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Shane O'Leary

Times are tough, everyone knows the story. Enormous rents, upward only rent reviews, one restaurant closing every day, and all of this compounded by red tape galore. It’s a difficult time for the food retail industry, and slashing costs, and streamlining operations is vital to staying alive. Many are cutting what they see as unnecessary marketing spend, and every penny spent on promotion needs to be carefully accounted for. But cost cutting can only get you so far. What about promotion, gaining and maintaining new customers and bums on seats? How do you get footfall in the door without spending a bomb on untargeted or risky marketing and advertising?

Well, imagine almost all your current customers in one place, and add in almost all your prospective customers in the next room waiting to be told about you. Sounds exciting doesn’t it?!

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'This is the Future' say John and Sally

Local Buying, Experiental Eating, Restaurant Gardens and Edible Flowers are among the 'Trends for 2011' suggested by food writers and guide publishers John and Sally McKenna.

In their annual look forward the  Cork-based 'foodies' recommend:

My County, My Cooking
It my seem absurd to suggest that the loss of Ireland’s fiscal sovereignty in 2010 will have an impact on how chefs cook, but we believe it will. The only way to repair the economy is to repair local economies, and the best way to do this is to source all your ingredients and spend all your money in your neighborhood. It used to be “My Country, My Cooking”. In 2011 it’s going to be “My County, My Cooking”.

Texture is Tops
'Texture for me is just as important as flavour, and is such an exciting element in cuisine'. That is chef Peter Gilmore, of Sydney’s Quay restaurant, and he’s dead right. Yet texture remains something that Irish chefs don’t advert too. But, as Gilmore suggests, “The textural component is a natural part of all ingredients but can be enhanced or altered by different cooking methods”. We want more eating that runs the gamut not just of taste, but of texture, too.

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Think Tank Rejects Restaurant Plan

The Tasc 'think tank' has rejected arguments by the Restaurants Association of Ireland in support of cutting the minimum wage in the restaurants sector.

The agency, which promotes economic equality, says the abolition of wage agreements for restaurant workers will heighten inequality and depress consumer demand. Removing the pay scales would mean 'a reduction of just 61 cent per customer for a meal costing €60 for two', it claims.

The exchequer would lose about €1,143 for every full-time general worker whose wage was reduced to the statutory minimum said Sinéad Pentony, Tasc’s head of policy. 'An across-the-board 8 per cent cut in wages in the hospitality sector will cut consumer spending by approximately €170 million', she told the 'Irish Times'.

As an alternative to lower wages, Tasc recommends a temporary reduction in VAT and excise taxes for restaurants. The report also suggests the Government could issue 'time-limited consumer vouchers to all adults to be redeemed at restaurants'.

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Oliver Highlights Awards Dilemma

The protest staged by Oliver Dunne of Bon Apetit at the Irish Restaurant Awards, reflects the frustration felt by many chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers when the series of annual hospitality industry awards are announced each year.

 

These awards are organised by newspapers, dining guides, trade magazines, marketing groups and industry organisations to generate positive publicity and to make a bottom line profit. The Irish Restaurant Awards for instance, attracted 700 people at €120 a head, which should have made it a profitable evening for the organisers. Not all award ceremonies do as well of course and for some organisers, filling the room can involve a ‘hard sell.’

Award ceremony organisers also generate revenue from sponsors with some signing up a different sponsor for each award category. This again has proven to be a more difficult task during the recession than it was in the heady days of the ‘Celtic Tiger.’ Getting the numbers and the sponsors has however become critical to these awards as outgoings can be high involving the cost of the banquet, the awards show, a presenter and publicity.

Selecting winners is the most tricky part of an awards scheme. At one end of the scale, a group of ‘experts’, usually restaurant critics, food writers and retired practitioners, sit around a table and sift through the entries before selecting winners based on their own experiences. The RAI/Sunday Independent Life Magazine Irish Restaurant Awards however also involved the public. Readers of the Sunday Independent were invited to vote for the winners from a short list selected by an expert panel. It was this aspect of the awards that led to Oliver Dunne’s protest. He rightly argued that restaurants and hotels with a large data base had an unfair advantage as they could encourage their customers to vote for them- which is what the majority did. This may not be as unfair as it seems. Customers would presumably only vote for an establishment if their experience has been positive and regular customers are probably in a better position to assess a restaurant than any food critic who may only visit the establishment once or twice. The RAI scheme combined the public vote with expert opinion and in the process achieved a reasonable balance.

 

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