A SEMBLANCE OF NORMALITY Pubs and restaurants across the county are expected to be very busy this week with the return of indoor dining and drinking. Pic: istock
An Cailín Rua
Anne Marie Flynn
Normality still feels a bit off, but isn’t it lovely – despite rising Delta numbers – to feel like it’s slowly returning? Sure, we’ve all been a bit conditioned to behave differently, more cautiously, but the return of indoor hospitality this week is another milestone. Here’s hoping it all works out well for everyone – owners, staff, and customers.
This one is for the hospitality staff. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge their journey over the past 18 months or so. A series of sudden closures, re-openings, re-closures, and the gradual erosion of confidence, especially over the past six months. Working in tourism, this writer does hold some bias, but the resilience and adaptability of the sector never fails to astound. The pivot towards outdoor dining and drinking, the introduction of takeaway experiences, and the adopting of online technology all tell a story of an industry that is accustomed to meeting challenges, and yet remains keen and eager to do so.
Now, they face a challenge they couldn’t ever have dreamed of; managing their businesses to ensure safety for their staff while dealing with customers, vaccinated and unvaccinated and ensuring that everyone has a good, safe, and enjoyable experience. Even the most experienced manager could not have planned for this; and yet, staff around the country as young as 16 will be tasked with managing these challenges on the doors of restaurants and bars. There is, understandable, apprehension about how these conversations will go, and about how re-opening will go in general. At the edge of people’s minds remains the threat, albeit unlikely, of being closed again. It will be stressful and not without its difficulties, and we now owe it to the people working in this industry to behave with decency, kindness and understanding over the next while.
Since the first shutdown in March 2020, the hospitality industry has also experienced a steady leakage of staff. Attracted by steadier jobs with more sociable hours, staff across the board have made the move to what could be perceived as a more secure and easier lifestyle. There is a chronic chef shortage, for which innovative solutions will need to be found quickly from within the industry.
Keeping our communities alive
Tourism and hospitality are a constant amidst economic turmoil; and in rural areas, it plays more than its part in keeping communities alive. Over the next while, it is down to us, the punters, to work with bars and restaurants and to behave with a bit of consideration, to ensure that the transition will be as smooth as it possibly can be. This includes wearing a mask when asked to do so and respecting the regulations around vaccination. There is a lot of emphasis on the perceived injustice of separating vaccinating and unvaccinated people, a discomfort this writer can empathise with, and indeed, many members of the industry are not comfortable with it either. However, these restrictions are likely to be temporary, and at this point in time, the industry depends on the smooth implementation of the guidelines.
What the industry also depends upon now is the consigning of no-shows to history. Even at a time when restaurants were desperately dependent on their limited outdoor dining capacity, no-shows have been a regular feature. This should be obvious, but restaurant owners need to plan ahead for their bookings, by ordering food in and preparing it and staffing their tables. To be left with empty tables because people cannot be bothered to pick up the phone and cancel a booking is scarcely believable in the current climate, but it is so common so as to be unremarkable, it leads to disappointed customers, a cost to restaurants, and reflects poorly on us as consumers.
At a time like this, thoughtlessness becomes not merely rudeness, but becomes actively damaging to a business. So, if you can’t make your booking, at least have the decency to pick up the phone and let the restaurant a fighting change to re-sell the space.
Best of luck to everyone in the industry this week and over the coming weeks. There are many joyful occasions ahead and a pent-up demand to celebrate milestones with loved ones. Let’s ensure that these celebrations are positive experiences for those serving us, too.