‘We are shell shocked’: Dublin restaurants angry over indoor dining ban

‘Some won’t make it back,’ says chef Ross Lewis as new restrictions come into force

Vanessa Murphy and Anna Cabrera at their restaurant Las Tapas de Lola on Camden Street,  Dublin. “There are not very many restaurants in the city with enough outdoor seats to make it viable to open,” says Murphy. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Vanessa Murphy and Anna Cabrera at their restaurant Las Tapas de Lola on Camden Street, Dublin. “There are not very many restaurants in the city with enough outdoor seats to make it viable to open,” says Murphy. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

“I find it hard to believe that they will close us this evening, but we saw it happen in Kildare.” Denise McBrien, general manager of The Old Spot in Dublin 4 is struggling to come to terms with the prospect of a three-week ban on dining indoors in Dublin city and county, just hours before the move is confirmed on Friday evening.

The Michelin-recommended gastropub is a thriving business that employs 28 people and has been performing well, even during the Covid crisis. “Last week we did 110 for dinner on Saturday and 175 for lunch on Sunday and that has been consistent since reopening,” McBrien says.

From midnight on Friday, restaurants – and cafes – in Dublin will be closed for indoor dining, but will be allowed to serve up to 15 people seated outside and to provide meals to takeaway and for delivery.

McBrien first saw speculation about the proposed measures on Twitter. “It’s insane to find out on Thursday night that you might be closing on Friday.”

On Friday morning, awaiting the announcement from Government, she was unsure whether to place orders for fresh produce for the weekend or not. “We’d probably be spending about €2,500 on meat fish and veg, for Saturday and Sunday. Pat McLoughlin is our butcher and Salters is where we get our free-range chickens from, and they’re waiting to see if we’re going to order or not. People are looking forward to their roasts on Sunday, and we’re not sure if we’ll be able to serve them.”

Ross Lewis, chef proprietor of Michelin-starred Chapter One in Dublin 1, is “shocked and surprised” at the sudden move. His reservations book for Saturday lunch, pre-theatre and dinner sittings is full.

“We’ve had a very positive response since reopening 11 weeks ago and it’s very disheartening to have to contemplate closing the doors again and shutting everything down. It’s quite emotional and it will be quite a difficult thing to do .”

He says restaurants are being unfairly targeted. “I think unfortunately we are the ones being punished. The small business sector is a tough place to be at the moment and it’s very disheartening.” The industry should be receiving more support, he says. “I think at the very least we should be compensated. You just can’t ask people who put everything in their lives into a business to just keep opening and closing.”

Lewis fears that this latest setback will mean the end of the road for some restaurants in the capital. “I am here quite a long time and we’ve built up a strong, loyal and regular customer base, but there are a lot of people out there who are relying on footfall to fill restaurants and that’s not happening, and they’re at the end of their tether. I know a few people with multiple businesses and I’d be very surprised if they make it back, again.”

At Las Tapas de Lola, on Camden Street, Vanessa Murphy, who co-owns the restaurant with Anna Cabrera, is coming to terms with the news. “We are a little bit shell shocked at the moment,” she says. “We remained in lockdown for the 110 days, and didn’t open for take away because we felt it wasn’t essential, but this time around, we will certainly be looking at it, because we are all in survival mode at the moment.”

Las Tapas de Lola has an outside terrace, but social distancing guidelines have impacted on the space. “We’ve three tables now – you can’t open with three tables. There are not very many restaurants in the city with enough outdoor seats to make it viable to open,” Murphy says.

She is critical of the thinking behind the ban on eating indoors in restaurants and believes the sector has been compliant and observant of regulations. “I think decisions are being made without speaking to people on the ground and without seeing what’s actually happening on the ground.”

Kevin Arundel, chef proprietor at The Chophouse gastropub on Shelbourne road in Dublin 4, prepared an action plan on Friday while waiting for the announcement to be made. “Take away will go live again one hour after the Government’s announcement. I’ll look at my stock, see what I have, write the menus, put the pricing up and and say ‘okay you can’t come and have dinner now, but you can ring me or email me and I will offer you a collection service’.”

Arundel also has a covered terrace dining area that will remain open to 15 diners. But even with outside dining and takeaway, the closure could mean job losses for up to 20 staff, he says.

Shane Molony, manager of Riba in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, says that the restaurant plans to return to take away and delivery. “But I’m not so optimistic about that this time around. You’re going to have everybody doing it because everybody has to do it, so the competition is going to be fierce. I don’t know if it’s going to be the same leg-up it was during the first lock down.”

The restaurant also has an all-weather outdoor dining area that will remain open. “The idea of making profit at this time is nonexistent, so the goal really is to keep everybody in their jobs,” Molony says.

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