Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Alanna Feeney, General Manager
Alanna Feeney is the new General Manager at The Green Hen in Dublin, a well loved French restaurant on Exchequer street.
I admire Alanna Feeney greatly. She works hard and takes great pride in her work. I first met her when she was working in Marcel’s of Baggot st. Although the restaurant didn’t last long once she left it, Alanna’s career has been going from strength to strength.
A fiercely smart and funny woman, she will make you feel utterly minded if you happen to dine in the establishment she manages. Much like Talha Pasha, she is one of the more recognisable face and name of the Front Of House industry.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
Where do I start?!! My original career path was not directly within the hospitality world at all. I was heavily involved in Marketing and Event Management (which I loved!) & from there branched out to doing freelance promotional work within the hospitality sector focusing on social media and marketing strategies for restaurants. I suppose given the fact I was raised in a family with two self employed parents (within the medical profession, with the family practice on the same site as the family home) instilled a strong business acumen in me from a very early age. We were immersed in the family business so to speak from day one which established a strong work ethic in each of us and the need to be customer focused at all times. The skills we developed & honed within the medical practice throughout our youth transcended all sectors and is something I have carried with me to this day. It instilled important values of patience, empathy & focusing on the needs of others – the ability to pre-anticipate your customers needs – traits that are essential within hospitality sector!
How does your career fullfil you?
I love the all encompassing facets of my job as a restaurant manager – I love the fact that no two days are ever the same & indeed no two services will ever follow the same formula – the characters you meet along the way will both delight (and sometimes drain!) the living bejaysus out of you (welcome to the wonderful world of hospitality I say!), yet the positives far out way the negatives. Those of us in hospitality always have a rose tinted view in our heads that a 9 to 5 job would be the “ideal” but I honestly could not think of anything worse. Restaurant life can be hard but its something I am beyond passionate about. The art of service, the old cliche of knowing you have made a guests night memorable for all the right reasons and made them feel uber special makes the long days and late nights all worth while. I am pretty competitive (have been since I was a child!) so I do love sales targets and constantly looking at ways to improve the business and enhance the customer experience – Even when off duty, I am always on the look out for inspiration / creative ideas to bring back to the restaurant – it makes switching off an impossible task but c’est la vie! However, in truth, I would be lying if I stated that my career and my career alone fullfils me wholly. It is purely one of the many facets that contribute to making me feel complete – the other of course is being at home with my partner and our beautiful boys and our little shih tzu, Albert!
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Alanna Feeney?
I have been working within Townhouse Leisure Group for close to a year now as manager in La Cucina restaurant in South William Street, however I am so excited as I have just started as the new manager of The Green Hen in Exchequer Street (within the town house leisure group). The Green Hen is already a much loved and established restaurant within Dublin City so I am very excited to take on the challenge of putting my own stamp on the business & bringing together a new team of Front of House Professionals who I believe will elevate the restaurant & give it a new lease of life. Its very much in the embryonic stages but I am very excited to be given the opportunity to work on this project – I am a true believer (as is my boss Frank Gleeson) that with the right attitude & hard work, success will prevail! Town House Leisure are a very progressive and forward thinking company so I am very much looking forward to continuing my career path with them particularly as they have so many more exciting projects in the pipeline.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
I don’t think the challenges that women face are exclusively attributed within the food industry alone – I honestly feel the gender bias transcends all industries unfortunately! I remember one interview I had for a restaurant manager position where I was asked outright how I would “manage” to do my job given that I was mother and enquired as to my relationship status (which had no consequence on my ability to do the job!) – another interviewer asked me if I planned on having any more kids! I hardly imagine this being asked to any man in the same position as me. I have also seen first hand where women have been paid a lower financial package then her male counterparts for doing the same job. It is beyond frustrating, However, I do believe it is slowly but surely getting better – thankfully not all employers are based in the dark ages and employ key managers on their ability to do the job and their merit. Regardless of your gender it is hard for any parent to juggle the work life balance and to rid yourself of the inevitable parental guilt of not being at home as much as you would like – however, I am so lucky that both my ex-husband and I have a great relationship whereby we co-parent our beautiful boys which allow us the luxury to focus both on our respective careers as well as having a hands on approach to raising our boys. My mode of management in work is to surround myself with an uber strong team (who are even better than me!) to allow me the flexibility to not have to be on site all the time – I literally am attempting to have my cake and I am eating it! ; )
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
Ooh do I have to limit it to one??! There are so many women who consistently inspire me within the industry (you know who you are!) – I suppose notable mention must go to Vanessa & Anna from Las Tapas de Lola who I believe are beyond amazing at what they do and are one of the few independent restaurateurs left within Dublin City Centre. Their ability to offer genuine warmth and old school hospitality to each and every one of their guests is phenomenal. Another lady who deserves major kudos for elevating business women within the industry would be Jules Mahon – her work establishing both the taste.ie / indulgeme.ie and now branching her net to excellence in wine and spirits for Dalcassian is inspiring – particularly as like me she juggles the task of working life and motherhood which isn’t easy – yet she manages to make it look effortless!
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
Awareness, awareness & more awareness! Allowing younger generations to know that the food & hospitality industry is a wonderful potential career platform for women in this country – there is the old adage that it’s a male dominated world and to a certain respect it still is as there is a preconceived notion that it is impossible to work around the antisocial hours to have the work life balance – but anything is achievable with the right attitude and passion! Celebrating the vast array of multi talented women across the spectrum of the food and drinks industry in Ireland via platforms like this is also hugely important (so kudos to you Katia!).
In Ireland, regardless of gender, hospitality is not given the same respect and accreditation that is in the likes of France and London where it is recognised as a highly skilled professional entity – I think we need to celebrate the industry as a whole and increase the skill set of potential new entrants at school going age to secure the amount of staff needed in the current climate given the number of restaurants / bars and hotels opening. It can be a highly awarding career if entered for the right reasons! Its a passport to travel the world & one of the few professions that allows you the luxury to work anywhere!
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Without a shadow of a doubt it was the day myself and team at Avenue were awarded the Michelin Recommendation and included in the Michelin Guide. Particularly, as we had endured an uneasy start to the business with bad management in situ. It was only when I took over the reigns of the FOH and Dave Ryan lead the kitchen team that we had a dramatic U-Turn to the business. The nod from Michelin made it all worth while as they really are the holy grail! Given that we had received such a rewarding accolade it was a hard pill to swallow that we ended up having to close the restaurant after 2 years – my heart went out to Nick at the time as he had invested all his money into the business but due to a substantial financial theft by a then staff member we were left with no option but to close. It was the biggest learning curve of our lives and the lessons we learnt from that have massively helped with our ability to move forward in our respective career paths. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Embrace your free spirit, follow your heart & seize the day! The older I get the more fearless I become. At times, I wish I could do a Cher and turn back time to fight the fear and go with my gut rather than listening to others. Having said that I am not one to live to with regrets as I am a firm believer things happen for a reason but I do try and instil confidence in my sons to do what makes them happy rather than reliving my insecurities! If one door opens, another closes and that is the mantra I follow for life.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
An ability to have eyes at the back of my head would help! But in the absence of that, the ability to multi-task – a Restaurant Manager encompasses being a marketeer, event manager, an accountant, reservations, HR department, a Chef de Rang, a cleaner, mixologist, graphic designer and wine connoisseur and not withstanding the necessity to be a shoulder to cry on for both guests and staff! (I’ll enrol for that Psychology degree one day!!!). A positive “can do” attitude and lots and lots of stamina! (I have reverted to my years as a gym bunny as there is no way I could sustain the hours if I wasn’t fit for the demands of daily service). Also being a good snooker player is a help – always be six shots when it comes to service!
What’s your favourite dessert?
Believe it or not, despite having a penchant for chocolate I am not a massive dessert lover – I am much more of a savoury fiend! However, the most delicious dessert I have ever had without fail was wild strawberries and cream in L’Avenue Paris on Avenue Montaigne – simplicity is key and it was pure perfection on a plate.