Crab claws, racks of lamb and fillet steaks are among the dishes being dropped from some menus, with price rises of up to €2.50 a plate in restaurants feeling the heat from inflation.
Restaurateurs, cafe owners and bar proprietors across Ireland have reported a struggle to maintain profits, due to food-price inflation, utility bill hikes and a drop off in customers as consumers feel the pinch.
Business owners have said they are reluctantly increasing prices and removing more expensive items from their menus. They called on the Government to introduce stimulus packages to help the industry and aid consumer spending.
Graham Dempsey, director of Davy Byrnes gastro bar on Dublin’s Duke Street, said: “We’re literally in the process of changing our menu. We’ve had a 30pc increase in the cost of our suppliers.
“And we have to take things off the menu that we’re famous for, including our crab claws, and we’re replacing them with mussels, for better margins.
“Crabs have gone up to €50 per kilo. Rib-eye steaks have increased by €6 per kilo. A few things have shot right up, so we have to increase our prices and streamline our menu, cutting out rib-eye steaks and crab claws.
“We’re still discussing increases but it’s looking like it will probably be a €1 to €1.50 increase a plate.”
Mr Dempsey, along with others in the industry, is calling on the Government to retain the VAT rate at 9pc. He added that a continuation of the Covid-era Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) would also help restaurants in the midst of the inflation crisis. He said a cap on businesses’ utility bills was also necessary.
“People are still being careful due to Covid and on certain days, we’re struggling to maintain business,” he said.
“Our food is of a great standard and we don’t like putting prices up but we’re being forced to due to inflation and a drop in customers. This is going to be a very difficult period.”
Luca De Marzio, owner of Rosa Madre Italian restaurant in Temple Bar, Dublin, said: “We have no choice but to put the prices up.”
He said the restaurant increased its prices two weeks ago, adding €1 to each plate, after witnessing the price of meat and fish rise in tandem with electricity. The restaurateur said the price of black sole had risen to €19.50, while lobster – which was €22-€25 last year – had increased to €37-€38.
“As long as people are willing to pay for fresh lobster and black sole, we’ll buy them,” he said.
“The flour went up and we make fresh pasta. We have a factory and we saw an increase in flour. That’s a major problem, due to the grain coming from Ukraine.”
Denis O’Mullane is co-owner of Cork’s Café Gusto, which has premises on Washington Street and The Boardwalk in the city.
He said the main issue currently “is not what we charge but what our customers can afford”, referring to inflation hitting consumers and preventing people from eating out.
In a bid to help provide more affordable options, the cafes are reducing menus to “ensure zero waste” and “removing items where the ingredient has got too expensive”. This includes crab and fillet steak.
Frank Schiltkamp, manager of Greenes Restaurant on MacCurtain Street, Cork, said although he had not yet increased prices, it was likely a plate will go up by around €2.50. But he said this was “the last thing we wanted to do”. He said while there is “no silver bullet” to the problems the industry is facing, the Government could introduce a stimulus package to help consumers dine out.
Trish Murphy, manager of Cookes Restaurant and Wine Bar, on Abbeygate Street, Galway, said price increases are evident in restaurants across the city. Meanwhile, she has noticed a drop in customer numbers in recent weeks. She has devised an inflation- busting €20 two-course menu to encourage customers to eat out.
“It’s hard to justify increasing prices when people’s wages are still at a low,” she said. “The €20 menu means we can keep the cost low but give people the option to still dine out and not feel desperately out of pocket.
“We run it Monday to Sunday and a full a la carte but local customers are mostly opting for the cheaper option, as are international tourists. And at the same time there’s a noticeable difference with clientele not coming out as often, including at weekends.
“Saturday night bookings have really decreased. And most bookings are for occasions, such as hen parties, birthdays – groups of six and 10 – but there’s a shortage of couples and friends just coming out for dinner.
“If people are struggling with inflation, the Government also needs to look to help consumers so they can dine out. A scheme like the Stay and Spend initiative needs to be brought back but perhaps rethought.”
The Stay and Spend scheme was a tax credit to encourage people to eat out during the pandemic.
However, restaurateurs told the Irish Independent a voucher scheme, such as the one introduced by the UK during the pandemic, would be more helpful.
Ms Murphy said: “We’ve had to take a rack of lamb, fillet steak and crab claws off the menu. They’re just too expensive for customers now.
“It’s very difficult with prices going through the roof.
“Something has to happen quickly, or businesses will close.”
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said: “The cost of inflation is having a devastating effect on restaurants across the State.
“The Government must give a commitment to the hospitality sector that the 9pc VAT rate is retained to counteract inflation.
“The Irish people are finding it extremely hard due to rising energy prices and inflation, and I think restaurants are going to be collateral damage as we head towards turbulent economic times in Ireland.”