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Serving notice: Michelin Star chef Oliver Dunne's campaign to improve hospital food

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Oliver Dunne

Oliver Dunne

Oliver Dunne

IT'S the curse of every restaurant owner - no-shows for a table.

Michelin-star chef Oliver Dunne reveals that his two popular Dublin restaurants take a deposit this month from people booking in a bid to tackle the "no-shows" problem.

He opened Bon Appetit in Malahide in North Dublin in 2006 and Cleaver East in the Clarence Hotel last year.

The thorny issue of no-shows is one that affects many businesses, where people make a booking and then fail to show up on the night, and not just restaurants, he points out.

"It's a problem. It will always be a problem. It will never change, and I know that.

"So, at Christmas time, for the last three years, we've taken deposits on all bookings. And we explain to the customers the reason why we are doing this, and we are very careful of doing that.

"Sometimes, no-shows can be 30pc. Multiple people book multiple restaurants. I have had nights with 30pc no-shows, and especially at Christmas time," the chef said.

"They book two or three restaurants and then decide on the night," he said.

The deposit amounts to €20.

bookings

"We don't take the money. We only take the money if it's a no-show or they don't ring us to cancel. It's on the credit card, and only for December."

In fact, Oliver said he had tried doing it throughout the year, a few years back, but admits it didn't go down very well. "Customers just weren't having it. People here are not used to it."

The majority of cities in Europe now have a policy of taking a deposit on restaurant bookings. "If you are ringing a restaurant in London for example, you ring with your credit card packed."

The only way it would work, and the only way it will get better and stop is if the Restaurant Association of Ireland gets on board, backs it and insists all members do it simultaneously, the 37-year-old believes.

"It's not just the restaurant business. It's across the board. It happens in dentists, it happens in doctors, it happens everywhere."

His realisation that it would never change came when he was in a hospital waiting room, and he saw a sign up on the wall for breast cancer screening about people not showing up for their appointment.

"There was a sign up saying, please cancel your booking - I remember it vividly - 18.6pc of our bookings are no-shows. And that is people going in for breast cancer screening who didn't turn up or cancel the booking. So if you are not going to turn up for breast cancer screening, I have no chance," he said.

He said that 24 hours notice of cancellation is what he asks - although he recognises the "human side" of things as well - that people have emergencies.

"Twenty euro is no use to me. All it is basically is an incentive, and the difference it has made has been phenomenal. For the month of December, we have less no shows that the month of January. And we would do probably six times the amount of customers. It just makes people aware."

The Glasnevin native was the youngest Michelin-star chef in Ireland.

"I've worked in Michelin-starred restaurants pretty much all my whole career. So it's basically all I know really, that is the standard I was taught."

His two restaurants have built up a loyal clientele. "We are very proactive in changing. We do offers and promotions, and are constantly changing and doing interesting, exciting things for our customers to come in."

customers

Cleaver East in the Clarence, celebrated its first anniversary in October. "For the first year, we basically tried and tested loads of dishes out and listened to our customers."

Beef is very popular. It has five steaks from around the world, focusing on different breeds.

It was in the Clarence that he met his wife Sabine, with whom he has two children Evan (9) and Mimi (5).

"She was the restaurant supervisor and I was the sous chef, so that is where we started. And then 14 years later we opened Cleaver East. So we went full circle," he said.

He may be busy, but he has become even busier lately thanks to a campaign he is spearheading to improve hospital food, which has grabbed the public imagination.

"I'm very proud of what I have achieved as a chef, but I really love the idea of making a positive impact that would last."

Improving hospital food would be the "proudest" thing he has ever done.

He has received an extraordinary reaction - one mum contacted him to say her daughter was fighting cancer and the food was "freezer specials" with no fresh fruit or veg.

Oliver is meeting health minister Leo Varadkar this month.

"It's my intention at this meeting to ask the minister to support this campaign and assist me in securing access to a Dublin hospital where I can work with the team and get a first-hand understanding of life in a hospital kitchen.

"I do want access to a hospital, and if he can assist me with that, that would be fantastic. Food is pretty much the only joy you get when you're in hospital. It's your only break from the mundane," he pointed out.

He is also one of the top chefs featured in the "Walk in My Shoes" 2015 charity calendar.

"I only switch off when I'm away," he admits. He took up skiing four years ago, and tries to go around once a year, with Austria being the favoured destination.

"That is probably my greatest escape. It takes you away from everything recognisable."

fdillon@herald.ie


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