‘My experience of dealing with the Irish banks has been woeful’

Inside Track: Liz Doyle, The Fine Dining Club

From merchant banker to owner of an introduction agency, Liz Doyle spotted a gap in the market on the return from her international career. Asking herself how people meet each other in Belfast led to her setting up The Fine Dining Club, a dinner party dating agency which has now reached its 10th birthday and an expansion into Dublin.

What distinguishes your business from your competitors?

Probably two things. First of all, I started the business for myself to meet people and I was single, so clearly I understand the clients because I am my client. The fact that we are an introduction agency and run dinner parties distinguishes us from other matchmakers who introduce people one on one. We would introduce them to a larger crowd of people.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?


I think the biggest challenge any small business has is staying in business. The business is now 10 years of age: our biggest challenge of getting here, the failure rate for small businesses is really high. The biggest challenge outside of surviving was expanding to the south of Ireland because I am so delighted to be in Dublin.

What’s your major success to date?

I think, probably, growth, the fact that we are still growing. We are increasing in numbers and increasing in staff now that we are in Dublin. Sometimes it’s very easy in business to keep looking at the next step and sometimes it’s quite hard to look up and think, well done, we are doing this.

What more do you think the Government could do to help SMEs?

It’s interesting for me because I have a foot in both camps. At the moment, we’re registered as a business in the UK. We are certainly going to change that and register as a business in Ireland because of the fabulous tax rate obviously.

I think the UK should certainly sit up and take note because, once Brexit happens – certainly for Northern Ireland – you are competing for business on the island of Ireland. So why should you pay corporation tax at 20 per cent when you can pay 12.5 per cent?

Do you think the banks are open for business?

My experience, and I say this as a merchant banker – I don’t like saying this, I don’t take any great pleasure in it – but my experience of dealing with the Irish banks has been woefully inadequate, dismal and frankly a disgrace.

I think they are not open for business to SMEs. I would say there are some banks that seem to go out of their way to make life difficult for SMEs. Some of them seem to inflate their costs for smaller businesses and not so for larger businesses.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

Not charging enough and not wanting to work “on” my business as opposed to “in” my business. I think a lot of women are very bad at charging what they are worth. It’s taken me years to realise that with the calibre of service and quality of service we offer, we should be charging for that. We are now.

Whom do you admire in business and why?

I admire Sheryl Sandberg and women who have done incredibly well in a male environment because usually they are as good, if not better, than the men. I particularly admire women in small and medium sized businesses who run their businesses themselves. I really admire them because, quite often, they are doing it while managing a family and kids and running a business. Good luck and well done to them.

What’s the best piece of business advice that you have ever received?

Work on your business and not in it. It was a lightbulb moment, nobody had ever said that phrase to me before and I suddenly thought, that’s genius, why didn’t I think of that. Pull your head up, think about where you want to go and what you want to do.

How do you see the short-term future for your business?

More growth. We are hoping to open in London this year. Why not? I would like to be in London by the spring. There's a lot of synergy between Dublin and London, and even Belfast and London. Lots of my clients commute to London weekly.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

I don’t know what my business is worth, I’ve never sat down and worked it out. I’ve no interest in selling it.