Firstly I would like to thank everybody across the sector for the unbelievable support that I have received since taking on the role as President. The AGM in The Europe Hotel in Killarney was a fantastic day and night. It was highly rewarding and very insightful. It is not often the opportunity presents itself to have so many speakers that are experts within our sector. I come away every year learning something that I can apply to my own business. I am already looking forward to next years AGM. I have a long year ahead so I had better not skip too far ahead of myself.
The prestigious Irish Restaurant Awards will take place in The Clayton Hotel Burlington Road on Monday 13th May. Tickets for this night are always in high demand so do try and get your ticket early to avoid disappointment, if you do not pick up an award on the night, you will certainly be blown away by the food. I am always amazed how well the team at The Clayton Hotel Burlington Road and our Chef Team manage to synchronise over 1,000 plates to table and manage to keep everybody happy in the process. Not an easy task!
After almost 90,000 online nominations; a 4% increase on last year. Each of the county winning restaurants will have had a visit from a mystery guest. All of the attributes that make a great restaurant will have been inspected, from the initial point of contact to the efficiency of the billing process. Every element will have been analysed. Ambience, atmosphere, menu provenance, social media, plate presentation, taste, service, value for money, product knowledge, to mention but a few of the ingredients that will have been critiqued. No pressure!!! All 443 inspections have been completed and the final decision rests in the hands of the judges. Personally I always enjoy this time of year as it gives all of my team a boost in morale, regardless of the result, as we will have the information we need to improve ourselves for the following year. I for one look forward to seeing who the winners will be on the night.
Aside from the awards, there is much work required in the coming months. I am fully aware of the issues all of you face on a day to day basis. The skills shortages are still having a huge impact on expansion within our sector. We intend to provide as much training as we can through our Restaurant and Hospitality Skillnet in a variety of positions that will help. We are engaging with the Work Permits Section of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and hope that they can speed up the process of issuing working visas which now stands at 11 weeks. Reducing the VAT rate will be at the top our agenda, it is clear that in the current climate it is not feasible to continue with a 13.5% rate of Vat for our sector. We will be seeking a reduction to 11% which will keep us in line with our European counterparts. It is a fair rate for our sector which is already contending with outrageous insurance premiums, high labour costs, increasing council rates, the cost of doing business is continually rising. My fear is that we will lose our competitive edge all together. I have already seen a gigantic decline from cross boarder tourism as the gap between Euro and Sterling is too arduous on the GB market. Brexit is still over shadowing us and we have a bumpy road ahead.
It is not all negative, we have seen increases from other markets and Failte Irelands Food Strategy for 2018-2023 and with The Restaurants Association as one of the main stakeholders within this initiative I have no doubt that conditions will improve from within our sector. We are a determined bunch that have showed resilience in the past and I have no doubt we will stay the course and contribute to making Ireland one of the first thoughts on people’s minds when it comes to food tourism.
I am looking forward to my term in office and I will do my very best to make an impact in improving conditions in our industry. Thank you for your time and hopefully we will meet at the Awards on Monday May 13th.