Reopening confusion among restaurateurs: ‘I don’t know what to do and no one will tell me’

‘I am not the police. I don’t have the right to check people,’ says Galway restaurateur

Paul Donnellan, owner of Gemelle’s on Quay Street in Galway. Photograph: Erika Sassone

Paul Donnellan, the owner of Gemelle’s on Quay Street in Galway, is preparing for the reopening of indoor dining next week, but he is less than impressed by the demands being placed on restaurants.

“They’re a joke, but we have to follow them,” he said, “I am not the police. I don’t have the right to check people; to check the [vaccination] documentation, to check that it’s correct, that it’s not false. So what right do I have to do that to someone?

“Under the legislation, it says I must check them, but it doesn’t tell me I have the right to check them. So if someone refuses to give me that information, what do I do? If someone refuses to leave, what do I do?

“They all say call the police; if I ring the police they’re too busy, they will never come. Do I physically remove them? And get charged with assault?


“Do I ask everybody in the restaurant to leave because this person won’t leave? I don’t know what to do and no one will tell me the answer,” he told The Irish Times.

In any event, he believes the Government is moving too quickly: “I think we’re heading for another lockdown. By opening too early it’s increasing the chances of [a lockdown] in September.

Before Covid-19, Gemelle’s had between 20 and 22 staff. Now it has 10. Unwillingly reopening for indoor dining, he believes he has no choice: “I have to, because the customers demand it. So I have no choice. I couldn’t survive.

“My rent is the same whether I have six tables or 22 tables. My bills are the same, the Government demanding taxes, the same,” said Mr Donnellan, who has not rehired part-time staff.

His staff numbers are unlikely to rise beyond 10 for “a year or two years”.

“We have an upstairs restaurant, we won’t open that. Maybe in a years’ time, maybe never again.”

The final rules governing indoor dining are not yet ready but Ollie Hester, the co-owner of Hester’s Golden Eagle bar and restaurant in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, has already made up his mind. And that’s to stay closed for indoor dining, for now, though outdoor service and take-outs will continue.

“It was a tough decision to make. We know not everyone is fully vaccinated in our small community. We don’t want a situation where you have someone turning people away. I couldn’t have the heart to do that,” he said.

Some customers could turn up without their digital certificates showing they are fully vaccinated, while others might have got just their first vaccine. “Unlike Dublin or Galway, we would know most of our customers so how could we refuse them without causing offence?” he said.

Describing the plan to let vaccinated people eat indoors and the unvaccinated outdoors as “unworkable”, Hester said he hopes that the family can resume serving indoors “when everyone is vaccinated”.

“So hopefully if this is only for another few weeks and it keeps everyone safe, then it’s a level playing field for everyone, whether young or old. We wouldn’t be discriminating against anyone.”

Unlike some in hospitality, Hester is not blaming the Government, though the decision to postpone unregulated indoor dining and drinking is “not ideal”. However, he said: “I suppose the Government are only doing what they think is best for the public’s health.”

All of the bar’s staff have had at least one vaccination, and some have had two: “We did have staff at Christmas-time who got Covid-19. Thankfully we were closed, so it didn’t affect business,” he said.

After 18 months, Hester is keeping calm: “We’ve been closed, we’ve been open, We’ve been doing take-outs. Now it’s outdoor dining. So it’s very challenging. We just have to keep going and try to get through this together.”