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The Irish Hospitality Landscape after Covid_19 Lockdown

The Irish Hospitality Industry is simply looking into the unknown, where no one has ever gone before!

You thought closing was difficult? Opening is going to pose the hardest challenge we will ever face as an industry. When you open the doors of your restaurant, cafe or food business, in the months leading up to it you know what direction you are going in and  there is a clear end line in sight:  you are ticking the boxes, finalising menus, looking forward to greeting customers and selling your products. The air is filled with excitement.

For now It’s just a case of taking it day by day, every day. With what lies ahead for us all come 29th June, is facing the unknown, which is so difficult. This is the stark, unfortunate reality for many business owners in the hospitality sector.  Then it’s the worry whether people will want to come for something to eat or not? This is just one of the many questions. This is why we must be ready and have all correct guidelines in place to assure the public that  we are a safe industry and eating out can be safe and enjoyable, even during this pandemic. 

This horrible disease has so sadly taken so many lives across Ireland and the world and it has sure left it’s mark. It has wreaked havoc and disarmed the hospitality industry for us all. it’s something none of us have control over. Tourism across the globe lies in tatters and Ireland relies heavily on greeting tourists with a staggering 11 million tourists estimated to have visited Ireland in 2019. This generated €5.8 billion for the economy in 2019 and everyone enjoyed our Cead Mile Failte. But sadly, I’m not even sure we will see a tourist until 2022 and this is why we need a dedicated Tourism Minister with a budget in place for tourism.

We were struggling as an industry to come to terms with the VAT increase before now. So it is imperative that the government take heed of how important we are to the economy and give us the correct support we need to steady the ship. I know Failte Ireland are doing an amazing job and are working very hard to help all Tourism businesses and they will campaign the domestic markets. They already have plans in place which is great to see. They are certainly keeping us informed all the time which is very reassuring.

Let’s be very clear, we are in the middle of a storm and need to see the life lines coming from the government so that we will all survive. The Restaurant Association of Ireland are battling each day and their 9 point plan is clear and concise. They are the strongest voice we have and are doing a hell of a job representing us all but, it is also up to us. This is our livelihoods and our staff need protection so is vital we all let our local politicians know what we need to survive.

I hope the government come out with a package for small businesses across the board. SMEs are the back bone of the economy. We have no working capital, we are at the bare bones. In very simple terms, we used to gather the nuts in the summer to survive the winter, but we have now missed the summer. If we don’t get help now you will see closures and job losses across the board come October.

Speaking to Brian Fallon of Fallon & Byrne;
“From someone with a usually above average optimistic outlook. We are staring into the abyss. The best case scenario is terrifying. Even if the virus were to run out of steam in weeks and disappear like SARS  our battle is herculean. The absence of a string of financial aids spell nothing short of disaster. Never before were we so aware of our dependence on SMES and their contribution to our economy. The prospect of life without 50% of them is staring back at us”

There’s nothing we can do only hope that the government will see common sense and give us the help we desperately deserve. The difficulties for businesses in the hospitality sector will continue beyond the issue of just reopening, with some serious costs involved, that’s a guarantee. Also, with social distancing in place of up to 2 metres the small cafe or 20 seater restaurant will be gone. The WHO guidelines are 1 meter and this is workable but 2 metres will be very difficult indeed.

Upon speaking to Shamzurie Hanifa of The Cottage Restaurant, Shamzurie said; “We are facing into a time of huge uncertainty. Overnight our businesses changed forever. We have to adapt to this new reality and work to rebuild our business while managing and keeping our staff and customers safe.”

These measures, while absolutely necessary,  will severely limit the amount of people allowed in a premises at a given time, and therefore reduce the amount of income any businesses can generate on a day-to-day basis. With running costs the same it will be not be viable at all I am afraid.  This is why we do not need loans or deferments we need grants, and fast. Zero percent VAT to kick start us is a must for us all . If we look to the measures other countries have taken to help all SMEs we now need to do the same. Our closest neighbours seem to be pulling out the stops and our government need to take heed of this. 

Finally it looks like the insurance companies have again hood winked us all. With regards to business interruption cover as they have gone to ground and are playing dumb which is shocking. These same companies made huge profits last year, and they will have huge profits again next year. You really have to ask what’s the point in paying insurance when we are being treated like this. It is delay, deny and defend when it come to us and it’s simply not good enough,  they must be held accountable . Something must be done. 

We must try to stay somewhat positive amidst all the that is going on and try to come up with  innovative ideas and think out side the box. God knows don’t be afraid to try it to keep your business afloat. For me over the past three months I’ve got to spend invaluable time with my family which was fantastic. It’s the first time in 15 years I’ve got to do this and one thing it’s made me relalise is I’ll be doing a lot more of it when I can. It’s too important not to. We will overcome this terrible time and the tide will rise again and lift all boats. So batten down the hatches,  cut the cloth and hang in there until then.

Written By: Anthony Gray

Proprietor of Eala Bhan & Hooked in Sligo

Past President of RAI