Six secrets to great Irish service - Pól Ó Conghaile on the best (and worst) of Irish hospitality
'As visitor numbers boom, let’s not lose sight of what makes their stays special...'
What is the special sauce that Ireland offers visitors? Its true point of distinction?
It’s not price. Nor sunshine.
Stunning landscapes and heritage, sure — but lots of countries have those.
No, the more I travel, the more I’m convinced that what sets us apart is, in fact, us. When Irish hospitality clicks, nothing can match it.
Now that prices are rising and everyone seems super-busy again, I’m worried that we may let that slip — so here’s a reminder of a USP that truly sets Ireland apart.
1. The sweet spot
The best Irish hospitality is warm and personable but stops comfortably short of being intrusive. That last bit is crucial. It should feel genuine, individual and unstuffy, but stray into overfamiliarity and the spell is broken — the B&B host stepping uninvited into your room, or the hotel manager who leaves a smarmy hand on the shoulder.
2. It feels intuitive
At one Kilkenny hotel, my wife took a lie-in while I brought the kids to breakfast. “Would you like me to send anything up to her?” a waitress offered.
It was such a simple and sweet thing to say, and I’ve seen and heard countless like it — the night porter who rustled up a crisp sandwich; the petrol station owner who led lost tourists back to the main road.
Call it emotional intelligence, or just kindness. It’s innate in some, but the best Irish establishments train and trust their staff to be attentive in this way.
3. Everyone is an ambassador
Eating at a five-star hotel recently, I asked the waiter where the lamb came from. He couldn’t tell me. I was surprised, but I didn’t blame him. Ditto the receptionist who couldn’t recommend things to do nearby for kids.
Staff problems are management problems — the best don’t leave food to chefs or tickets to the concierge. They have staff taste their menus, learn their ethos, explore their locality... making them feel invested.
Think of anyone who interfaces with a customer as an ambassador.
4. The owners are visible
There’s nothing like an independently owned Irish hotel or restaurant where owners, family members or managers say hello, remember your name and show an interest without hovering too long at the table. Being there shows customers that you care.
5. It’s not about tips
Everyone appreciates a bonus. But the moment you angle for a tip is the moment hospitality turns into a cold, hard transaction.
6. It’s creative
Great service exceeds expectations without feeling contrived. That’s a given. What great Irish service adds is a surprising flourish — being flexible with kids’ main courses, for example, or presenting celebrating guests with a camera, and subsequently a photo album (as one Irish hotel does). You can’t buy moments like that, and we’re good at it!
Great service isn’t guaranteed in Ireland. When it clicks, however, it is exquisite. As visitor numbers boom, let’s not lose sight of what makes their stays special.