Friday 19 January 2018

Restaurants must learn that we still like to eat on bank holidays

Taking a break just when people are looking to dine out is madness, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

WE ALL know the old joke "when the going gets tough, the Irish go on holidays". So it struck me that this definitely was the case over the Christmas and New Year period.

We have had a couple of years of restaurants telling us how much they have been suffering with the downturn in business. Mind you, I have to say that anywhere I go that does a decent job by way of well-priced, decent food always seems to be packed.

The latest panic for restaurants has been the water shortages, and that understandably is a major problem from not only the point of preparing and cooking food but for toilet facilities and hygiene. So many businesses could be destroyed by lack of water -- restaurants, coffee shops, hairdressers, the list is endless, and if it is not sorted rapidly it will affect tourism this year, because who wants to book a holiday to a destination with water difficulties?

On top of recession and water shortages, there was the heavy snow which wiped out so many restaurant nights and Christmas parties. With all of these difficulties affecting business, you would think, wouldn't you, that like the Ronnie Barker television programme, Open All Hours, set in the corner shop, restaurants would all be open when there was any chance of a few bob to be made. Not so -- after all, this is Ireland, and we are only in the worst recession in memory, so let's close up immediately after Christmas and have a little holiday. We couldn't possibly take that break when business is dead as a dodo in January and February!

New Year's Day, skipping breakfast, we headed off into town to our favourite store and straight up to the restaurant for the eggs Benedict, to find that there was "no breakfast on the bank holidays". Do people not eat on bank holidays? Perhaps it accounted for the fact that the restaurant had only a scattering of people whereas very often there is a queue. OK, we thought, we will go and have lunch after our shopping, for surely New Year's Day must be a great day for family lunches and outings.

Having done our shopping, it was now lunchtime and we got into the car and headed off -- to find that there were, in fact, very few restaurants open which was absolutely crazy on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend.

On the Sunday of the New Year bank holiday weekend, it was the same story. Many restaurants which normally open for Sunday lunch were closed; total madness. Those which were open, including FXB's pub and restaurant in Monkstown, had lots of big family groups spanning different generations, plus groups of women meeting for the last holiday hurrah. Well done, FXB's, it was a tour de force in public relations. I'd say FXB's has gained a whole new clientele who were delighted with the buzz and the food there on that Sunday.

It is extraordinary, particularly in these times, that restaurants were not making the most of any business that was out there -- never mind irritating their regular Sunday lunchers by closing. I know, we all want to have time off, but when you are in a service industry you have to realise that this is what it is supposed to be, a service to your customers. They will have enough time over the next couple of months to contemplate their navels. The only people who seem to realise this are the ethnic restaurants; they know that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!

As to the banks. We all know the state they are in, to our cost. Christmas was on a Saturday, but when did the banks open again for business? The following Thursday. You have all of these businesses out there with Christmas cash who cannot lodge it for the best part of a week. On top of this, I rang Bank of Ireland on the Friday to order a Laser card to be told that, not only would it cost me €5.90, but the order wouldn't be processed until the following Wednesday because the following Monday was the New Year bank holiday.

When I started out many years ago working in the service industry in a hotel and tourism organisation, we worked 19 days on the trot, with every third weekend off. Now that was a service industry. People in hotels, in fairness, are used to, and accept, that it is a seven-day-a-week job, but restaurants need to learn this fact also. A service industry demands service.

The immediate couple of weeks or so after Christmas are days when people will spend money -- they have been holding on for the sales and to see what is out there. They want to be able to go out and spend it and eat out at the same time.

People really need to cop on in this country. If we have to dig ourselves out of a hole, the tills need to be kept ringing and 'Open All Hours'.

Sunday Independent

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