Food and beverage: Meet Gleneagles’ hotel manager Conor O’Leary

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 20, 2017 06:12 Updated

Conor O’Leary is the hotel manager of Gleneagles. The resort has eight bars and restaurants, which are thriving businesses regardless of the golf courses. Here, he tells us some of the secrets to their success:

How did you become the hotel manager of such a prestigious resort?

I grew up in Stratford upon Avon, a place with lots of hotels, bars and restaurants, so my earliest part-time jobs were always in hospitality. I later moved to London, working in various five-star international hotels, but always in food and beverage operations. I was appointed hotel manager at Gleneagles in November 2016, with responsibility for all food and beverage operations, and areas of the guest experience.


Hotel guests vary and customer retention is a high priority, how do you categorise and recognise the needs of the customer in order to keep them returning?

We have a variety of guests – hotel guests, seasonal ownership guests, members and day visitors – and we try to understand all their needs and provide products and services that exceed their expectations.

The Dormy Clubhouse is at the social centre of the hotel’s golf business. What do you offer in terms of hospitality, food and beverage, comfort and satisfaction?

We offer high quality, locally-sourced products and are constantly seeking feedback from guests and members so we can continue to enhance the offering. We run seasonal and occasional events with guest chefs, and create special cocktail and beer offerings to maintain engagement and deliver an outstanding experience.

To deliver top quality customer experience requires certain abilities and qualities from staff. What do you look for when selecting people to work in the Dormy Clubhouse and how do you nurture them to achieve the desired results?

We hire people with amazingly positive attitudes who have a passion for great service and the Gleneagles product. We then coach and train them to nurture their confidence and ensure very strong product knowledge. This creates a working environment where team members feel they can be themselves, and are empowered to make decisions to keep our guests happy and ensure they keep coming back.

The clubhouse has undergone renovation over the last few years with more scheduled. How does proper design help you and your team deliver better service and what further work is planned?

We launched a new craft beer bar, Auchterarder 70, to our offering in summer 2016, as an alternative to the Dormy Restaurant. The two spaces give our guests and members choice, depending on whether they want a quick drink and snack, or a longer sit-down meal. We have many guests throughout the year, and by refreshing designs we ensure the spaces reflect the five-star luxury for which Gleneagles is renowned, as well as giving something new to maintain guests’ interest.

In terms of the food and beverage offering, good value is something you look to deliver. Can you give examples that you have found that satisfy the customer and are beneficial for the profitability of the business?

Good value is not necessarily cheap. We work hard to source fantastic wines that people are happy to buy, and enjoy time and time again. Our menus are priced with the local market and competitors in mind, and we try to ensure it is always fair. Our own craft beer, Auchterarder 70, is unique to us and, since we introduced it last summer, has become a firm favourite with guests. It tastes great as we had it specially made with the golfers in mind, yet it costs the same as a regular beer in a nearby pub – so it’s a great example of good value. We also don’t look to make massive margins on single products; our interest is for guests to stay longer, or visit again, so we are looking at the long term relationship, not a quick win.

How would you advise the average golf club to select wines for the both the bar and to accompany food? What would they need to consider, in terms of customer appeal, seasonal selection and commercial viability?

To engage the members, it’s good to run specials, and remove the low selling wines and replace them with new wines to try. Keep talking to those who are drinking the wine and ask for their feedback. Ultimately they are the ones you want to buy the new products so it’s imperative to garner their views.

Gleneagles – Kings Course

How did the introduction of craft beers come about? How many beers do you carry at any one time, what do you look for in a range, how do you rotate these seasonally and how have the members and visitors responded to the offerings?

We always offer five to six on draught, as well as an extensive bottled selection. We want to offer something different to the usual selection. We change every season, except for our own craft beer, Auchterarder 70 – a European-style lager, with a bit of body, perfect for a couple of post-round drinks. The others offer a range of styles to suit all tastes, and get a little lighter and fresher in the summer months, and a bit more heavy and warming in the winter.

‘Meet the team’ is part of the social side of the Dormy Clubhouse. How does this work, how often does the team do this and what are the results?

Every so often we invite the members to come and meet the teams from food and beverage and golf operations – for an informal catch-up to get to know one another over some drinks and nibbles, making interactions easier and more relaxed in the future. The team love meeting the members and the feeling seems to be mutual.

You’ve introduced some creative events; can you outline the mechanics behind the curry and taco experiences and planned drinks events? What feedback have you received from those who attended?

We invite guest chefs up to the hotel, to do special nights / weekends, and we promote this to our members. The goal of this is not to make lots of money – in fact we probably only break even on these events – but it’s a wonderful way to engage with members. It gives them the opportunity to try something new, and get to see old friends and familiar faces along the way. Our clubhouse is not only a business, it’s a hub for the members to socialise, experience good food and wine, and strike up new conversations.

Gleneagles – Queens Course

Your focus is clearly delivering great hospitality, membership engagement and highly creative food and beverage offerings. With your experience, what would be your advice to the average golf club wanting to engage with, retain and grow membership?  

Don’t rest on your laurels; keep offering new concepts and establish what things click with the members. Don’t chase quick financial wins, but instead focus on creating an environment where members want to spend their time, where they want to bring friends and family, and where they want to spend some money. Let them meet the team, let them talk to the chef, offer some specials, bring the wine supplier in for a tasting. Keep exploring what new things you can offer – as long as the aim is to provide something new, interesting and enjoyable for the members.

What currently gives you the greatest satisfaction from your job?

I love meeting members and guests who tell me they tried a drink, or a dish, or a special night, and they enjoyed it. I like to get their feedback, and see if they are happy with the tweaks we make to what we offer. I also enjoy when they mention a team member by name and tell me why that individual provided such excellent service. We have an amazing group of colleagues across the business, and I enjoy interacting with them every day, and I think our members do too.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 20, 2017 06:12 Updated
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