulo O’Kane’s Upbringing or Personal Experiences Influence His Approach to Hospitality Management?

Paulo O’Kane’s upbringing significantly influenced his hospitality management style. His early work experiences instilled a deep understanding of the industry’s demands.

Cultural influences from his surroundings shaped his commitment to local sourcing and sustainability. He developed a leadership style that values hard work, effective cost management, and customer satisfaction.

Paulo’s journey uniquely prepared him to master the art of hospitality management.

Can You Share Any Unique or Unexpected Stories From Managing Grace Neills, the Oldest Pub in Ireland?

While managing Grace Neills, the oldest pub in Ireland, Paulo King experienced some unique situations. He’d often joke about ghostly encounters, claiming spirits were just ‘old patrons refusing to leave’. However, O’Kane took historical preservation seriously, ensuring the pub’s rich history was preserved and appreciated.

This added a unique charm that customers found irresistible. It’s not just running a pub, it’s keeping alive centuries of tradition and stories.

What Were Some of the Distinct Challenges Faced While Establishing Stables and Groomsport Inn Compared to Your Previous Ventures?

Paulo faced unique challenges while establishing Stables and Groomsport Inn. Staff training was a major hurdle, as he needed a team that could deliver diverse experiences.

Venue selection was also distinct, requiring a location that could accommodate varied establishments. Paulo O’Kane’s approach, however, remained focused on offering quality hospitality, despite the different demands of these new ventures.

Apart From Financial Caution, What Are Some Less Obvious Considerations When Opening a Bar?

When opening a bar, apart from financial caution, Paulo O’Kane suggests focusing on aspects like customer experience and staff training. He believes in creating an inviting atmosphere that’ll keep patrons coming back.

Also, he can’t stress enough the importance of training staff not only in their job roles but also in customer service. It’s these less obvious considerations that can make or break a new bar establishment.

How Has the Recent Pandemic Situation Affected the Ways You Run Your Bar and Deal With Industry Challenges?

O’Kane’s approach to pandemic innovation and crisis leadership has been transformative. He’s shifted his bar’s business model to incorporate more outdoor seating and delivery options. He’s also increased sanitation measures to ensure customer safety.

Despite the challenges, he’s found opportunities to innovate, like hosting virtual events. The pandemic’s affected his operations significantly, but he’s adapted effectively, proving his mastery in navigating industry challenges.


Paulo O’Kane’s masterful journey in hospitality management exemplifies hard-earned success through dedication, strategic planning, and community support.

His unique perspective on bar operations, promotions, and sustainability offers invaluable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs.

As the industry evolves, O’Kane’s commitment to understanding emerging trends ensures his continued relevance and success.

His story serves as an inspiring blueprint for mastering the art of hospitality management.

Video Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:03)
I’m Paul O’Kane, Prepader of the Stables and the Groomsport Inn, both in Groomsport and Ireland’s oldest pub, Grace Neils in Donegadee. Today, we’re going to give you an insight into the bar and restaurant.

Speaker 2 (00:19)
Welcome to Amazing Food and Drink. I’m here today with the Prepader of the Stables, the Groomsport Inn in Ireland’s oldest pub, Grace Neils, Mr. Paul O’Kane. How are you doing, Paul?

Speaker 1 (00:29)
All All right. Colm, how are you?

Speaker 2 (00:30)
Very well. It’s lovely to see you here. You too. Just like to start by you give me a bit of background about yourself.

Speaker 1 (00:37)
Well, Colm, I’m just from a very average working class background, North Belfast. I would have loved to play football. Unfortunately, whenever I was at school, it was probably made more sense for me to get out to work. So from a very young age, I’ve been out working, from 13.

Speaker 2 (00:57)
Where did you start work?

Speaker 1 (00:59)
I would have started a wee place in Carradale called Prospect House. And then from when I was 16, the day I left school, I started full-time in the Bellevue Arms on the Anthem Road.

Speaker 2 (01:10)
So was your journey into the world of bars, restaurant, taulks, et cetera?

Speaker 1 (01:15)
Yeah, it was. We never started in the Bellevue Arms at the age of 16. The owners of that’s the Diamond family and then Ayman Diamond. So I worked for him for 21 years and Great grinding. Wasn’t always easy. To be fair, it was very good to me. However, it was a good understanding, a good upbringing, good platform. Then an opportunity came around in 2006 to maybe go out on our own and took that opportunity.

Speaker 2 (01:51)
And in terms of what you did and what you learned in the Belvie Arms with Eamonn Diamond, talk a wee bit about that.

Speaker 1 (01:59)
The Belvie Arms is a local pub, so it is, with a restaurant. And coming from North Belfast, I was familiar with most of the guests that would have come in and out of it. That’s right. And I really, really enjoyed working with those people. So I initially started off in the restaurant, working as this young 16-year-old furhert guy, serving tables, making a fortune on tips, may I say. I enjoyed that. And And then as Eamonn progressed, he built the Marine Court Hotel, some 20 years ago now. In Banger. In Banger. So he asked me to go down there as the Food Service Manager, then Duty Manager. And I’d done that, and I really enjoyed that as well. It was a hotel environment, so something a little bit more different to what I had done. However, great experience. Then Eamonn bought his family out in 2003, the Belvie arms. So there was an opportunity to go back to manage the whole complex. And if I’m brutally honest, I thought it might not have had the experience for it. I thought, Eamonn, I’ll give this a chance here. I’ll give it my best shot. He invested a lot of money, and I was there for three years, and I really, really enjoyed it.

Speaker 1 (03:18)
And I thought, well, you know what? If I can manage a Belvie arms, probably one of the busiest pubs in Northern Ireland, I would say, without any fear of contradiction, the opportunity came along to go out on our own. And I thought, Yeah, I’m going to have a crack at that. I’m ready.

Speaker 2 (03:36)
Brilliant. So your first bar then on your own was the Stables, if I’m not mistaken?

Speaker 1 (03:42)
The Stables in Groomsport, yeah. I had always a food background. So the Stables in Groomsport, for those who know it, is a predominantly food place, albeit that we added a function suite to it called Gordon Suite. After Mandy’s late father, we called it that, or after him. So what we had was a very, very busy restaurant that had to be maintained and sustained. And then we thought there was a market for functions, weddings, and so forth. So we turned what was known as a fine dining restaurant into a function suite. And then a year later, Groomsport was just a small village with a local pub, and the local pub became available some year, maybe two years at the very most after we initially took the stables. And I just thought, You know what? If we don’t have a crack at this pub, someone else is going to come in and do it, and they’re going to be our competitors. So we took the pub, and it all works together because in the pub, we have good, wholesome food, looking after the local people, very relaxed atmosphere. And then in the stables, we’re completely different. Family restaurant, no pub environment as such, and we have the function suite for weddings, engagement parties, 40th birthday.

Speaker 1 (05:10)
So we try to capture everything that that protected village needs.

Speaker 2 (05:15)
Brilliant. And how then did Ireland’s oldest pub come about then, Grace Nails?

Speaker 1 (05:21)
Gosh, we had two places at this time, and very sadly, it had closed. So it And the person who owned that pub was a regular in the Grimsport Inn. And because Donogha Day is only three miles down the road, it was just more curiosity. Let’s go and have a look at it. And the guy who owned it, I sat down and we talked it out and I said, Look, we’ll take this on a lease for two years in the understanding that we buy it at a fair price after two years. Because it was close, it needed a whole lot of work done to it. So it was worth investing that money into it. And I put all my centre forwards into it, my main management team. And I thought, you know what? We’ve two years to see if this is going to work. And to be fair to that management team, they’ve made a great, great success of it. And after two years, we’ve done the deal. We got it bought in that spot. Brilliant.

Speaker 2 (06:30)
And how’s it going for you?

Speaker 1 (06:33)
Yeah, the moment touch fruit, it’s going very well, probably exceeding our expectation. However, that’s done a whole lot of hard work from the management team and the staff that’s in it. They’re all working very hard.

Speaker 2 (06:46)
And how do the people of Donal Good day, how do they find it? Yeah.

Speaker 1 (06:49)
I mean, like I said, it’s only three mile away from Grimsport. The people of Donal Good day are very, very proud to say that the oldest pub in Ireland is on their doorstep. They support us very, very well, and we do our best to look after them as well. Brilliant.

Speaker 2 (07:06)
And in terms of local produce, for example, and local suppliers, how does that work with your businesses?

Speaker 1 (07:13)
I think that’s very, very important. Because we buy local, the like the Hamilton’s who look after our fruit and veg, our butcher, our meat comes locally. I mean, Palace do a lot of our dry goods and stuff, but the reps are local. They It’s very, very important that whenever you buy local, those people are going to support you, and it has a massive knock-on effect. And when the produce is good, not only is it good for us, but it’s good for that butcher, it’s good for that fruit and veg person. So it all works together, and it all comes together.

Speaker 2 (07:48)
And some of those people are probably your clients as well. They’ll come in and… For sure.

Speaker 1 (07:51)
Yeah, for sure. They all support us. Well, yeah, it definitely all works together.

Speaker 2 (07:58)
Okay. And if I was interested in open in a bar. What advice would you give me? How would I go about it?

Speaker 1 (08:03)
I’d probably be the wrong person to ask. Why would that be? Oh, our staff would probably say. Anyhow, if you were going to open up a pub, the three One of the things that I have learnt, most importantly, is that you can be a busy fool, and you can invest too much money in the silly things. I mean, What I would suggest is that if your wages are right, you got to make sure the service is good. However, the wages have got to be right.

Speaker 2 (08:39)
For the employees, you mean?

Speaker 1 (08:41)
No, your overall wage percentage. Okay, sorry. The cost. Yeah, your cost. Your food stocks and your drink stocks have to be accurate. They have to be monitored, whether it be week by week or month by month. So you have your wages, you have your purchase, and then your overheads with your heating, light, and so forth. You got to be careful with all that there. So you do. Too often, you see too many people. If the wage bill is too high, you have no chance of getting out the other side. And the least above To lease a pub, it has to work for both the person who’s going to lease and the person who owns it, but it has to be fair for everyone.

Speaker 2 (09:24)
Okay. And in terms of actually starting out, would you recommend working on a bar, working on a restaurant? Does Is that the best way to go? Or would you go the college route or university route?

Speaker 1 (09:35)
With my experience, it was all on the ground. I did go to college a little bit. However, I gained my experience working for somebody as clear as Eamonn Diamond. He just was very, very fair, but very, very intelligent. He had the vision. He could have walked through the place within five minutes. He’d observed everything that was going on. His attention to detail was I think that I have learned that from him, as opposed to textbook. When you sit down and go through it on textbook, what’s reality is wee bit different. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (10:10)
So if I had a son, could I send him to Paulo Cain? To teach him how to become a restauranteur and bar owner?

Speaker 1 (10:19)
My goodness. I would look after your son, Colin. No doubt about it. I know you would. Would I try and give him a good understanding of the business? For sure. If anybody was going to go out in business on their own, they definitely have to go in. They have to learn before they do it. I see it too often people outside of the game, coming in, taking pubs, thinking it’s just as easy as making it work. It’s not.

Speaker 2 (10:43)
Brilliant. That leads me on to them. So what are the advantages of one in a bar and restaurant? And what are the downsides, the disadvantages of one in a bar and restaurant?

Speaker 1 (10:53)
If it’s successful, it gives your family probably a better a lifestyle. However, coming from Bournemouth in a very working class background, you have to work. You can’t go in and just say, Oh, that’s my pub. That’s great. I don’t have to work.

Speaker 2 (11:11)
You have to work. There’s no substitute for hard work.

Speaker 1 (11:14)
For sure. However, to make it work, you got to be there and you got to work yourself. If you’re not there, it’s not going to work.

Speaker 2 (11:24)
That’s the bottom line. Because no one works as hard as you. Would that be a fair comment?

Speaker 1 (11:27)
I wouldn’t say that. There’s a whole lot of people who work probably harder than me. But the downside of it is you’re probably always thinking. There’s many, many sleepish nights. Whenever it’s really busy, if you’re busy time, you’re Constantly thinking, Right, this has to work. We got to make sure this is right. Because all the time you have new people coming into these places. So if we get it right at the busy times, there’s a good chance they’ll come back. If we don’t get it right, there’s a good a chance they won’t. And then there’s the other side. Whenever you have your difficult months, autumn, winter, you got to get that right as well. And you got to get it managed properly. You got to trim it back and cut it back and tighten it up. So you’re always thinking.

Speaker 2 (12:14)
Brilliant. So we’re coming into some of those months. After Christmas, it’s really busy as you’ll appreciate now. What about the January and February when people are paying off their credit card bills? What’s the idea? Have you any plans? Anything for us punters?

Speaker 1 (12:28)
Well, over Christmas, It’s busy, right? And everybody works very, very hard, and that’s all very well, and that’s great. However, you still do have to plan it out. Christmas is one month, it’s December, but you got to market what you’re going to do in January and February for these people who are going to come out in December. Everybody’s flush with their money the month of December, and everybody’s looking for a bargain January, February. So we’ve took a number of steps, and we market that throughout our Christmas period just to let people see that you come back here in January or February, and we have special offers, whether it’s an early even menu, which is very reasonably priced. We’re doing a number of things. We’re doing discounts. You have to market what you’re doing January, February.

Speaker 2 (13:16)
What about vouchers? Surely it’s a good idea to buy vouchers for someone for Christmas for any of your three establishment.

Speaker 1 (13:23)
Yeah, we have that. We will be promoting vouchers now. People do buy them for Christmas presents. I’ve been honest. It’s a great idea. It’s a great seller. Unfortunately, whenever they’re bought in December, they’re redeemed in January, February. There’s still no money coming across for us, but it’s a great idea. Of course, it is. Brilliant. Brilliant.

Speaker 2 (13:45)
And have you got websites for your businesses?

Speaker 1 (13:48)
We do. We have a marketing girl in particular who looks after all our marketing. The managers in each of the three places look after their own marketing also. We have a girl, Susie, who deals with the market and over and looks at all. Very, very active are all the managers. Websites, for sure. More mature people are looking at the websites. Facebook, Instagram. We’ve got to be really, really active in that there. And the managers are. My own son doing a degree in marketing himself. So he tries to bring a little bit to the table as well. And it’s so, so important. Marketing is-I hope you’re paying No, not at all. Of course.

Speaker 2 (14:34)
So I’d like to delve a wee bit in there. We’re very keen on local produce here at Amazing Food and Drink. Could you give me some of the suppliers that you use both on food and drink who are very local, maybe to yourselves in Groomsport in Donica Day?

Speaker 1 (14:47)
Well, in Donica Day, you have, everybody knows, Copeland Islands. There’s a new gin at the moment, Copeland Gin. We would promote that. So we would… The Jawbox Gin, all the gin. The gins are the big one at the moment, and there’s quite a lot of local gins. From the food perspective, all the Hamilton’s is a fruit and variety supplier. We use Mcatommies for the meat. Primacy meats, vegan meat as well. I mean, We try and give everybody a turn for that there, all the local ones.

Speaker 2 (15:17)
And all locally-based. What about organic food or sustainable food?

Speaker 1 (15:24)
Well, that’s definitely on up for sure. We have a lot of fagins and so forth. We have to accommodate that, and we have to evolve and move with the task as far as all that’s concerned.

Speaker 2 (15:36)
Okay. And again, you’d spoken about offers. What about linking up with suppliers to do offers? Have you thought about that?

Speaker 1 (15:48)
Well, just lately for Christmas, what we do is the reglers and the grooms poured in. We have a regular night in Grace Neill’s. And what we do for that there is we give everyone in the village or everyone that comes to the pub that night a complimented Christmas dinner. So it’s a It is a massive gesture.

Speaker 2 (16:16)
It is a massive gesture.

Speaker 1 (16:17)
We’re certainly talk of the village, talk of the town. However, to be fair, I do get my purchasing guy to have a word with those suppliers to see if they will help with that cost. And they’re all very, very accommodating.

Speaker 2 (16:31)
Which is brilliant. So it’s working both ways. It works for everyone.

Speaker 1 (16:35)
And we make that clear. The regulators are all thinking it’s not just a lovely gesture. It is for sure. However, those suppliers are definitely helping us.

Speaker 2 (16:44)
Okay. And so you’ve been in business now on your own since 2006? Yeah. Okay. So we’re looking 12 years getting into 13 years. And it’s had its ups and downs. For sure. Okay. So where is Paulo Keane going in the future?

Speaker 1 (17:00)
Gosh, I’m not- Take over the world? No, definitely not take over the world. We’re involved in three places at the moment. Would I like a fourth place? Would be involved in a fourth place? I’m not sure. It would need to be something special. It needs to be something special. It depends what my kids want to do also.

Speaker 2 (17:20)
Would your children be interested in coming in the family business?

Speaker 1 (17:23)
I don’t think so. My daughter’s just beautiful. She’s different. She doesn’t want to work in the game. She She wants more in the beauty. That’s her. My son worked with us for seven years. Is that what he wants to do in the future? He’s had enough? Maybe.

Speaker 2 (17:40)
And would you consider coming back to your North Belfast routes with some new venture? Maybe get in the partnership with Eamonn Diamond.

Speaker 1 (17:49)
Gosh. Very, very proud to come from North Belfast, for sure. Is it maybe a half an hour up the road too far? I don’t know. If it was the right place, we’ll be looking at Of course, we would.

Speaker 2 (18:02)
Okay. And in terms of how it’s impacted upon your home life, I mean, I know it’s a difficult industry. Has it been tough? Has it been rewarding? Both? I’m just trying to get you to think out loud here because there’s people going to be watching who might be interested in opening their own bar or restaurant.

Speaker 1 (18:24)
I think, to be fair, if you’re going to do it, you have to put the hours in. And if you’re going to do it, your other half, your wife or your partner, whoever it might be, they have to be understanding. I mean, for me to go in to Belfast on a Saturday night for a few drinks on a nice day, that sounds lovely. I can’t do that. Can I do it on a Monday night or Tuesday night? For sure. However, when it’s not busy, we all can get our time off. But I think if you’re going to do it, you have to be prepared to do it. And your partner or your wife has to understand. I’m not someone here who has to work late at night. He has to work nights. He has to be always on the go. If you want a missus or a partner to say, right, you’re doing a nine to five job, well then it’s not for you.

Speaker 2 (19:14)
Okay, good lad. And look, we’ve seen bars and restaurants closing through Ireland over the last number of years, and that’s been difficult. How are you future-proofing yourself of that? What measures are you taking?

Speaker 1 (19:25)
It’s definitely very, very difficult, and it’s tough times. It’s still tough times Whenever we went into it in 2006, it was probably at the height of the peak. And if I’m brutally honest, the first year in the stables 12 or 13 years ago was probably the best year. Tough times. Everybody’s looking at a bargain. The government are insisting that you give your staff a pay rise. Your customers don’t want to see an increase in the menu. However, you have to move with it. And small increases, the staff have to be looked after and you just got it. I think that if you give good quality food with good, efficient, friendly service, which you’re very good at. I’m not so sure. If your places are clean, I think if you give a customer what they want, it gives you half a chance. It’s tough out there.

Speaker 2 (20:20)
Have you thought about maybe a cookery school or cocktail lessons or wine tasting, whiskey tasting, gin tasting?

Speaker 1 (20:28)
Yeah, we have done gin tastings in the past. Wine tastings, the staff will be up to speed with that there. We don’t do an awful lot of wine tasting for guests. However, the staff are all very knowledgeable in regards to the wine list. Whisky tastings, it’s a good idea. Maybe you’ve just taught me something.

Speaker 2 (20:50)
The Cookery School, maybe another angle.

Speaker 1 (20:53)
Cookery School, yeah. It’s good. The Cookery School would certainly work in Grace Neill’s, where the clientels a little bit It’s a bit different to the stables. Yeah, it’s certainly something for thought. You consider?

Speaker 2 (21:06)
Yeah, for sure. How could you big up the fact that you own Ireland’s oldest pub? That’s some accolade.

Speaker 1 (21:13)
It is. And Susie, who looks after a market, and she’s really going to go to town on that this year, so she is, because with all these cruise liners coming in, every American wants to be Irish. Absolutely. So yeah, there’s a massive market. On the back of that there. I mean, we flaunted with our staff with the uniform and stipulate Ireland’s oldest pub. Yeah, to be fair, very proud to say.

Speaker 2 (21:39)
And in fairness, until you told me a couple of years ago, I didn’t actually know it.

Speaker 1 (21:43)
A lot of people wouldn’t have known it, and It probably wasn’t something that was always pushed on, but we need to really push it on because it’s something to be very proud of.

Speaker 2 (21:52)
Absolutely. I think that could be your flagship organisation.

Speaker 1 (21:57)

Speaker 2 (21:59)
Brilliant. Okay, and let me just think, lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking? I know you’ve mentioned some of this again earlier, but what advice would you give to someone who’s considering a life in the bar and restaurant trade, and as well as that, is local the way to go?

Speaker 1 (22:20)
I think they got a pitch where they’re going. What’s happening now with times being tough is village pubs are They’re difficult. There’s a lot of them closing down. And they’re closing down because it’s probably a lot cheaper to buy a bottle of wine in the local supermarket or twelve tins of beards. And it is tough. There’s no doubt about that. However, if it’s done right and you get the simple things right and you push it on, it gives you a good chance. So there’s hope.

Speaker 2 (22:55)
There’s still life in the old dog yet.

Speaker 1 (22:56)
Yeah, there’s definitely. And there’s a whole lot of good There’s a lot of places out there. But if you get the simple things right from the people driving to the car park, if it’s spotless, the venue is spotless, the menu is reasonably priced, the drink service is very good, the food service is very good. The quality of food is very, very consistent. It has to be consistent.

Speaker 2 (23:18)
You’re only as good as your last meal.

Speaker 1 (23:20)
You’re only as good as your last meal.

Speaker 2 (23:21)
And what about the local produce element? Because I know you’ve spoken off camera there, you’re really keen on that.

Speaker 1 (23:27)
No doubt. To go outside of Ireland and start buying cheaper produce, it’s definitely inferior. There’s no doubt about it. The produce from the local people, from Ireland, is definitely much more superior to some of the cheaper produce that you can’t get from a Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (23:45)
And as you said earlier, you’re supporting local communities, too.

Speaker 1 (23:48)
Yeah, for sure. You have to. And that’s very, very important. We would sponsor the local kids football team, and we’re involved with the dark and the pool, and the hockey.

Speaker 2 (24:01)
You’re very good at sponsoring local sports. You absolutely are. I can vouch that.

Speaker 1 (24:06)
All right. Brilliant. I think it’s important to put a little bit back out there, for sure. And particularly with the kids, because very often, if you’re coming out, calling with your kids, it’s not where you and Lorraine want to go. It’s where your kids want to go.

Speaker 2 (24:19)
A hundred %. They rule the roost now. They rule the rules. And it’s only going to go worse, you tell me, too.

Speaker 1 (24:25)
Definitely. Whenever they get to 15, 16, it does.

Speaker 2 (24:28)
So what are your top tips for running a bar and restaurant.

Speaker 1 (24:33)
Colm, if you were to take on a restaurant on a bar tomorrow, and you said to me, Look, Paul, give me a wee bit of advice here. What would my advice with my experience? Something that I’m not brilliant at, right? However, I really, really do appreciate my staff, but I don’t tell them often enough.

Speaker 2 (24:51)
You’ve got the opportunity now, Paul.

Speaker 1 (24:53)
They know I’m not this person to go around, put my arm around people and say, You’re doing an amazing job. However, I really do appreciate how hard to work. I think it’s important to let your staff know that from time to time. You got to get it right. If your wage bill, pro rata, in terms of what your lift is, exceeds a certain amount, it’s usually around 30 %. If your wage bill is too high, you have no chance to get that to the other side. So you got to manage that, or your managers have got to manage that properly. So your food costs and your drink costs, you have to be very careful because if you’re not getting your markup, it’s not going to work. So if you get your wages right, your costing is right, purchasing. We have a purchasing manager who is responsible for the three players This is to do the purchase in up to three places. If he can save us, again, Michael Collins, if he can save us 5 %, it’s massive over the year. However, if we’re paying 5 % more, it’s also massive over the year. Okay.

Speaker 1 (25:59)
The other thing that you need to have is somebody very strong in your office because we have a girl, Karine, who’s been with us right from the beginning. She’s the person saying, Paul, this all looks very positive. However, your VAT bills to come out once a quarter. And when that VAT bill comes out, it’s 20 % of your overall sales. It has to go. So whenever you have somebody as strong in the office, and if you get that bit right, if you get your staffing levels right, you get your costumes right. Keep away from your hidden and light. After that, the service has to be right. If your service is not good, people will not come back. If the food is not good, they’ll not come back. You got to give that whole everything has to come together. And if you get all the simple things right, you have half a chance. Also, entertainment is very, very important. In Ireland’s oldest pub, you have to pitch it right, and your entertainment has to be right. Ireland’s oldest pub, the guests that come in there on a Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon. Friday night, they want acoustic, Sunday afternoon, they want light acoustic.

Speaker 1 (27:14)
Saturday evening, Like light, like music, Saturday even, it’s got to be a little bit more lively. However, it all has to be live entertainment. Whereas in the groups port in, the entertainment is a little bit different. In the stables, what we have there, we do a tribute once a month, where it’s dinner and show. So you have to pitch it right. Each place is different.

Speaker 2 (27:35)
Depends on your clientele, obviously.

Speaker 1 (27:37)
Clientel and the venue.

Speaker 2 (27:40)
Brilliant. And any last tips before we finish?

Speaker 1 (27:42)
If it’s a local pub, if If it’s a local pub, you have to look after everyone. Treat everyone the same.

Speaker 2 (27:50)
As if they’re all VIPs.

Speaker 1 (27:52)
As if they’re all VIPs. Nobody wants to be paternised. My perception on it is that I talk to everyone the way I would like them to talk to me. I know better than anyone else, and no one else is any better than me. And in the local pub, every local person wants you to have time for them. That’s your bread and butter. You have to look after these people.

Speaker 2 (28:14)
And you are absolutely brilliant to that. A hundred %. I can speak from experience, you’re brilliant to that.

Speaker 1 (28:19)
I’m sure there’s some people who would disagree with it, Colin. I doubt that. I doubt that, Paul. My objective is that anyone comes through that door, that we look after them.

Speaker 2 (28:28)
So, Paul, thanks very much for your insights today. Thank you, Colin. And thank you for listening here at Amazing Food and Drink. And if you have a look at the links below, you’ll see links to all Paul’s businesses and indeed, our own site. And we’ll see you again soon. Thank you.

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