How I got to where I am now:
I actually always knew that this was the career for me and that I would eventually want to be a restaurant manager. I started out as a part-time chef at a local restaurant in 1998 and while I was working there I did a Hospitality Management Diploma and went on to do a degree in the same area. While I was doing my degree, I moved to a company called Botanic Inns which was a big step in my career.
After Botanic Inns I went to Malmaison in 2005. The six years I worked there was amazing. I started off working in the bar and then after a year I became brasserie manager - a job I held for four years.
Then, moving to the Culloden Estate & Spa 18 months ago was a perfect progression for me. Moving from a boutique hotel to a five-star resort and spa has obviously been very different, but if you can run one restaurant well then you can do the same somewhere else, with a different product.
My greatest achievement:
Of course, winning the Restaurant Manager of the Year Awardtops everything. It's something I'd been working towards for such a long time, it was my third year entering the competition.
Aside from that, I'd say that running a restaurant can be a long-term success, you put a lot of hard work into it, you build your team around you and you work hard at having a great restaurant. Establishing Malmaison Belfast as a great restaurant was a great achievement and building the team around me here at the Culloden is going well so far - but being named Restaurant Manager of the Year is just the icing on the cake.
My biggest challenge:
Learning so many new things along the path of your career can be difficult at times. When you're young, just starting out, you think you know it all, but you look back at different things and realise you would deal with things differently. This industry throws different things at you all the time and you just have to deal with new situations almost on a daily basis.
The biggest challenge as a restaurant manager is in getting the right people around you and then getting the best out of them. You're only as good as your team, everybody's got different abilities and it can sometimes be a challenge working out how to get the most out of different people.
What I love about restaurants:
It's the day-to-day buzz. This is a great industry, no two days are the same; you keep learning things and pushing the boundaries. The customer satisfaction is a major factor as well.
I have customers that are personal friends now, I think when you see the happiness on peoples faces or you get a hand-written card in the post, it's so touching and that's why I work in the industry.
What I don't like:
I'd love to see more recognition for front-of-house staff. Chefs deserve their celebration but the front-of-house is often seen as second to the kitchen brigade - at the end of the day the restaurant manager and his team can light a room up and make a night memorable.
In the long-term, I'd love to see front-of-house being considered as a career path by more people - perhaps a restaurant managers' association would help to establish clearer training paths for young people entering hospitality.
Universities and employers could work in collaboration a bit more and there should be more Government incentives for kids to break into this industry - it's the biggest growth industry for Northern Ireland.
If I wasn't working in hospitality...
When I was younger I had the notion of becoming a car dealer or a racing driver - I suppose that salesman streak in me is coming through in the restaurant industry instead. But this industry is one industry that I only ever really saw myself going into. My family owned a pub years ago and I think a lot of things rubbed off on me there.
My advice for a young entrepreneur:
Stay focused on what you want to achieve - it can be a long 10 years or so before you reach the heights of your career. You have to enjoy what you do, no matter what stage you're at.
It's good to work for at least two years with a company before you leave. I'm always a bit dubious of people who come looking for jobs having only done six months here or there. But you should never stay at in the same role at the same company for too long. Every two years or so you should be looking to move up the ladder and not be afraid to spread your wings a bit.
In the next year, I would love to use the award I've got as a platform to enter schools, colleges and universities. I want to benefit others and give something back to the industry - if I can help one kid who's undecided about what they want to do in their career then it would be a success.
In the long-term I would like to see myself progressing, hopefully up to general manager within the Hastings Group - they're a great company to work for. I've had emails from all over the world, but you have to be grounded and, whilst that's all flattering I want to show a bit of respect and loyalty to the brand I'm with.