Monday, 30 May 2011

Are Irish Restaurants Up The Swanny?

It didn’t take long to get the conversation flowing at the second For Food’s Sake event at The Sugar Club last Thursday. Stuart Clark, the host for the evening quickly got the evening off to an exciting start as he challenged the panelists to discuss if the glory days of Irish restaurants were dead and buried with a certain Celtic feline. If you missed what went down and need a synopsis, do please read on...

Caroline Byrne, Dublin editor of the Bridgestone Guide shed some light onto why Irish restaurants were seen to be taking the mickey out of the customer. It seems that over pricing was not the main culprit but a sense of value for money and the good auld days of the boom time were behind the accusations:

“There was a perception with Irish customers and tourists that Irish restaurant prices were considered a rip-off. But I think it was a bit more complicated than people imagined. Wages were higher here and certain businesses were able to take advantage of the opportunities during the country's growth. However, I think generally it’s not fair to say they were ripping everyone off. I think that creating a perception of value was the problem. People who left with a feeling that they didn’t get value for their money i.e. food and drink prices, the kind of service they had or not had etc... This may have contributed to a feeling that people thought they were getting ripped off.”

Enda McEvoy of the Cook Wild Project and formerly of Sheridans on the Docks was next to give an insight of someone behind the scenes in restaurants.

“People are more aware of what they are getting now and what value for money is. It is now about being price sensitive while keeping the price down but also giving them value for money. The day of ‘a la carte’ is gone and people choosing what they want. Restaurants are going toward a more seasonal fixed price menu with four courses for X amount of money. Now restaurants can provide a good selection of food that is value for money.”

Enda McEvoy is opening a new restaurant next month in Galway, and is well aware of the range of costs that every restaurant needs to consider. “We are price sensitive, we are all aware of the overheads, the amount of rates that need to be paid etc... you need to do things to keep the costs down, for example we are going to work with local suppliers for better quality produce while keeping the prices down”.

The full number crunching figures that restaurants have the tough task to pay were given by Paul Cadden, owner of Saba and former President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland:

“If you open a restaurant in Dublin you will have to pay a grease trap license for €370, a monitoring charge by the county council for €870 per annum, you have PPI (royalties) for music, an insurance rate,  water in and water out rates, 13.5% VAT on food, 21% VAT on alcohol. Then you have to pay an excise duty, we have the highest excise duty and energy cost in Europe and then we have the second highest minimum wage.  There is also a tax for fold-able chairs outside the restaurant that we call the ‘sunshine tax’."

The audience laughed at the ‘sunshine tax’ remark but they were instantly silenced as Paul revealed some shocking figures. “One restaurant a day closed last year in Ireland and that’s a very sad fact. From the last Restaurant Association survey we found that 80% of restaurants are trading on a loss.”

When it came time for the audience to get stuck in with some Q+A there were plenty of requests for some more info from the panel as to why there isn't more of a BYOB culture in Irish restaurants. There was lots to say on that topic from the crowd and the stage! A couple of more punters were keen to see how Paul Cadden and Joe Macken dealt with service issues and customer complaints within their own establishments.  

Overall, it was a great discussion and we were very happy with how it went. Those attending showed great respect for the panelists and vice versa. Many thanks again to all of you for being there!

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