An Interview With Darina Brennan, Dalata Group

Covid Success Story: An Interview With Darina Brennan, Dalata Group

Covid-19 has been incredibly taxing on the hospitality industry, but rather than delve into the difficulties we continue to face, we wanted to instead take the time to focus on some of the success stories that have unfolded over these past few months. That’s why we sat down with Darina Brennan, Group Executive Chef for our customers in Dalata Hotel Group, to learn a bit more about her experience at Dalata and they ways in which they’ve adapted throughout the pandemic.

After closing 44 hotels back in March, the team at Dalata Hotel Group got stuck into the jobs that would prove to set them up for success upon re-opening post-lockdown, from deep cleaning to refurbishing, among many other things. Perhaps the biggest change The Dalata Group underwent was the digitalisation of service within the hotels, whereby customers will now find a QR code on the mirror in their rooms. Using these, guests can book a socially distant table in the dining room or use a click-and-collect-style room service option where everything arrives boxed up to guests’ rooms, which has actually made things run more efficiently. With breakfast buffets now a thing of the past, another positive result Dalata has seen is less food waste, and chefs say their gross profits are better for it.

As for lunch and dinner, “The days of big menus are gone,” says Darina. Developing smaller, concise menus with a good range was one of the first things The Dalata Group did in preparation for re-opening—a move that proved to be essential in terms of minimising prep and bringing down their stock levels to save money. (Pro tip: If you don’t know what to focus on or prioritise for your own restaurant’s pared-back menu, Darina recommends 6, 6, and 6 with a couple of specials, stressing that “When it’s gone, it’s gone, so there’s no waste.”)

In addition to paring back their menus, they also placed a massive emphasis on training and development. “We have a great training and development team here, so all our training’s moved online.” Through Dalata Online, chefs can watch videos on topics like deboning a chicken and more. Even if staff weren’t working, they were encouraged to upskill via Dalata’s online courses, and in the month of May alone, an impressive 5,000 courses were completed on Dalata Online. Lockdown also gave Dalata the opportunity to take a deep look into guest reviews in order to make improvements where needed, which resulted in the switch to even higher quality products from Irish suppliers. “That’s one thing chefs really need to think about, is their Irish suppliers and where they’re buying from,” says Darina, encouraging chefs to support Irish brands in order to help one another.

And the act of helping one another has been a common theme throughout our interview with Darina. “You have to put people first,” she states. “At the end of the day, if you’re good to your team and you mind your team, you never have any problems.” That’s why one non-negotiable for Darina is to “Go in and thank everybody at the end of the shift, no matter what.” If head chefs are in bad form, she continues, it can affect not only their immediate teams but the team at large, as a bad day in the kitchen reflects on floor staff, bar staff, etc. “If the kitchen’s got a cough, the hotel’s got a cold,” she remarks, which is why they work hard to take care of their chefs, who, in turn, work hard to mind their respective teams. To ensure they’re in good form, Darina urges chefs to prioritise their health, especially their mental health, now more than ever, asking everyone to eat well, stay hydrated, get a good night’s sleep, use mindfulness apps, and get out for a walk daily. 

In addition to minding our physical and mental health, Darina has a few final bits of advice for small restaurant owners. First, “Hang in there,” she says. “Try and diversify your business a little bit – do what you can in your restaurant when you can. Offer a different experience if you can, be it click and collect or delivery. Whatever your business model is, you have to diversity and try to look at it in a different way.” Another key are of focus? Social media. “Having a good social media presence is really key, and I think a lot of smaller places are only really realising that now.” She continues to explain the importance of keeping your loyal customers top of mind, encouraging restaurateurs to connect with them on social media. 

Because above all, “Communication is absolutely key,” she says, explaining that they’ve kept their teams in the loop every step of the way from March through to present day. “It’s really important that you talk to the team and that they know what’s happening and they know where the company is.” 

All in all, no matter where your restaurant stands in relation to Covid-19, we hope that you’re left with a few ideas for the ways in which you can adapt your restaurant to today’s ever-changing environment.

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