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.