By Denis Sheehan MIH: Ingredients in creating award-winning front of house.
So, just what does it take to be awarded the Institute of Hospitality’s Restaurant Manager of the Year? As the title this year belongs to Christie Hayes, Restaurant Manager at Beach House, Oxwich, I recently headed off there to meet her, and hopefully gain some insight.
On arrival the setting that greets you is breath-taking, some may have wished for a bright sunny day, but a mist that afternoon added to the power of the panorama. The restaurant is quite literally on the beach, yards away from crashing waves.
I parked alongside and wandered in to meet Christie. As you enter you do not feel you have left the beach, you gain another perspective of it, being part of rather than separate to it. The design has synergy with its surroundings, natural materials and colours flow allowing a deeper appreciation of the location.
Christie seems to have been granted a permanent smile, she is clearly happy in what she does and as we begin to chat that becomes more and more evident. Harry Murray once told me that hospitality is the business of making people happy, Christie is evidence of his proposal.
Her first job in our industry was working in a pub in Oxford, initially part time whilst also working in a nearby cheese counter, then full time. This was where Christie told me she first “fell in love with hospitality”.
Her next move was to a fine dining restaurant in Oxford, before heading off to the 5-star Adare Manor in Limerick, which will in 2027 host the Ryder Cup. Spending three years here, she started in F&B and through a hunger for gaining experience in different departments, and how they worked, eventually became the hotel’s banqueting manager.
Her departure from Adare Manor was initiated by a friend, Liam Simpson, Restaurant Manager at The Strathearn, The Gleneagles Hotel. Liam messaged Christie the job ad for Restaurant Manager at the Beach House, saying “this job is your job”. Years later both competed for this year’s Institute of Hospitality Restaurant Manager of the Year, Liam was awarded runner up.
Christie knew the job was for her the instant she arrived for the interview, just like me and I dare say countless diners, when you arrive you know you have arrived.
The job interview started off formally with the restaurant MD, and ‘chef’ as Christie refers to him, chef being Chef Director, Hywel Griffith. At one point during the interview the MD excused himself and left Christie and Hywel to it. “We just talked and talked, and talked” Christie recalled fondly, and left with the job.
Christie is very good at talking, the ‘interview’ I was there to conduct was more like a chat with someone I knew very well, I don’t, we had only met once previously, briefly at The Hotel Café Royal, where the Institute of Hospitality’s Restaurant Manager of the Year awards took place last month.
Throughout our easy and enjoyable conversation Christie’s absolute focus on the guest being central in her universe is clear, it is also central to how she coaches her team.
Team briefings are held pre-service every day, ensuring every guest enjoys their experience of dining with the team at the Beach House. As we were talking some diners were leaving, but not one did so without engaging with Christie as they left. All seemed to know her and voiced how much they were looking forward to their next visit.
Christie embraces a responsibility to provide all members of the team with a foundation of knowledge and experience they can develop over time with her at the Beach House or take with them on their forward hospitality career journey.
A true champion of front of house she now speaks regularly at local schools and colleges on how to enter and develop a front of house career in hospitality.
Christie explained how applying to enter the Institute of Hospitality’s Restaurant Manager of the Year reinforced her passion for hospitality. It had never left, but was bolstered by the process. “As I completed the entry forms and set out my application, it reminded me just how much I love this industry” she enthused.
I asked Christie what advice she would give to someone thinking about entering a front of house career in hospitality and catering. After what must have been the only pause in our conversation she told me:
“Bring two pairs of shoes to every shift.”
“Learn how to work with your colleagues.”
“Everyone is different and brings something unique to the mix, learn to work together.”
The first statement is clearly pragmatic advice, and I suspect Christie is pragmatic in everything she does, a job needs to be done, and done well.
The next statements both demonstrate empathy, I understood her use of empathetic language not only as compassionate, but also as a way of mimicking chef through getting the very best from the ingredients at his disposal.
We chatted about much more than what you have read already, so I will ask Christie to expand on this, please like me keep your fingers crossed for a positive reply, and watch this space.