Saturday 16 December 2017

Little to toast for restaurateurs as trade tumbles in downturn

Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

THE stark note on the door says it all: "After almost two years, Taste has regrettably had to close its doors for the last time. Hopefully our paths will cross again."

The poignant note posted on the door of Taste restaurant in Monkstown illustrates the cruel impact of the recession on small businesses and is indicative of what is happening all over the country.

After a highly successful first year, Taste proprietor Jakki Murphy was forced to finally accept that she could continue no longer, and decided that Valentine's night would be her last.

"It was so sad, I loved that restaurant. It wasn't work, it was fun. We had such a great year in 2008, and a brilliantly busy Christmas. But last year business collapsed. People weren't coming in half as much, and Christmas parties just didn't happen. I tried to ignore it but sadly I couldn't any more," she said.

Murphy said she waited in vain for some sign of an uptick in the economy but it wasn't to be. "I would have done it for free. It was more like a social life than work. It's just the trade wasn't there in the past few months. I heard of places closing all over town and I was determined not to let it happen to me. But there's only so long you can go on before enough is enough."

Small businesses all over Ireland which once prospered are now being decimated and according to the Restaurants' Association of Ireland, 800 are likely to close by the summer.

Tara O'Grady has been forced to move her successful Diva restaurant from the Greystones marina to Bray, after it was announced the Wicklow County Council was halting its major harbour development because of a funding crisis. It emerged last week that work was being 'paused' on public facilities in the €300m Greystones Harbour redevelopment project in north Co Wicklow.

O'Grady, whose business was decimated by the construction work, said that all the pain and sacrifice of local businesses in Greystones had been for nothing.

"They wrecked the harbour and stole the beach. The hoarding they placed right outside my restaurant halved the level of business overnight."

O'Grady couldn't pay her staff in November. "I have been amazed with them. They have stuck with me and their loyalty and solidarity has been amazing."

Realising she was running out of time, O'Grady moved her restaurant lock, stock and barrel to a premises on Bray Main Street.

"I knew the lady who owned the building and she said she was willing to help me on the rent, so we moved overnight to our new premises and business is going well. Had I stayed in Greystones I would be out of business," she said.

More than 2,000 restaurants are now operating at a loss and hundreds could be forced to shut if the Government doesn't take action to reduce costs for the sector.

The Restaurants' Association of Ireland last week warned there was no sign of a resurgence and the only way many eateries could keep going was if action were taken to reduce regulatory costs such as rent, wages and waste charges.

China Sichuan, one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Dublin for more than 25 years, has become the latest victim of the downturn.

The restaurant, which recently moved from its longtime premises in Stillorgan to Sandyford Industrial Estate, has posted a sign saying it is closed until further notice.

There are around 2,500 licensed restaurants in the country, but more than 80 per cent of them are operating at a loss. That means some 2,000 are in difficulty, and while more than 200 have already fallen victim to the recession, without urgent assistance up to 800 could be forced to close by the summer.

High-profile recent victims include Mint in Ranelagh, Bang Cafe in Dublin 2, Lock's in Portobello, Dublin, and Flava in Kilkenny. Carluccio's cafe on Dawson Street, Dublin, looked set to follow suit when it closed its doors earlier this month due to a rent dispute, but a compromise was reached to allow it to reopen.

Sunday Independent

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