Sloppy service and poor staff training is putting Ireland's reputation for hospitality at risk, food writer Georgina Campbell said when she announced her 2015 hospitality awards.
She said she and her team of assessors had come across many clusters of excellence around the country but also some “amazingly bad” service in hotels and restaurants.
“We’ve encountered some quite shocking experiences around the country,” she said. She recalled visiting one four-star hotel where she was put sitting down for dinner at a dirty table. “We had to draw attention to that and there was no apology. The whole service through that meal was disastrous. It wasn’t worth waiting for,” she said.
“Then in the morning we went down to breakfast and had the same thing, sitting down to breakfast at a dirty table. These are very basic things. There is also a huge amount of non-communication between staff, between the kitchen and front of house, for example.”
She recalled another hotel restaurant which was chaotic. “We actually got a dish that had been sent back by another table. It was cold. I was watching what was going on and I saw it happening.”
She said the standard overall was good and these were isolated incidents. “But we have to keep an eye on things when they are going wrong. Training is something that we have to look at very seriously.”
Campbell said this poor service was accompanied by a serious chef shortage and she supported the Restaurant Association of Ireland’s pre-budget submission which called for help with the chef crisis.
She said the lack of chefs had been building for years and it was not being addressed. Individual chefs were taking on apprentices but the State needed to step in with support.
“We are actually in danger of undermining a lot of the great work that’s been done in recent years with food and hospitality in Ireland, if we don’t address that kind of problem. It really is urgent. The lack of chefs is a crisis now and it needs to be dealt with.”
Campbell said a lot of work needed to be done before we could confidently promote Ireland as a “food tourism” destination.
“If we oversell Ireland and people coming here are disappointed with what they find they won’t come back and then we are letting down the really good places.”
She said it had been important during the recession to boost Irish businesses wherever possible “but now that things are picking up, we really need to be more self-critical. There’s no point just saying that everything is wonderful.
“A lot is wonderful but there are also various things that need to be tackled and they are not going to be done on their own.”
Her independent awards, associated with Georgina Campbell's Ireland guides are Ireland's longest-running hospitality awards. She said they looked for "hospitality with a real heart".
Among the 25 awards made this year were the restaurant of the year which went to Kai in Galway city, the chef of the year, Derek Creagh of Harry's Restaurant in Co Donegal and the hotel of the year, won by Beech Hill House Hotel in Co Derry.
The Long Dock in Carrigaholt, Co Clare won the pub of the year award while Bill and Isabelle Kelly of Kelly's Hotel in Rosslare received a special award for their contribution to hospitality.