The Post: Wedding and Events Manager at The Old Inn, Parisien and Fratelli Belfast
The Post Holder: Jemma Johnston
Excellent organisational skills are central to Jemma Johnston’s role as a wedding and events manager.
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
I have worked in hospitality since 2006 starting with a placement in an events company. Since then, I have gained experience working across a variety of roles – from restaurant host to spa receptionist, membership advisor, events manager and my personal favourite – professional elf! But I have always gravitated back to weddings and events as I believe this is where my strengths lie.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I really enjoyed English Literature and History.
Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?
I studied Business Studies with Marketing at the University of Ulster – Magee campus in Derry.
How did you get into your area of work?
I was very fortunate to get a placement at Hastings Hotels during my university placement year. The experience in the events office at the Culloden gave me such a great insight into the industry and allowed me to meet like-minded people to ascertain where best to grow my career. Hospitality is so varied and being able to explore different avenues to figure out where your skills best fit is such a unique experience.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
I actually wanted to be a TV presenter on Nickelodeon, but I think that ship has sailed!
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
A grasp on events management is useful, but not essential. The best thing you can do is to get to grips with all the moving parts of the job – understand the operational side as well as the customer/sales side.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
There are many routes to this role, but in general the most effective is the good old-fashioned working your way up until you get to the level that best suits your skill set. I found that moving through the education system and having the university experience before deciding on the type of job I would like worked best for me and gave me more confidence in the workplace which allowed me to work my way through the ranks – however, for some, working in hospitality in different roles and climbing the ladder from a younger age is the best way to reach the same end goal.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
Enjoying a chat is a must. So much of the job is about building relationships with people and getting excited about their life events with them. Organisation is also key – being able to manage your time effectively to ensure that all clients have the information they need, when they need it is important.
What does a typical day entail?
As with most jobs, there is no such thing as a typical day, but in general – responding to all event and wedding enquiries comes first, then checking the venue ahead of any appointments, looking ahead to future events for any outstanding information.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The best part of the job is definitely getting to be part of facilitating some really special life events. It’s so rewarding to see a wedding or event take place after all the planning and gives a real sense of completion that you don’t get with all jobs. I also really love the variety, there is absolutely no time to get bored. And working with great, like-minded teams is such a bonus. In terms of challenges, the hospitality industry has faced quite a few over the years. Keeping up with changing Covid-19 guidance and navigating closure periods were particularly difficult in terms of liaising with clients. Luckily, we’re back with a bang now and bookings across all of our properties are flying – we’ve a lot of celebrating to do.
Why is what you do important?
I think facilitating special life, social and corporate events is always going to be important – it allows people a chance to relax and enjoy the company of their friends, family and colleagues.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business/role?
It was challenging to keep up with the changes to restrictions and keeping customers informed but from the outset, Galgorm’s senior management team ensured we were kept abreast of all developments and were the first to implement new policies and practices to ensure a safe environment for staff and customers. We had to learn as we went, but I’m very proud of how we navigated those challenges and the growth and expansion that we achieved in that time. Thankfully, it’s starting to feel remarkably normal again, which is a great sign.
What adjustments have you had to make?
Being able to be more flexible has been key. Galgorm Collection has expanded its hospitality offering over the last number of years and invested heavily in the region. I’m now based over a few sites rather than just one, including Parisien and Fratelli in Belfast City Centre and also The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn. Each venue is totally unique and offers something different. I really like the variety.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
I would advise looking for the right experience is key, even if it’s not the level you’re hoping for – being in the right environment will be invaluable.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you like to do?
I’d really like to discover that my family own an island in the Bahamas that I have to go and claim. But that’s perhaps unrealistic, so I think I’d still like that presenting job on Nickelodeon to be honest.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Get off the train at the correct station and your day won’t feel as stressful…
Describe your ideal day off.
Breakfast at a nice coffee place with friends in the morning and a flight to the Maldives in the afternoon.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Being able to convey what you need an employer to see on your application is important and sometimes a few tweaks are needed that you might not realise yourself, so don’t be afraid to ask someone to read over your application.
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