Restaurateurs have reported a generally smooth transition to indoor dining a week after finally being able to open to customers.
The vast majority of operators contacted by The Irish Times said they had not been targeted by anti-vaccination campaigners who have been making fake bookings or leaving negative reviews of food businesses opening up to vaccinated customers on social media.
However, Anthony Gray, who owns the Hooked and Eala Bhán restaurants in Co Sligo, said that while 95 per cent of the experience of reopening indoors has been positive, some people have targeted his business online.
“I had to delete a post about food because of the comments and I know a local business who said they were going to open up to vaccinated customers and they were annihilated online,” he said. “There is a certain element out there. Let’s call a spade a spade. It is an onerous task trying to implement these guidelines. The last thing we need is abuse online and fake bookings.”
He said asking people for vaccinations certs at the door is “very challenging” and “almost embarrassing – we are not trained to do such a thing”, but the fact that it is the law rather than at the discretion of the restaurant owner helps when explaining it to customers.
Paul Lenihan, owner of Hartes Bar in Kildare, said he stayed off social media before reopening to avoid negative reviews.
“Most, I’d say 95 per cent of people, are arriving with their passports and their vaccination certs. Obviously we have a few people expecting we would let them in. Unfortunately, we have had to turn those people away. Some people say they did not expect us to be this strict, but we have a duty of care to our customers that are fully vaccinated.”
Marie Flynn from The Tannery in Dungarvin said they have been open indoors since June for guests staying in the Townhouse which has 14 rooms.
“On Wednesday night we were open to the public and it went very well. People were absolutely delighted to be going inside,” she said.
“They were showing their Covid certs coming in the door. We have had zero problems and absolutely no anti-Covid passport sentiments amongst our customers anyway. We had one phone call only from a lady who was irate that she couldn’t come to the restaurant without her passport, but it wasn’t part of a planned attack. She was just really annoyed.”
David Murphy, who owns Kai restaurant in Galway city with his wife Jess, said things were going "a lot better than expected. The majority of people have been very good, very understanding."
Some customers were surprised that they that were not deemed to be fully vaccinated even after recently being double jabbed because they are deemed not to be fully protected until a week or two weeks after their second dose, depending to which vaccine they receive.
“That is the only issue of the whole scenario. People have been very understanding and good about it. Otherwise it has been a lot better than I ever thought possible,” he said. “ We have been fully booked every night. I am happy out. I thought that people might be a more reserved about it, but they have been really understanding.”
Liam Edwards of Edwards restaurant in Kinsale, Co Cork, said the opening of indoor dining came at the right time just as the weather turned.
“From a business point of view, we had two washout days last week. Without facilitating indoor dining, we would have had zero business,” he said.
“The reaction from our customers here has been positive. I have had no no-shows and no fake bookings, but it’s definitely very demanding on our staff. The customers seem to be positive with them. The feeling is good.”
He urged families to book restaurants in advance to avoid being disappointed when they turn up. “The last thing you want to be doing as a family is going door to door,” he said.
Galway restaurateur and Irish Times columnist JP McMahon said there have been a few cancellations as a result of people not having been vaccinated, but otherwise things are “going well”. His Anair restaurant said no-shows have stopped since the restaurant referred all bookings to the website where credit card details are taken.
Gina Murphy of Hugo's Restaurant in Merrion Row, Dublin, said the experience has been very positive especially given the enhanced pedestrianisation on the street to facilitate.
“Outdoor dining on Merrion Row has been a life saver for us. There has not been one issue at the door,” she said. “Everybody has just been delighted that we are back open, but I am not going to break the law for anybody.”
However, she lost 19 of the 26 staff during the pandemic and she can only open Wednesday to Sunday as a result.
Carrick-on-Shannon based restaurateur Shamzuri Hanifa says he is down 12 staff for his three restaurants, Synergy, The Cottage and Buffalo Boy. Staff shortages were an issue before the pandemic, but it is even more acute now. “We need to bring more skilled staff from abroad. Otherwise you will see closures across the country and standards will drop,” he said.
He and his business partner, Seán Purcell, have built an outside space with a retractable roof and electric heaters. It has meant that unvaccinated people have a viable alternative to eating indoors. “Outdoor dining is here to say if you want to future-proof our business.”