How to Lead Your Hospitality Business Successfully Through Change

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By Cariona Neary

Never has it been more challenging for leaders in the hospitality business. Yes, owners and managers of restaurants and hotels are used to leading through crisis, it happens every other night when we’re running a busy kitchen or you unexpectedly get a very late but valuable booking. But this time of uncertainty is a very different beast and the industry is looking for ways to cope and to manage the situation with some clarity.

The Restaurant and Hospitality Skillnet has been hosting a series of webinars on Leading through Change that have been so heavily attended that Niamh O’Malley ran five repeat webinars to deal with the demand from the industry. We want to bring you the most important ideas from this webinar series to help you to find direction at a time of intense and rapid change. We also want to share some of the great ideas leaders from the industry shared with each other during the webinars.

You’re not the only one feeling overwhelmed!

As we kicked off each webinar, we asked participants how they were feeling. The answers were remarkably consistent across the five workshops. Owners and managers were feeling worried, overwhelmed and scared. We shared an article from the Harvard Business Review on the impact of change on our emotions. Based on the feelings of grief, as we realise we are losing something we   value, in this case our business, people can feel anger and despair. These emotions are typical reactions to what we now know is the ‘Change Curve’, a phenomenon we also experience as a type of ‘grief’. In the webinar we explored how we evolve our thinking as we travel through the Change Curve, eventually reaching an acceptance of our new situation.

As leaders, we need to find our way through the Change Curve and find ways to manage our own emotions and, most importantly, be strong and supportive leaders to our colleagues and family because they are also facing their own emotional challenges.

How to Lead through the Change Curve

The goal of managers must be to help themselves and their key team members to focus on what they can do rather than being overwhelmed with thoughts about things they can’t control. Getting through this time of uncertainty is about ‘Change in 100 small steps’. One participant, Shane Treacy, MD of the Mercantile Group, a leading Irish hospitality group of nine bars and restaurants, including Café en Seine, Whelan’s and The George, suggested that the industry can use this time to plan. In his business, he is working with his team to brainstorm a whole range of scenarios. He is scenario planning for different levels of business and working with his management team to understand how to run a business at different levels of activity, from 30% to 50%, and eventually get back to full capacity.

Another participant, Anke Hartman, runs a wine bar, restaurant and Guest House in Clifden. Seeing her business disappear after a successful opening last year left her feeling lost. When she learned about the Change Curve and talked to other hospitality business owners going through the same experience in the Zoom Breakout Sessions, she commented, “I suddenly saw where I was on the Change Curve and felt motivated to move from being stagnant to having a ‘doing’ mindset. I’ve done so much since the workshop, I’ve got the website going, I’m going to run wine tasting sessions on Zoom…”

Control the Controllables

Karl O’Connor, joined Cariona Neary on the Leading through Change webinars, bringing his wide experience of managing performance through the Change Curve to the discussion. Having worked with a range of organisations through the last financial crisis, he has deep expertise in leading through change. His big advice was for businesses to focus energy and attention on what they can control rather than allowing our emotions to become overwhelmed by worrying about things outside our control such as the economy. He also advises “Put on your oxygen mask first”. By that he means that leaders must mind themselves and look after their own mental and physical health before they can look after their team.

Top Tips for Leading Change Webinars


  • Understand the leadership challenge you face. Use the Change Curve to help you know where your mental attitude is and also to help you understand where your team is on the Curve.
  • The Change Curve can feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Some days you are coping well and other days you slip back and feel less purposeful. People transition through the curve at different rates so we need to show empathy and listen.
  • You don’t have all the answers. Be authentic, it’s better to ‘Tell people what you know. Tell people what you don’t know. Let’s work together to build explore different scenarios.’
  • Communicate early and often.


  • Trade in speculation. Be honest and truthful about the facts.
  • Sugarcoat the situation.

It’s a start with people beginning once again to control what they can, set short-term goals and lead through change.

At the end of each webinar, we asked people how they were feeling, now that they had shared their stories with their colleagues in the hospitality sector and also learned about how to lead through change. The language had changed from ‘worried’, ‘scared’ to ‘supported’, ‘committed’, ‘confident’.

Overall, the feedback has been very positive. Fiona Barry, Senior Sales Manager at the Kinsley Hotel in Cork said: Thanks so much, this is the best workshop I’ve done since all this started. I’ll recommend my colleagues to sign up.


Cariona Neary is a trainer and consultant to the Hospitality sector working with Failte Ireland for over fifteen years as well as Ireland’s leading organisations in the hotel and restaurant sector. The final Leading Through Change workshop takes place on 12th May. Cariona will facilitate a workshop on Leading Remote Teams on 13th May and Leading Service that Sells on Tuesday 19th May. Contact Niamh O’Malley, All bookings can be made via:


THANK YOU – A special thank you to Cariona for writing this great article for the Skillnet