President’s Report – September 2019

Welcome to my September newsletter, finally after a long summer I feel like we are back into a routine, the kids are back to School and this time of year for me personally is always a quiet time in my calendar. Customers tighten up their pockets as the summer can be expensive for many families, from vacations, summer camps, keeping the family entertained and then the dreaded expense of kitting out each child for the coming term in School means less disposable income. Autumn is a time of year I relish in hospitality. The darker evenings bring a different more candlelit ambience to the restaurant and menus become heartier.

The tail end of the summer normally is a good month from a tourism perspective. July figures from the central statistics office have shown a 0.5% drop in overseas travellers. I have spoken to many restauranteurs along the border counties and it seems as if this figure is way off the mark with many restaurants claiming numbers have dropped much more that 0.5%, in some cases down 25% on previous years. The signs of a slowdown came in the first 6 months. CSO figures showed a reduction in spend and a reduction in bed nights. This trend has continued, and it is now more than ever we need protection from the government to ensure stability in our sector. I, along with my council colleagues will be lobbying ferociously in the coming weeks for a reversal in the VAT Increase and the reduction should be brought back to a rate of 9%. This rate of VAT is more applicable to our industry which has enormous surround costs. We want to be able to offer more value to our customers and tourists that visit us from overseas. In order to offer more value for money it is important that we reduce the overwhelming cost of doing business. We will need your help and I am pleading with all restaurants to contact your local representative and tell them what is happening on the front lines. In the event of a no deal Brexit it is likely one in five restaurants may be forced to close their doors unless measures are put in place to protect the industry. It is vital that Minister Ross and his department change their tune and work with Minister Donohoe in delivering a budget that will make us competitive again before it is too late. 175,000 people are employed in the sector which is worth €2.2bn to the economy. Hopefully common sense will prevail, and this year’s budget will be pro tourism.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland, as a member of The Alliance for Insurance Reform, welcome reports that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will investigate the public liability insurance market. The current structure of the market is crippling small businesses in every sector. Certain restaurants have had increases of up to 200% over the past 5 years. I have seen first-hand the impact that these extortionate premiums have on the bottom line. Many restaurants obtain finance facilities in order to stay on top of these costs and it is very clear that it is unsustainable, and our restaurants can’t be expected to hang in for another few years until a nationwide reduction in insurance premium occurs. I am urging the government to swiftly put measures in place to save businesses. It is quickly becoming a national emergency in my opinion as the impact on SMEs is devastating.

Last month I discussed the sandwich board or A frame advertising fees that will be put in place by Dublin City Council this month. This cash grabbing measure by Dublin City Council will cost restaurants €630 per annum to advertise. It is my stance that a reasonable solution should be put in place and the A Boards should be legislated to ensure that pedestrian footpaths are not blocked, and buggies prams and wheelchairs have access around the city. To rub salt in the wound it had been mentioned that it would be up to An Garda Síochána to enforce this new law. The city is scourged with criminal activity and antisocial behaviour and the Gardai are expected to enforce the law around sandwich board advertising?! I don’t think I have heard of a more ridiculous proposal. The Gardai are already over stretched and I think it is fair to say that taxpayer’s money could be put to better use.

As the summer draws to a close and we welcome the Autumn season I wish you all the very best this September and don’t stress too much constructing your Christmas menus……. Apologies in advance.

Best Wishes

Mark McGowan

President – Restaurants Association of Ireland