President’s Report – March 2024

President’s Report – March 2024

I hope that you are all well after that little bit of snow in parts of the country over the last few days. It is good to see that our spring is getting into full bloom! I wish the same could be said about her beloved industry. It seems as though, in recent times, there has been nothing but negativity clouding our sector, and it has been very hard to find anything positive to say. 

But in preparation for this President’s Report, while searching through that cloud, I found a silver lining: it gives me great pleasure to talk about the Irish Restaurant Awards 2024. Yes, that’s right – it’s back! Over the last month, 160,000 public votes have been cast and the judging panel is currently wading their way through all of the nominations. 

The Irish Restaurant Awards have grown and grown over the past few years and have been a constant ‘good news story’ that showcases and reflects on the best of our industry. Over the next month, regional awards events will be held in all four provinces, culminating at the final in the Clayton Hotel Burlington Road, Dublin 4, in May.

These regional awards offer restaurants, pubs and cafe owners – along with their staff – the opportunity to catch up, celebrate, and have a well-deserved celebration of our industry. The awards handed out to some suspecting and some unsuspecting winners always help to galvanise restaurants – bringing huge amounts of confidence and positivity to local communities and businesses alike. 

It will, of course, be difficult to celebrate and be joyous at a time when so many of us are closing our doors, letting staff go and the fabric of our society is being shattered with the loss of so many businesses. The Restaurants Association of Ireland, spearheaded by our CEO Adrian Cummins, continues to highlight the issues facing food-led businesses. The Government is well aware of our plight, and many government officials and ministers have already voiced their support for our sector. 

The battle to secure further support for our industry from the Government is being fought each and every day – it has not been and will not be a sprint, as we may have hoped, but rather will be a crawl. We remain confident that the reinstatement of the 9% VAT rate is on the table, and by the time the next Budget is introduced we will have achieved our goal in this regard.  

This is despite the fact that the Finance Minister and his Department seem unphased by the number of closures currently being witnessed and remain defiant that the VAT rate for restaurants and cafés will not change. They say that the exchequer cannot afford it, but what I can’t understand is how they can afford not to. Surely the cost of thousands of staff joining the live register and the immense loss of tax intake and of commercial rates will end up a much larger sum than what the VAT rate reduction would cost the State. 

Surely the Government should be trying to support our industry – Ireland’s largest indigenous employer? We call ourselves a food island; that fact too is lost and unrecognised by the Government. Affordability, competitiveness and viability are what we should be all about. A recent study by suggests that Ireland is now perceived as too expensive and that tourists are choosing to stay for shorter visits. 

Considering 35% of all the money that tourists spend in Ireland is spent on food, we should be encouraging them. But how can we when we, as restaurateurs, have to hike up prices to stay viable? As things stand, it is simply a race to the bottom for so many of our small indigenous restaurants. 

The Government will eventually listen, of that I am confident. Unfortunately, it will be too late for too many. 

We will fight until the end. 

Yours in hospitality, 

Paul Lenehan

President of the Restaurants Association of Ireland

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