Graduate Spotlight: Maria Opiyo – Serving a slice of the good life


In the recent past, several eateries in Nairobi have come under fire from the “keyboard warriors”, Kenyans on Twitter and Instagram, for one reason or another. You may have heard or even taken part in the discussion on the price of samosas, the restaurants that ask diners to buy water that will be used to prepare their meals, and other daring establishments that, when given constructive feedback by influencers on their services and food presentation, instead school their patrons on how to give the feedback.

Maria Opiyo, a recent graduate from the #SUGraduation23 ceremony, where she achieved a first-class honours in Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management, confidently shared her advice on handling such situations. She emphasized the importance of engaging with clients and providing satisfactory responses that foster customer loyalty, “From our PR class, it’s clear that first, you need to engage your clients, and give them satisfactory responses that keep them coming back to your eatery.”

The Hospitality program offered at the School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) aims to train professionals not only in technical skills but also in the management of the hospitality industry.

Maria possesses excellent culinary skills and is known for her exquisite crème brulee desserts. She highlights the significance of recognizing the efforts invested in creating a remarkable dining experience. While some establishments may serve a cup of hot chocolate for 50 Kenyan shillings, others may charge no less than 500 Kenyan shillings. In the latter case, customers pay for the establishment’s brand, ambiance, and the expertise of the professionals involved.

Maria’s passion for travel is evident, and she enthusiastically recommends several places for a date, including Urban Eatery, Red Ginger, About Thyme, Ankole Kitisuru, Mateos, and Talisman in Karen. For those who enjoy the outdoors, she suggests visiting Tin Roof Café, Matbronze café in Karen, Jafferys, or the Nairobi Safari Walk (which she believes is an underrated destination). Maria actively promotes domestic tourism and provides a curated list of honeymoon destinations within the country, including Malindi, Diani, Lamu, Maasai Mara, Laikipia, and the Tsavos, for those with ample time on their hands.

Did you grow up wanting to be in hospitality?

Yes, I did. During my childhood, my family and I used to embark on frequent travels, especially during the holidays when the school calendar allowed for extended trips. We would often have the entire month to explore different destinations. These experiences sparked my curiosity about the hospitality industry. I found myself captivated by the guest’s perspective—wondering about the processes behind serving delicious food and creating a comfortable bed for visitors. Moreover, my interest was further influenced by my mother and brothers. They played a significant role in shaping my career aspirations. I think I went through several phases of career aspiration changes: at one point I wanted to be a chef, at another an airhostess. I naturally gravitated towards pursuing a career in the service-oriented field, ultimately leading me to choose hospitality as my preferred path.

What extracurricular activities have you been involved in? 

I actively participated in the Community Outreach Programme (COP) activities. Furthermore, as a part of our class, we took the initiative to organize an outreach event at Tana Bridge Secondary in Makuyu. Through our fundraising efforts, we were able to provide them with sports equipment and sanitary towels. We also dedicated a day to mentor the students and offer guidance. Additionally, I participated in the Eurochrie competition.

What is the experience like when participating in a competition but not emerging as the winner? 

It was horrible. In this particular competition, we were engaged in a simulation where we were tasked with revitalizing a fictional hotel that had been struggling for the past three years. Our role was to act as the new management team and implement strategies to turnaround the fortunes of the hotel.  We were pitted against several renowned hospitality schools from around the world.

During the initial quarter of our business operations, we encountered a significant loss, which prompted us to evaluate our strategies and determine their effectiveness. However, we swiftly adjusted our approach and achieved a profit in the subsequent quarter. By the third quarter, we managed to make substantial progress, ensuring that we did not end up in last place, even though we fell short of winning.

What was your research project on? 

My research project focused on the topic of women’s career navigation in the hospitality industry, specifically examining career advancement opportunities. During the study, I discovered intriguing insights from the responses provided. It became apparent that many women tend to underestimate their own abilities and potential. Despite a significant portion of the sample comprising highly educated individuals with postgraduate qualifications, they often displayed hesitancy in pursuing higher-level positions. In some cases, personal commitments took priority, which is completely understandable as finding a work-life balance is important. There were also instances where women expressed reluctance to progress further in their careers due to concerns about the impact on their families. Interestingly, there were also inspiring cases of women who managed to break through the barriers and successfully balance between their family and professional lives. These findings highlight the complex dynamics at play when it comes to women’s career advancement and the need to consider various factors simultaneously.

What do you envision your retirement party to look like? 

For my retirement celebration, I envision a cozy dinner gathering with a select group of close friends and family. I would like to invite around 30 cherished individuals to join me on this special occasion. Before the party, I look forward to serving many people in this industry and with each service, leaving a mark of love and excellence that I have learnt from Strathmore with them.

This article was written by Wambui Gachari.

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