Insider View

In sparkling form this month, Lucy Madden asserts that “for anyone young, and naturally sociable, there can be few more promising career paths to take than in hospitality”.

An ebullient man with a broad smile is bearing down on us, hand extended in welcome. In his greeting it is hard to establish whether we have met before, and I don’t think he knows either, so obfuscating and all-encompassing is his conviviality.

This is Richard Corrigan, whose latest enterprise in Virginia, Co Cavan includes pop-up lunches hosted in the glasshouse in his extensive gardens. I watch him work the room, bestowing the gift of geniality to all in his path, and sigh with envy. This is the real deal.

We are told that we are entering a world that will be run by robots. A wag has pointed out that factories in the future will only be inhabited by a man and a dog; the man to feed the dog and the dog to stop the man fiddling with the machines. This may be good news for those reluctant to work but as Noel Coward pointed out “Work is so much more fun than fun.”

The prospect of driverless vehicles appals me. What are all the drivers going to be doing if not driving? Up to mischief staring at a screen, no doubt, deprived of the joys of the wheel and the open road.

We can only hope that in the future our hotels will not be staffed by robotic creatures, but thankfully this is unlikely to happen since a jolly and welcoming host in human form has been established as one of the most vital prerequisites for our leisure time

This was demonstrated to us this week when visiting a new state-of-the-art cinema in Monaghan town where the manager made herself known to us ticket buyers and asked what sort of films we liked. It seemed as if she really cared. Cleverly she had given that neutral space a human face that has sown a seed of loyalty to it in us. How much more so this need to be wanted and acknowledged is essential when staying away, given that the visitor has left behind the comfort blanket of home and familiarity.

The robotic age may be beneficial to the hospitality industry in freeing up a lot of bored and unemployed people able to avail of its services. At a time when our lives are more virtual, more technologically aided, more Smart, what is likely to become more desirable to us than the dear old human visage? And here in Ireland we are off to a roaring start; we actually like people.

We holidayed in France last summer. France is my favourite destination but it is not for the friendliness of its people. Rather the opposite, but this is not without its own perverse charm. A rude host may be preferred to an indifferent one. Visiting Lyon for reasons of gastronomy we chose a restaurant not just for its reported excellent cooking but lured, too, by the alleged rudeness of the chef/patron who operated from what looked like a ticket office added as an afterthought to the side of the dining room.

We were grudgingly shown to a table and scowled at from the booth. However, with maximising his takings in mind, and true to his reputation, he began to shout oaths at two Italian customers who declined to share a table with us and were on the point of leaving. We were assumed to be English, thus suspect Brexiteers and outcasts, and it wasn’t until he discovered we were from Ireland that we were given a cheer and our chef made himself known to us.

I couldn’t see Richard Corrigan behaving like that. You could say that since France is the most popular tourist destination in the world, they don’t have to try very hard, whereas with our questionable weather and inaccessibility, a cheery expression on the face of the host is essential and can turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal visitor.

This is not always easy. I was once called ‘morose’ (dictionary definition reads ‘of bitter, unsociable temperament’) and will confess, in retirement, to lurking behind hedges at the approach of a voice, but for anyone young, and naturally sociable, there can be few more promising career paths to take than in hospitality.

It’s the obvious choice for interacting with others and no matter that you don’t have say, the allure of Tom Hiddleston as The Night Manager, but through the warmth of your interaction, through listening to the woes and joys of the lives of others, through addressing any short-comings the guest may find in your premises, because no matter how good you may think you are at what you do, you are only as good as the perceptions of the person paying for your services. You may find yourself becoming not just a provider but a friend, a psychologist, an entertainer. And you will never be in danger of being replaced by a robot.

Hilton ParkTogether with her husband Johnny & family, Lucy Madden owns the magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan which is run by their son and daughter-in-law, Fred and Joanna, as an Ireland’s Blue Book country house, and open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild.




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