Paul Shanahan, General Manager, Gidleigh Park

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th February 2017

Having spent over a decade working for the legendary Raymand Blanc at the two Michelin-starred, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Paul Shanahan is now general manager of Gidleigh Park, which has two stars in the Michelin Guide UK and recently achieved 5 rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Paul always knew he was destined for a career in hospitality bagging his first job at a hotel when he was just 16. He eventually found himself under the tutelage of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir where he would stay for 12 years. Starting our as a chef de rang Paul gradually climbed the ranks to become operations manager before leaving to join Michael Wignall at the multi award winning Gidleigh Park as general manager.

We spoke to Paul about why he left Le Manoir after 12 years of service, how working with Raymond Blanc brought out the best in him and why everyone working in FOH should be championing it as a viable career option.

Michael Wignall dish
Michael Wignall dish

You have only been General Manager at Gidleigh Park for a short while, how’s it going?

It has been brilliant, the team have really made me feel welcome and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know everyone and working with them. There is plenty going on here at Gidleigh Park and I am very much enjoying working with Michael Wignall. I was very fortunate to have an old friend and colleague in Gurval Durand to hand over to me as he had been holding the fort until my arrival. It is always nice to receive a handover from someone who knows you well and how you work.

Can you give us an overview of your role?

I oversee the day-to-day running of Gidleigh Park along with acting as host. I work closely with Michael to make sure his vision and ideas are being implemented and also with the team at Andrew Brownsword Hotels head office so that the team here are not only moving forward but also growing. Mr and Mrs Brownsword are hugely passionate about Gidleigh Park. It is a property close to their hearts and they are actively interested in everything we do here. Then there is all the administrative stuff, but I won’t bore you with that.

>>> Related: Five rosettes for Michael Wignall and Gidleigh Park in the AA Restaurant Guide

You were with Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for 12 years, what prompted the decision to leave?

It felt the right time, I had achieved so much there. I started as a commis de rang in the restaurant and went all the way to operations manager, even spending time as acting general manager. I was ready to take on my first appointed role as general manager and I wanted to gain experience in other properties.

Gidleigh Park
Gidleigh Park

How would you describe your time there?

It was amazing. I was very fortunate to work with many truly brilliant people there, all of whom were positive influences on me. Having worked with Philip Newman-Hall for many years, and more recently Jan-Paul Kroese, you learn a lot and they’re both still mentors to me. After 12 years of working in one place, it becomes a part of you and I hope over my time there I managed to leave a part of me there too. I have seen Le Manoir grow over the years and how Raymond is extremely passionate about everything there. Le Manoir is more than a business, restaurant, hotel, it is a home, a school, a community to everyone there and it is Raymond Blanc’s vision. You learn a lot in that environment, every single day and I am proud to have played a small part in it.

What was Raymond Blanc like to work with and how would you describe your relationship with him?

Raymond Blanc is fantastic, he took me under his wing and pushed me to grow and develop. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with him for many years, he always believed in me, even if I was unsure about myself. He somehow managed to bring the best out of me.

Do you have a good relationship with Michael Wignall at Gidleigh Park?

Michael has been great; we had bumped into each other at industry events a couple of times but never really spoken. Before I came to Gidleigh we had a chance to meet and we shared very many viewpoints. He has really helped me to settle into Gidleigh Park and see what everyone is trying to achieve here. I look forward to working together for a long time to come. He is a passionate chef and has a very clear vision of his style food and service.

Info Bar

Worst behaved customer they’ve ever served

Sadly too many to mention, alcohol can bring the worst out in people, it’s the ones who want to create a scene and go out of their way to ruin other guest’s meals. Once we had a guest fake an allergic reaction to get a free meal, the paramedics were not convinced by their actions. Another time we had a guest steal a bottle of whiskey from a bar, they had had a lot to drink. To be fair they came down the next morning and held their hands up to it and paid in full for the whiskey they took, I don’t think his wife was too impressed.

Top 5 service experiences

Obviously I am biased and would like to put Gidleigh Park & Le Manoir at the top of the list, but I won’t.

1, The Waterside Inn, Diego is an example to us all and the benchmark we all aspire to be.

2, Northcote, The team there are excellent.

3, Claridges, so very polished and they are always consistent.

4, The Thatch in Thame (Peach Pubs), Frazier and the team there know how to look after their guests.

5, The Burger Van in Thame, I know it sounds cheap, but it is run by two twin brothers and they are absolutely fantastic, I don’t go that often but they always impress for service.

Working with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Michael Wignall, do you feel sometimes FOH is often over shadowed by the chef?

Not with Raymond and Michael, these are two chefs who champion FOH and recognise that it’s not only about the kitchen. FOH is one of the most rewarding careers you can ever have. It’s all about people. There are not many professions where you get to work so closely with people and deliver experiences. I understand that FOH is not necessarily identified as a first choice of career, but it is often misunderstood. So many people accidentally fall into their industry and realise it’s what they wanted to do after all and thrive in it. All of us in hospitality need to champion FOH, we are the custodians of great hospitality. The Gold Service Scholarship Champions helps promote the role of FOH has to play in hospitality and also as a career, and distinguishes it from the Kitchen.

Michael Wignall dish
Michael Wignall dish

Do you think there is more pressure working in a Michelin-starred environment as opposed to one without a star?

Not really, the fundamentals and principles of running a restaurant are the same regardless of the accolades achieved. The pressure that comes with this is the same, and ultimately they are all businesses providing livelihoods to individuals and that need to be viable. It’s about providing experiences whatever your concept. The most successful restaurants are the ones where their guests return again and again. Expectations may vary but that is down to the pedestal a restaurant puts itself on. It’s all in the training and how the team understand your vision and then deliver that vision, it’s not only about Michelin stars.

How does working somewhere with a Michelin star influence the way you conduct service?

Michelin stars bring a weight of expectation with them and rightly so, they mean different things to every guest. There is a stigma attached of a stiff upper lip and formal, intimidating service. What we want to achieve is that guests feel at home, that our house is their house. We want guests to feel comfortable and relaxed and that they can get away from everyday life and switch off, but feel attended to as well and have their needs met.

As operations manager are you still hands on when it comes to serving guests? Do you prepare any dishes at the table?

When I was operations manager I used to help out in the restaurant, particularly for breakfast; Sunday’s were always good fun. The restaurant team at Le Manoir is headed up by Mourad Ben Tekfa and they were always on point, I never really needed to help out but I enjoyed mucking in from time to time. Here at Gidleigh Park I still get involved in service but again we have a great team here so I don’t need to, but I can’t resist. I used to do carvings a long time ago, I’m not sure I would be that good anymore; I would probably need to practice.

Paul Shanahan
Paul Shanahan

Did you always know you wanted to work in the hospitality industry?

I grew up in hospitality, my father was a hotelier and worked for Trust House Forte/Forte for 42 years, we travelled around a little when I was young with my father’s work and then we settled in Cheltenham where I ended up going to school. At school I always knew I wanted to run a hotel one day and spent my week’s work experience in one, the same hotel offered me a casual job when I turned 16 and I never looked back. Once I had finished college I took on a fulltime role at The Imperial Hotel in Torquay and I was hooked, some of my closest friends today are from my time at The Imperial Hotel. You can build some really close friends in hospitality.

I was discouraged initially by my parents from going into this industry but they knew I wasn’t going to change my mind so they became my biggest support and really helped me. Having a father as a hotelier has always been good for sound advice and mentoring. He has shared many words of wisdom with me. I hope I’ve done them proud.

What do you look for when hiring?

Depends on the role, ideally you want an individual to be enthusiastic and willing to learn or grow within your property. You need to know they will work well and get along with their colleagues. The last thing you want to do is disrupt a wonderful team dynamic. For something more specialist you need to know they carry the skills to fulfil their role.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone looking to begin a career in hospitality?

Go for it, go work for a company/business where you can grow and develop and that is willing to invest in you. Scream to be developed and push your manager/boss to help you grow/mentor you. There are so many aspects to working in the Hospitality Industry; the first one you try may not be for you, try a few different roles initially to see which suits you more and where you can thrive the most in.

>>> Read more in the Are You Being Served? series here

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th February 2017

Paul Shanahan, General Manager, Gidleigh Park