| 10.6°C Dublin

Bon appetit! Christmas party boom driven by food, not drink

Close

Offering value: Sandy Sabek, co-owner of Forest Avenue, says the D4 restaurant is nearly booked out for Christmas. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Offering value: Sandy Sabek, co-owner of Forest Avenue, says the D4 restaurant is nearly booked out for Christmas. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Offering value: Sandy Sabek, co-owner of Forest Avenue, says the D4 restaurant is nearly booked out for Christmas. Photo: Gerry Mooney

The Christmas party is back with a bang for 2014 - but it's good food and fine dining rather than boozing in pubs which is driving the boom.

Advance bookings are well up on last year and many popular venues are already booked out for key dates in December.

The capital's so-called "creative quarter," the area between Clarendon Street and South Great George's Street, has added an extra 1,500 dining seats in the last 18 months.

A flurry of new openings of restaurants and food- orientated pubs and cafes has been driven by a cultural shift, according to Richard Guiney of DublinTown, which represents 2,500 businesses in the city centre.

"Put simply, people are coming into town to eat rather than just have a drink. There is now so much choice in terms of different food offerings and that is also driving the Christmas-party trade which looks very promising this year, according to our members in the hospitality sector," he told the Sunday Independent.

A recent survey carried out by the organisation found that food is now the major attraction for visiting the city centre for leisure.

In all, 50pc of Dubliners visit the city's restaurants, 29pc visit the pubs, 22pc visit cultural attractions, while 13pc come into the city for specific events. The corporate sector now looks towards private dining to reward clients and staff at Christmas.

Last week the New York Times noted that Dublin had now entered "a more refined wave of affluence than what the flashy boom years had to offer." It trumpeted that the capital is finding "a new way to exist… neither ostentatious with wealth, nor bowed down under debt".

Forest Avenue in Dublin 4, one of the hottest restaurants in the capital, started taking Christmas bookings in September. "We have had a very good year and we are nearly booked out for Christmas. What we have found is that corporate customers now tend to prefer lunch for their Christmas gathering, while dinner is for gatherings of friends," said co-owner Sandy Sabek.

She says that the recession was in part responsible for the creative boom. "At the height of the Celtic Tiger there was, quite frankly, a lot of crap restaurants out there. It was a numbers game. Accountants were opening restaurants. When the collapse came, rents went down. That meant creative chefs could at last open their own restaurants with their own unique ideas. The choice now is far better, Asian fusion, tapas, whatever you want," Sandy added.

She thinks that the boom in Christmas parties and the rebirth of casual and fine dining in the capital is also driven by the value that is on offer, and says groups of women friends are now more likely to book a meal rather than meet in a pub.

Sandy and her partner John Wyer met while they were both working in Germany and ended up back in Dublin at the famed L'Ecrivain. "You have to offer value and good food. We have only put our prices up by €1 since we opened," Sandy said.

Footfall has increased dramatically in the restaurant quarters on both sides of the Liffey. In South Great George's Street, which has the highest density of restaurants and cafes in the south city, footfall has risen 11pc in the last year. In comparison, footfall in the retail-driven Grafton Street area is static.

In the north city, Capel Street, home to a thriving new community of ethnic eateries, has enjoyed a 7pc footfall increase, while nearby Henry Street, again a retail hub, has flatlined and may even have shown a slight decrease in footfall.

Sunday Independent