Dublin diners urged to ditch the fear and eat out as good weather arrives


DUBLIN RESTAURANTS encouraged people to spend their way out of the recession yesterday as Dine in Dublin Restaurant Week began. They are hoping the good weather will lift people’s moods and encourage them to eat out.

Restaurants report they are still struggling to keep afloat as people keep a tight rein on non-essential spending. The Restaurant Association of Ireland said prices had fallen by at least 20 to 25 per cent in the past three years.

While many city-centre restaurants are enjoying strong bookings on weekend nights, weeknights are quiet and the lunchtime trade remains depressed. Many restaurateurs believe things are no better now than they were a year ago.

Michelin-starred restaurant L’Ecrivain was set up during a recession almost 23 years ago and has weathered difficult times, according to joint general manager Sallyanne Clarke. “But we’re still hanging in there,” she said. “It’s all about reinventing yourself, trying new things.”

She said eating out had never been better value. “We’ve cut prices to the bone. We’re not out to make money; we’re out to survive. We use MenuPages , and the response has been fantastic. Facebook, Twitter, social media has become more important than I would have ever imagined.”

She said the Baggot Street restaurant was always very busy on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and that continued through the recession.

“You have to have faith that it will turn around. One way to get out of this recession is to get people to spend and invest in the economy again. People have money but are afraid to spend it.”

Paul Cadden of Saba on Clarendon Street said the VAT cut from 13.5 to 9 per cent had made a big difference but the restaurant trade was still very difficult.

Negative stories in the news had an immediate impact on bookings. “The Iseq index was on an upward trend a few weeks ago and the lunch business started to come back up a little, but then there were fears over the Greek bailout and straight away the lunch trade disappeared,” he said.

“People are afraid. They don’t know what’s going to happen next.” He said there had been a “race to the bottom” on price initially, but that had stopped as many restaurants could no longer afford to trade. The sunshine had lifted people’s moods and people were more likely to go out when they were in good form.

Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar is hoping for a bit of growth this year, after several tough years. Pádraic Óg Gallagher said: “2010 was probably the hardest year. In 2011, things stabilised and now we are looking for growth this year.”

He is pinning his hopes on the expected bounce in tourism this year. Tourists account for about 80 per cent of his custom. Gallagher said the Government’s moves to reduce VAT and PRSI were very helpful.

The chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, stressed the importance of retaining lower rates. “The recession is hurting everybody. People are looking after their savings. Consumer spending hasn’t increased. Consumer confidence hasn’t been reinstated.”

Tasty offers: Pichet and Saba among participants

MORE THAN 50 Dublin city restaurants are offering special menus and entertainment to mark Dine in Dublin restaurant week which runs until Sunday.

The biannual event is organised by Dublin City Business Improvement District and supported by the Restaurant Association of Ireland.

Dylan McGrath’s Rustic Stone restaurant is offering a special €15 “Raw” lunch menu all week. The raw concept involves applying less heat to food to allow the ingredients in their purest form dominate the flavour.

The Kitchen restaurant on South Anne Street is running question and answer sessions with its new head chef Marjorie Castellier today, tomorrow and Saturday.

Nick Munier’s Pichet is offering a €45 five-course tasting menu to mark the week.

Saba is holding a cocktail masterclass tomorrow.

La Cave is offering a tasting menu alongside the Dine in Dublin menu on Thursday.

And Park Rite is offering a Dine in Dublin discounted evening rate of €3 in selected car parks from 6pm to close. They are also running a lunchtime offer, whereby the second hour’s parking is free.