Labour of love: Valentine’s Day from the point of view of those in the romance business

Ciara McDonnell asks the people who make romance happen what it’s like to work on Valentine’s Day.

The Lingerie Expert

Nicola Ring has worked in the lingerie department of Brown Thomas Cork for the last eleven years, and says, “We see two kinds of customer in the lingerie department at this time of year. On one hand, you have the man who has never shopped here before; the relationship might be new and he may need a little guidance. A lot of men who are visiting us for the first time will bring a friend, so they don’t feel so intimidated. We make them feel completely at ease, and give them lots of advice so that when they are leaving they inevitably tell us that they’ll be back for the next occasion!

“We have regular customers that we will see for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s and ‘just because’ presents. They come in, they know the stock, they know the team and they are fabulous. These men know exactly what they are looking for, and it’s wonderful.

“We have a handful of gentlemen who have been coming to us for years to buy gifts, and we feel like we know their partners, even though we may not have met them.

“Luckily for us, they have never returned anything, so we must be on the right track!

“We don’t just stock underwear in Lingerie. We do beautiful pyjamas and chemise tops; we always tell men to keep an open mind. We suggest that our customers do their homework before they come into us. We advise them to find out what size she wears, and to keep in mind her taste. They are buying a gift for their loved one; so let it reflect her personality, rather than theirs.”

The Concierge

Liam Ó hAnnracháin is Guest Relations Manager at The Conrad Hotel in Dublin.

He says that the hotel is filled with romance at this time of year.

“I look after all the requirements of our guests from arrival to departure; the little things that make their stay more memorable. Around Valentine’ s Day, some of our more extravagant guests will arrive by private plane. When they arrive to their room, it will be like walking into a room completely devoted to Valentine’s Day.

“We fill the room with love heart balloons and huge bunches of flowers – they’ll call us in advance and let us know what level of romance they need. We have a great relationship with our repeat customers, so we are able to add that personal touch for them, and that’s really special.

“We have certain little hints that take the Conrad to the next level. We have our own poet in the hotel, and he can write a poem for our guests and whatever occasion they are celebrating. Jenny, our in-house florist creates incredible displays – her Valentine’s creations are designed so that our guests will feel the love as soon as they enter the building. The Conrad has been open twenty-eight years. Some of our team members have been there for the entirety of its life here and seeing our guests celebrate their big life experiences is one of the greatest pleasures for us.

“Working in hospitality is not something you just do on a whim – this is our life. Making memories for our guests makes us feel part of the experience for them.”

The Florist

Let's make Valentine’s about everyone, says Carole Horgan, owner of Best Of Buds floral designs in Cork city.

“We are seeing people sending flowers to people that they love at Valentine’s now – not just their partners. It’s a day when you say I love you. So often throughout the year we give flowers to people that we love, so to me, the 14th of February should be an opportunity for you to send your mother or your daughter or your best friend flowers to tell them you love them.

“Don’t be worried about choosing the right flowers. Call your florist and tell them you want to send flowers to the person you love. We’ll ask questions that will help us to get a sense of your loved one, like what kind of colours they like, and whether they are outgoing or a little more shy. It’s not rocket science, and it’s a beautiful gift to give. I think you can get flowers more right than you can get a piece of jewellery or clothing. Trust your florist to intuit what you need; it’s our job to ebb and flow with the occasion and the requirement.

“Someone once brought us in a Jimmy Choo stiletto a few years ago. His girlfriend had lost the other one at a wedding and she couldn’t throw it out, so we filled it with flowers, and it was a knockout. I think men are absolutely fantastic.

“There is a myth out there that men only buy flowers when they are in trouble, but in my experience, men buy flowers because they are in love.”

The Restaurateur

Along with her husband chef Kevin, Réidin Aherne owns Sage Restaurant in Midleton. After almost twenty years working in restaurants, she says that simplicity is key on Valentine’s Day.

“Kevin and I are together since we were eighteen and we have both worked almost every Valentine’s Day since. The most romantic thing I have ever seen was actually here in Sage on Valentine’s night.

“One of our regular couples that live a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant had come in for dinner and the lady was wearing extremely high heels. At dessert time, I noticed that the man had been gone for the table for quite a while, so I dropped by to make sure everything was ok and to see if I needed to delay dessert.

“His wife told me that he had gone home to get her a pair of flat shoes for the walk home. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is. If you’re creating romance at home, take all stress out of the situation for yourself. I know that Kevin would say never to cook something for the first time; concentrate on cooking simple food well. I think that lighting is so important to mood, and its something we really concentrate on in the restaurant.

“At home, light lots and lots of candles to set the mood for a romantic meal. Music is really important to us, both at home and in the restaurant. Kevin will be making the Valentine’s playlist and I know that it will feature some Maribou State.”

The Gift Queen

Mychel Murphy works at Jo Malone in Brown Thomas Cork and sees men making a real effort to get the right gift of love for their partners.

“Jo Malone is the place to be for gifting, I think. At this time of year, we’ll see lots of men returning to us, who know exactly what they want but equally, we’ll have men who wander over to us, and we’ll be there to guide them towards the perfect gift for their partners.

“We ask a few questions about their loved one to identify what products would suit them best; a lot of men know that she likes the brand, but might not know what fragrance she likes, for example. Some women love to take relaxing baths, in which case our bath oil and a small candle would be perfect, and others require a more practical gift, so maybe shower gel and a gorgeous body cream.

“We’re seeing lots of men buying gifts for their wives and partners and then also for their daughters now, which is so lovely. We engrave names onto our products at this time the year, and it’s a lovely way to mark the occasion.

“For really new relationships, I don’t think you can go wrong with a lovely engraved candle – it marks the occasion in such a lovely way.

“Brown Thomas will always be a source of romance for me, because my husband proposed to six years ago me here! It will always hold memories of love for me.”

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