Marianne Hood FIH tells us about her career history, how winning an IOH award was a career highlight and why she took on her role as Chair of the Institute of Hospitality Northern Ireland Branch.
Tell us a little more about your career history.
My whole career has been based on opportunity and I don’t like to miss any! I started working as a waitress at the age of 16, falling into the industry after an unsuccessful school life. I was very lucky to find that I loved working with people and that hospitality was where I wanted to hone my skills and develop a career.
In my early twenties, I spent three years travelling the world and learning my trade on cruise ships and I worked as restaurant manager in many of the best restaurants in Belfast before starting work with Botanic Inns Ltd, a very progressive bar and hotel company in the early nineties where I worked as general manager in four of their properties.
In 2008, I became hospitality director of the Grand Opera House and then in 2013, I decided to take a leap of faith and became a freelance consultant to other hospitality businesses, offering skills training, interim management, developing procedures and mystery visiting amongst other things.
In 2015, another opportunity came my way and I became a partner in a café bar and restaurant business, looking after all the hospitality needs in an arts venue in Belfast.
What makes the hospitality industry so special?
The opportunities are endless in this industry and to me the most special part is that you can enter the industry as a graduate or as a school leaver; university and college is not for everyone and it wasn’t for me, yet I have established myself to be relatively successful by taking every opportunity offered to me over the last 30 something years.
If you love people then this is the career for you, it doesn’t feel like ‘work!’ No day is the same and for a change-agent like me, who bores easily, this is refreshing as I simply couldn’t imagine a 9-5 office job. The people are also what makes it special – working with like-minded individuals and learning from mentors, I have been very lucky to have worked with and to have been taught by some very special people.
How do you think we can we attract young people to work in hospitality?
Senior managers and influencers within the industry all have a responsibility to attract people into the industry. The old-fashioned opinion that the industry is all about split shifts, low pay and poor work-life balance have been consigned to the history books as progressive companies have embraced a number of initiatives to attract young people and make working conditions positive. We need to sell the benefits and keep on communicating to them.
How important is to network and attend events in this industry?
It is essential to network so that you can keep up to date with new products, new practices and also who doesn’t like to network with people who share the same passions and interests as you!
What has been your career highlight?
I have had many career highlights; the Northern Ireland Branch has hosted, for the last 23 years, the Institute of Hospitality Awards for Professionalism and I was lucky to win my category in 2002. It remains as one of my key career highlights as I was recognised as being one of the top general managers in Northern Ireland at that time.
Branching out into the world of self-employment was also a major highlight, realising that I was indeed ‘good enough’ to earn my own living was so rewarding although a steady pay cheque is also nice!
You are chair of the Northern Ireland branch, why did you want to take on this role?
I felt that after four years as a committee member it was time that I committed to taking on the role as chair. I feel it is important to give something back and I do believe that all committee members and branch officers do give something back to an industry that has been good to all of us.
What are your aims for the branch during your time as Chair?
I am committed to enhancing our current offering for members with some additional networking evenings throughout the year. The branch is hosting the 24th Institute of Hospitality Awards for Professionalism in May 2019 and the event planning for that event on its own seems to take up most of the year!
We are also looking forward to our 16th Student Conference in September. Last year’s event saw over 360 students listen to a wide selection of very successful people in the NI hospitality scene and events like this are so important in getting our message across to young people that the hospitality industry is a wonderful one in which to work.
What is the biggest challenge the hospitality industry is facing right now?
In Northern Ireland, over recent years, tourism has grown and continues to grow at a very fast pace. With the publicity we received when the Lonely Planet guide named Belfast as the must-see destination in 2018, there is no stopping us.
However, with these immense opportunities comes enormous challenges and the largest challenge for us is to attract and retain staff in all sectors of the industry. Working closely with local industry partners such as People 1st, Hospitality Ulster and the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation as well as the colleges and University of Ulster, we are all trying hard to ensure that young people view the hospitality industry as a career of choice but with Brexit looming, this is also contributing to the headaches.