As we emerge from our Christmas bubbles and our thoughts start to turn to New Year, we turn to Shane McHugh, wine buyer and head sommelier for the Goodman group of steak restaurants to share his thoughts on 2020, just what impact Covid-19 has had on him personally and the restaurant group, and what he is doing over the festive period to hopefully take some time to relax, reflect and look forward to the year ahead.
When Goodman was allowed to be open it proved to be an exhilarating first year for Shane McHugh in his new role as wine buyer for the premium steak restaurant chain.
We have all had to adapt to a very different year due to Covid-19 – how do you look back on it as a whole?
Incredibly bizarre, a massive range of emotions, very challenging both personally and professionally, but a year, all in all I believe will make us all better people, and hospitalitarians.
How did it impact you personally and the Goodman business?
Considering I had just started in my new role, and officially starting as a wine buyer and group sommelier for a company, it’s been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, for both myself and the business has meant constant adaption to how we do business and look after our guests.
What did you do to respond?
First of all we made sure the staff were all safe and well, and paid. Then ensuring the restaurants were as safe as possible for both guests and staff alike. I personally didn’t buy a single bit of stock for the first six weeks we were open, it was all internal transfers and lowering of holding stocks to ensure there would be money available to get other sites going and ensuring the company kept ticking over.
It’s not been a great year for highs – but anything stand out for you?
Fine wine. People want to drink good wine, and those that do, know their pricing, which is why one of the first things I did was move all fine wine onto cash margins, as I want to make it more attainable not just to those that drink fine wine a lot, but for everyone.
Also the spend per head is up on all sites, and consistently, the overall spend is up, when we were allowed to open. But that also ascertains to people’s expectations being higher than ever before, that goes not just for our regulars (known as knifeholders at Goodman), but for first timers. That for me was the highlight for the year, we had one or two services post lockdown that was just an entire service of guests that had never been before, and seeing them book again one or two weeks, or even a few days later was a lovely feeling.
What did you do for Christmas?
I was planning on going home for Christmas with my family, which I was very much looking forward to. Instead I am in London spending the festive season with my other half and her mum. I have put ‘making a gingerbread house’ on my list of tasks, so I need to dust off my pastry training. I had dreamt of being on the floor working for New Year’s Eve, but that is not going to happen now.
What did you eat on Christmas Day?
Turkey and ham, all bought from Irish farms. People scoff or write off Christmas dinner, but I look forward to it every year.
Any favourite Christmas films – or films you watch at Christmas time – and why?
Two stand out: It’s A Wonderful Life is always on Christmas Eve and I would have watched that with my mum; and then Home Alone which has been a personal favourite since I was a kid. Also, Batman Returns which I have always believed is a Christmas movie and no one can tell me otherwise.
Favourite Christmas related songs?
None. I love music but Christmas tunes do nothing for me. The most common stuff I listen to around this time of year is Irish stuff, so folk/country because I tend to listen to it a lot more before I head home. So will just have to listen to it in London instead.
Any family festive traditions?
We always spend time with the neighbours, always on Christmas Day, and sometimes the day before or after, unfortunately that won’t be occurring this year – I haven’t seen my family in nearly 11 months now.
Any favourite guilty pleasure to drink?
Bailey’s on ice, hot rum and Irish coffee’s work their way into my repertoire this time of year and for good reason. My neighbour Edel makes one of the finest Hot Irish Whiskey’s around, so may have to get her to pass me one across the wall.
What are you most looking forward to doing once Covid-19 is over?
Going back to Ireland more often, I miss home. Being in Dublin – I forget how much I love and miss that city even though it’s not my hometown. I’m also looking forward to travelling to wine regions again, going to concerts, going to watch live sport, going away with my girlfriend. Most importantly, being able to see people whenever and wherever I want.
Where are you most looking forward to travelling to?
“My first ever trip to California was sadly called off this year, which I was upset about to say the least. Hopefully there in 2021! Personally, my girlfriend and I love Valencia, and it’s our favourite place we’ve ever travelled to, and intend on making our first safe trip away back to Valencia.”
Anything else to say?
“I am so proud of every single member of hospitality who has pulled through this, persevered and innovated to make an honest buck and to make sure you made people happy, and kept your staff safe and paid. And to those that lost their businesses and/or jobs, my thoughts are with you and your day will come again.”