In terms of prestige, you can hardly get a better setting than a five-star hotel on the corner of Avenue Georges V and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The Hôtel Barrière Le Fouquet’s Paris is one of the leading palatial hotels in Paris and in Europe.
Tootlafrance talks to the General Manager of one of Paris’ most exalted hotels and restaurants – Roscommon native Geraldine Dobey
Its general manager is Irishwoman Geraldine Dobey. The Connacht-born hotelier has, by her own admission, lived most of her life outside of Ireland at this point and after more than two decades of working in the hotel business in Europe, she has what many would surely consider to be a dream posting at the famous address.
The historic Fouquet’s Restaurant was originally founded in 1899 and has multiple connections with the world of cinema and theatre. Right now, preparations are already underfoot for the huge César night on the 24th of February, when the hotel and restaurant will be welcoming between 700 and 750 people from the upper echelons of the world of French cinema for the afters of a live event that will be seen by millions of people in France and worldwide. For Geraldine, this will be her third César night but she has never found it too daunting:
“It’s a very high-profile event and I was really excited about it from the first time. The team here is really good. They’ve done it all before and they know exactly how it all goes, exactly what crockery, cutlery, chairs, various supplies and additional people we need to bring in… It’s run like clockwork. Of course, you have to ensure everything is right and you need to double-check and triple-check every last detail and you need to assure the Academy (Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma) that the hotel manager is on board.”
Having completed a BA in Hotel Management from what was then known as Galway RTC (now Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) circa 1991, Geraldine’s career in the hotel world began at Disneyland Paris.
“At the time, they were going around to all the hotel and catering schools in Europe,” she says, “so it was an easy way of getting a start in the business straight from college.
“I was working with someone who was involved in the pre-opening of all the front offices in Disneyland Paris,” she explains. After approximately one year in this overview role across a number of the resort’s hotels, Geraldine says that she was then working in one of the resort’s hotels as assistant manager.
She ended up spending almost 4 years with the mega-operation that is the Disney resort. It was an exciting time to be associated with a brand new project of such huge proportions and it also allowed her to perfect her French.“I had got a good solid operational experience base by then. Disney’s hotel business is a little bit different: you’re part of a large entertainment complex and it’s not like a normal hotel. Everything is centralised – reservations, inventory, etc. – and I knew that if I ever wanted to be head of a department, I needed to be in a hotel that was more based in the real world.”
Her next move was to the Hilton hotel group, where she would up spend the next 17 years working at various establishments in London and Paris with a brief stint in Geneva.
After that came the move from the Hilton in Paris down the avenue to the Fouquet’s Barrière, where she has been for the best part of two years.
Geraldine lives with her French husband and their two girls, aged 8 and 9. She finds the support mechanisms in French society very positive for working parents:
“I must stress that I’m not in a position to compare it with the situation in Ireland because I haven’t been a parent in Ireland and all my family are raising families outside of Ireland like me, but I do appreciate the French system as a working mother.
“First of all, Paris is a small city physically. By that I mean that it’s not the kind of sprawling city that London is, where you might have to live a 45-minute train ride outside of town. You can live either in the city or very close to it and you can very much manage to drop your children off to school before work starts. The school gates open at 08:20, which means that you have time to get to work before 09:00.
“As well as that, they have things in place like breakfast clubs so that you can drop the kids off even earlier if needs be or they can stay on a bit later in the afternoon to facilitate working mums.
“For me, there’s a lot here to support working mothers. In France, not all mothers work but a lot of them do and there’s good support from other working mothers too, such as the parents of my daughters’ friends.”
Geraldine lives in the 17th arrondissement in the north-west of the city and appreciates the strength of community life in the French capital which, she says, “is almost made up of a series of little villages.”
Given that she has now lived more of her life outside of Ireland, it’s difficult for her to compare life in both countries. She is proud of Ireland’s creative tradition and its contemporary culture and enjoys sharing it with her family. She mentions how her husband was highly impressed by the atmosphere and enthusiasm of a trip to an All-Ireland football semi-final last year. She is also still struck by the more relaxed humour to be found in Ireland and it’s something that she sometimes misses in France.“It’s hard to generalise, but when you go back there, you feel that the people seem to be… happy. There’s a general optimism in Ireland, despite all our problems. I think that there’s a good sense of humour and a sense of taking things as they come.”
As for getting away from the city with the family, she is a big fan of skiing: “Unfortunately, we don’t get to ski that often but we try to fit in a week every year. I love it and I wish I was better at it… I still ski like a girl who grew up in the West of Ireland!”
She still likes discovering her adopted country with her family and still hasn’t seen it all: “France has everything. I keep saying that to French people: don’t underestimate what you have. You have sea, you have mountains, you have cuisine with all the different regional varieties…”
She and her family often get away to the Baie de Somme on the Picardy Coast – an area, she says, that reminds her a lot of her home country: “We go there very often at weekends. It’s very authentic, very quiet and very peaceful.”
For now, though, she is very content working in one of the top jobs in her industry: “It’s a great, great job,” she says in an accent tinged with the occasional French vowel sound. “For a hotelier, it’s very interesting because you’ve not just got your classic hotel with its classic hotel bar and hotel restaurant because the restaurant here – La Brasserie Le Fouquet’s – is a big name in its own right; you’re really in the restaurant field with a renowned French brasserie in an amazing location and that has a huge history.
“It’s also a venue that’s very strong in the Parisian mind…. and to run that alongside a luxury hotel is what is very different and that’s what’s so interesting about the job.”