Catering Lives: Keiron Coddington – “I’m Not a Professional Person; I’ve Found My Own Way”

Keiron Coddington thought his dreams lay in the world of professional footballing. But when he started a job behind a hotel bar, he realised his cheeky, happy-go-lucky personality were of better use in customer service.

Keiron_CoddingtonWhen I first met Keiron Coddington, we were work colleagues, and he and I didn’t hit it off immediately. I was an old face on the hotel bar scene; rigid, professional, with a very narrow view of what my job entailed: to give the customer what they wanted and let them get on with it. This was his first job behind a bar, he was fresh-faced with an almost Cheshire Cat-style grin and a weird sense of savoir-faire, as I had had, that unfailingly managed to make a customer laugh.

But as they say, opposites attract. I think in the first place, I was jealous of his ability to get away with murder, a trait that, in the months that followed, made him one of the better friends I would make in the hotel business. During that time, I found out more about his career choices and his dreams before he joined the bar team – where by my own admission – he belonged. Knowing he had more to tell, I invited him to give me the full story.

Keiron was born in Country Donegal, Ireland in 1989, but moved to England when he was two. However, his parents split up when was still at school and soon afterwards, his father moved to Luxembourg. This would be a country with which Keiron would build an affinity, not only for the familial quality, but for another reason.

His love of football came from the family, being a distant relative of the now–retired Liverpool and Sunderland star Jason McAteer. It also stemmed back to his childhood, wherein he would go to school with Adam Lallana and play against a young Danny Ings. After he had reached 21, where he played in an event with several native players, one of whom went on to play for Luxembourg’s national team. When I ask Keiron about it, he says he remembers little about the whole experience.

“Half of us were all drunk,” he laughs, “Basically we went to this event, and had burgers and beer before the game. Half of us were smashed by the time we got on the pitch.”

Keiron returned to England to continue playing as an amateur and studying sport at college, before going on to do a course in outdoor adventure at the prestigious Kingston Maurward College in Dorchester, an industry that he would later find work in, which meant he had to bid goodbye to taking his football studies any further.

“They both came in at the same time: I got the job offer for the Outdoor Adventure, and then I got the offer for the football degree as well. I was a bit confused on where to go at the time but I think I was still too young to be even making the proper decision.

“Obviously, doing Outdoor Adventure is working with kids, so pretty much 25 per cent of the time, I could act like a child. So, for me, the best job in the world.”

After a year of working in outdoor adventure, in April 2014, a friend got him a job in a hotel in Bournemouth, which is where I first met him. Weirdly, we both served the same party of people – the Athenian Masonic Lodge – on our first shifts. Keiron says that several people had told him he was well–suited to customer–facing work.

“Just because of my outgoing personality. I wouldn’t say more I’m the professional type…” and then he laughs and gives me a look as if to say, ‘You know I’m not.’ He continues, “…I’m more the, the loud, bubbly, in-your-face barman, which, if I was to go to a pub, is what I’d want.”

He does agree that such a personality is best for any bar, but that there has to be a mixture of people to balance it out.

“You have to have a mix of both. You need to have people that are the outgoing ones, then you have to have the other people that are going to be the most professional about things,” and again, he inclines his hand towards me.

“Hotel work helps you with your people skills a lot as well. I know I come across as loud and quite out–there all the time, but sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I just don’t want to speak to anyone.”

He tells me how he battles that particular mood, which in turn makes him something of a curiosity to his colleagues.

“If I’m in at 8 o’clock, the restaurant staff laugh at me and ask me ‘How are you so hyper?’ ‘I just am’. It’s work, isn’t it? You’ve just got to get up for it, haven’t you?”

I then move on to what Keiron found challenging when he first started in the hotel. He feigns outrage, as he struggles to answer the question.

“The new work environment…” he says finally, “…and different aspects of the job, because I wasn’t just a barman. I was a porter, I was somebody who helped out in the restaurant now and then, or I was taking pillows to the bedrooms which hadn’t been done properly. Adjusting to not being ‘just a barman’ is what challenged me most.”

His other struggle was against the rigid, polite and professional systems held in place in the hotel industry.

“I’m not a professional person,” he admits straightforwardly, “I know when I first started, I was reminded to say ‘sir’ and ‘madam’ all the time, but I’ve found my own way. I don’t see it being an issue; I’m reliable when I need to be.”

I know what he means at this point; his cheeky grin and constant light–hearted humour helped him get away with murder with both staff and customers.

Finally, I ask him a question I am always dying to hear answers to: his opinion on customers’ treatment of staff members. Unlike most, he views the staff–customer relationship as a two–way street.

“I think it depends on what that staff member’s like with the customer. If you come in; you’ve had a really bad morning and then a customer says ‘Oh, good morning’ and you don’t say a word to them, then they’re going to see you later on and be apprehensive. Customers aren’t shy of telling you what they think.”