Monday 29 May 2017

How Aisling Arnold raised bar sales at her family's Donegal hotel by 80pc in just one year

Exciting challenge: Cathy Cowan, Ciaran McGarvey and Aisling Arnold in Dunfanaghy. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Exciting challenge: Cathy Cowan, Ciaran McGarvey and Aisling Arnold in Dunfanaghy. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Graham Clifford

It might be a dreary midweek morning in January in a small village in the north of Donegal, but Café Arnou is buzzing.

The brainchild of Aisling Arnold (30), the modern coffee house - which converts into a gourmet burger bar in the evenings - is a hit with locals and visitors alike in Dunfanaghy.

A chartered accountant with Deloitte Touche in Dublin for eight years, Aisling decided to return home to help her parents rejuvenate the hotel after the downturn hit.

"My plan was to stay 18 months, but the challenge was exciting - and with help from others we've managed to turn things around."

The café, which originally doubled as a cocktail and wine bar during the summer months, flourished and last year, Aisling's parents asked if she'd take over the running of the hotel as well.

She built a young team around her, assistant general manager Keallagh Doherty (29), food and beverage manager Ciaran McGarvey (25), and sales and marketing manager Cathy Cowan (33), and introduced jazz during the summer months, a DJ, live bands -and the old-style residents' bar was converted into a cocktail bar.

Aisling and her colleagues were careful to cater for their loyal clientele, but knew if they were to succeed, they'd have to attract a younger customer, too. "I was trying to bring a new dimension to the hotel," explains Aisling. "Initially, there were fur and feathers flying from mom and dad, but last year bar sales were up by 80pc."

And colleague Cowan, from Ramelton, who lived away from her home county for a decade, explains the challenge facing hotels: "We have to educate people that Donegal is not that far away, its three-and-a-half hours from here to Dublin and you can fly with Aer Lingus twice-a-day."

Falcarragh native McGarvey adds: "It's only when you're away that you realise how cool your home place is."

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