I hope the Halloween & Autumn period kept you and your staff very busy and we can now look forward to the festive period. This time last year we were at level 3 lockdown and we were allowed to serve a maximum of 15 customers outdoors. It was hard to see light at the end of the tunnel, little did we know we still had another year of restrictions to follow.
As case numbers continue to rise, they are as high as they were since the peak last January but the difference this time is our high levels of vaccination. If we could just get the remainder of people on board we will be in a much better position. Currently 10% of our unvaccinated population are driving 60% of ICU admission. To maintain our economic recovery and to avoid more lockdowns it is important we are prepared for additional capacity in our hospitals as the winter flu season approaches. As industry leaders we have a responsibility to ensure there is continued compliance throughout our businesses and we do our part in keeping customers and staff safe. We are entering the most challenging time of year in fighting this virus. It is a time of year our businesses experience high volumes of customers indoors and social interactions are more frequent. We have to remain vigilant and not get complacent. We are now living with the virus. The most recent easing of restrictions gave way to 3 very important guidelines; multiple tables, increased table numbers and increased opening hours. We are now allowed 10 adults and 5 children along with multiple tables which other than social distancing and the wearing of face masks brings us back to a more regular service. We are now finally in a position to plan rosters efficiently and take larger bookings for Christmas.
We have many challenges over the coming months and none greater than the issue of staff shortages. We are continuously working hard to solve the issue. We have been working with the Department of Social Protection encouraging staff from around Europe to come to Ireland to work. The Department have an upcoming European online job day for Spain on November 4th, this event was advertised in Ireland and Spain and will hopefully bring more awareness to European hospitality staff. The current cost of doing business is the other issue effecting Irish Restaurants and hospitality. Inflation is very evident and Irish businesses are being hit hard from all angles. The cost of gas and electricity has increased dramatically, our labour cost has sky rocketed, many restaurants claiming wage costs are touching 45%. The cost of produce has steadily increased which has a domino effect and can be seen on menus nationwide. This will have a negative impact on overseas visitors as Ireland is becoming a very expensive place to travel. The vat rate will rise to 13.5% next September which will add even more pressure. We are continuously squeezed and it is very hard to see why anybody would want to open a business in the current climate.
Our 49th AGM will take place virtually on Tuesday 9th of November and my tenure as President will come to an end. I was elected in April 2019 and my opening speech in The Europe Hotel in Killarney had set out a list of priorities that I wanted to tackle such as skills shortages, insurance costs, reduction in Vat, cost of doing business etc among a myriad of issues restauranteurs face day to day. The challenges our industry faced during my time as President were unprecedented due to the pandemic which papered over many cracks, the majority of time was spent lobbying for business supports that would keep businesses afloat over the past 19 months. The focus was getting businesses trading again but I look forward to assisting the incumbent President on each of these issues at National Council level. It was an honour and a privilege to serve as President of The Restaurants Association of Ireland. I would like to thank our CEO Adrian Cummins, Public Affairs Manager Amy Sweetman and the rest of the team in RAI Headquarters for the support over the past 2 ½ years, the RAI National Council for their commitment and drive, business partners, My wife Andrea and children Charlie & Amelia for their love, patience and endless support.
Mark McGowan President