Bank holiday reopening ‘feels like a victory’ – if you can find a table

Queues formed at many Dublin city venues and others booked out by eager patrons

As 4,000 pubs nationwide reopen for outdoor service, Irish Times reporter Ronan McGreevy visits O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin. Video: Ronan McGreevy

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Thousands of staff at restaurants and pubs were not just back to work on Monday, they were run off their feet as queues formed outside at many venues for the return of outdoor dining.

By lunchtime in Dublin there were queues around the corner for the much-loved Grogans pub on South William Street. Outside the venue, customers sat with tables full of bank holiday pints of Guinness and cheese toasties.

Daniel Smith, a barman at the pub, said today “feels like a victory” for those in the industry, after a long 15 months of closed doors.

“It feels like a turning point now. It’s been a long time coming,” he added. “We’ve all suffered through hard times over the past year so today is a really emotional day.”

Every table had been full at the pub since before 11am, and there was a “brilliant buzz” in town, he said. The pub opted to offer a walk-in service only, due to demand.

He said customers had been “really patient” waiting in queues as “everyone knows we’re operating in a way we haven’t done before”.

Enjoying a drink in Brady’s, Terenure, Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Enjoying a drink in Brady’s, Terenure, Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Finding staff

Likewise, all tables were taken at the popular two-for-one cocktail venue Pygmalion across the street. And around the corner on Suffolk Street, the Italian restaurant Zizzi’s was filling up.

On Palace Street, staff at the traditional French restaurant Chez Max were “excited and exhausted”, and the owner, Max de Laloubie, said all the tables he had available were booked out for the next three weeks.

Ten extra outdoor tables will be added to the pavement outside the Parisian-style bistro next week to accommodate more customers and some walk-ins.

“At the very last minute we found the staff,” he said. “It was very hard because we need French speakers on the floor, and many of them have gone home, abroad to their parents or changed jobs. But now we have a brand-new team and it’s really exciting.”

Operating a takeaway and delivery service over the past few months had been “very helpful” as it enabled the restaurant to properly prepare for Monday’s reopening, he said. “We’ve been busy food tasting, cleaning, getting things ready. It’s great to be back.”

Card tips

Over near the Jervis Shopping Centre, bank holiday shoppers stopped off for lunch at the Mad Egg restaurant on Millennium Way.

“I can’t express how nice it is to get back to doing something different every day, to be seeing new faces and chatting to people,” said staff member Maya McNair.

Maya McNair and Eimear Gielty at Mad Egg restaurant on Millennium Way in Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson
Maya McNair and Eimear Gielty at Mad Egg restaurant on Millennium Way in Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson

With the decline of the cash economy and the growth of contactless payments, customers don’t often have pocket change for tips nowadays, but many have started asking how they can tip the staff using a card.

“When people are having a good time, they’ll ask how they can tip you because they want to show their support. Service is a hard industry sometimes,” she said.

The atmosphere at Christmas had been “more electric” but today was a “nice, sunny bank holiday” and everyone was in good humour.

“It was busy at Christmas, but it might be busier now that vaccinations are under way. I think people will be more willing to go out,” assistant manager Eimear Gielty said.

Mad Egg was operating a walk-in service, and within 30 minutes of opening, every table was full. “We are all really excited to be back,” Ms Gielty said. “Delivery doesn’t give you that same guest interaction, so it’s great to be back serving people and having a bit of banter.”