Thursday 22 March 2018

Sunshine whets our growing appetite for champagne and eating outdoors

Corporate dining is back and champagne sales rise again for first time since Celtic Tiger days

It’s great outdoors: Dining al fresco at The Marker Hotel in Dublin. The trend for restaurants to provide outdoor eating spaces is growing in popularity
It’s great outdoors: Dining al fresco at The Marker Hotel in Dublin. The trend for restaurants to provide outdoor eating spaces is growing in popularity
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

The sun-filled days of the past week provided the first real opportunity of the year to enjoy food and drink al fresco - and we jumped at the chance.

The streets buzzed with a Mediterranean atmosphere as consumers took to the pavements and beer gardens with gusto.

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, said that come sunshine, outdoors is "where it's at" as our attitudes become more continental.

"It's definitely a growing phenomenon," he said.

The number of gastro pubs continued to increase - while roof-top terraces were de rigueur for some of our more hip hotels.

But he warned that local authorities must reduce the amount of profit they earn from the so-called 'sunshine tax' for outdoor seating.

"They need to encourage more cafes, restaurants and bars to have good-quality outdoor seating. The regulations are archaic and come on top of other costs such as licences and charges."

Overall the restaurant trade was on the up in Dublin and other tourist hotspots, but parts of the country were still losing out. Mr Cummins said there was a two-tier recovery in the sector.

"It's no man's land in the centre of Ireland, in the Shannon region, and in the lakelands. Areas that don't have any major investment for tourism are clearly suffering.

Read More: Top chill-out spots for sunny days

"Ironically these are the type of locations that can be ideal for outdoor dining."

He also warned that choppy waters lay ahead depending on the fallout from Brexit.

"We're not taking anything for granted," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Cummins said bookings in the top-end sector of the restaurant market were at their highest point since the recession.

"Corporate dining is back. Companies are starting to entertain much more, while people are also spending a little bit extra on bottles of wine and what's on the menu."

He suggested special offers and deals, where consumers had three courses for a set price, were in decline as consumer confidence returned.

And champagne consumption, a hallmark of heady Celtic Tiger days, was signalling "a comeback".

"Sales in this area were almost non-existent four or five years ago, but they're now making a return," Mr Cummins added.

And despite the financial pressures facing young house-hunters eager to get their foot on the property ladder, diners were still willing to splash out on a slap-up meal.

"Millennials saving to buy a property are definitely still out and about spending money.

"They are determined to have a blast between the age of 20 and 30. It's usually the case that when they hit the age of 30, they'll start to think about settling down."

Recent figures from Bord Bia showed that the 'eating out of home' market was now worth €7.5bn and was forecast to grow to €9bn. The sector includes everything from restaurants, hotels, coffee shops and bars to workplace catering, hospitals, education and vending and the biggest spend was in quick-service restaurants.

According to Bord Bia, this market segment had benefited from better than anticipated economic growth, buoyant consumer confidence, the international tourist market, and the continuation of 9pc VAT for hospitality.

Almost 35pc of consumer spend was found in quick-service restaurants, which comprises traditional fast, and more upmarket, food outlets, along with the growing area of food-to-go.

Pubs accounted for 18pc of consumer spend (excluding alcohol), with food-led pubs seeing the biggest return. Strongest growth was occurring in coffee shops.

The report found a growing trend among customers for health when dining out, despite the assumption that those eating out craved indulgence.

Sunday Independent

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