Top eateries in fight to survive as extended lockdown dashes hopes

Interview 21-5-20 SM Farm

A Michelin star takeaway with gourmet meals was launched earlier in the month by Michael Deane to generate cash flow at his acclaimed EIPIC restaurant on Belfast’s Howard Street.

Alex Greene, head chef at Deane’s and recent winner of the starter category in the Great British Menu BBC 2 series, has been integral to the new call and collect/delivery service.

Other restaurants here have adopted similar measures to ensure survival as lockdown looks set to continue to the end of the year.

The absence of clarity on dates in last week’s road map for exit from lockdown disappointed the hospitality industry, which has put forward a 12-point plan to safeguard the sector and warned that £1.1bn and 16,000 jobs are at stake.

There have also been warnings that many restaurants and cafes may never reopen.

The Executive’s road map exit from lockdown could mean that hospitality businesses may not be given the green light until December.

Another surge in the virus during the traditional flu season could mean smaller eateries may not open until there’s a vaccine or effective treatment.

There’s been a boost, however, from the Government with the decision to retain the staff furlough support for salaries and wages until the end of October.

Top chef/restaurateur Michael Deane, who owns Dean and Decano, the Michelin star EIPIC, Love Fish, the Meat Locker, Deane’s Vin Café and Deane’s at Queen’s, has expressed deep frustration about the Executive’s lack of guidance against a background that means restaurants in the Republic will be open in June.

“It means we can book a table in a restaurant in Dublin on 29th June and then drive to Belfast to a ghost town the same evening. Could someone explain the logic in this to me, please?

“We have staff to look after, they have mortgages, rates and other bills to pay. We have suppliers to look after as well and there’s a whole chain of people affected and I have to keep staff morale up in what are incredibly difficult times.

“We’re putting together a menu of 10-12 dishes for home delivery. We’ll take orders in the morning for evening meals.

“As an industry we all have to do whatever we can to try to keep going. Whatever happens, it’s going to take a long, long time to recover,” he adds.

Another deeply concerned is Danny Coyles, Hospitality Ulster chairman and manager of The Anchor Complex in Portstewart.

“It’s by far the biggest challenge our industry has faced in a generation,” he says. He fears the north coast, our biggest tourism hub, could be hit particularly badly at the start of the traditional holiday season. As a result, many eateries may never reopen.

Ronan Sweeney, Balloo House Group managing director, which owns the highly rated Balloo House in Killinchy, Poachers Pocket at Lisbane and the Parson’s Nose in Hillsborough, has urged an extension of the current three-months relief on rates to a year, as is the case in Britain, and a reduction in VAT.

“We’ve a substantial rates bill which we’ve been paying since starting the business,” he said. “We need Government to recognise this and to support us at this very difficult time.”

The company has also developed meal boxes for collection and an online pizza making course.

“We greatly appreciate the loyalty of our customers since the lockdown began,” he adds.

Ken Sharp, owner of the popular Salty Dog Hotel and Restaurant in Bangor, argues that hospitality needs a framework with dates to plan for a resumption of business.

“It’s like they don’t trust us,” he said. “We know dates could move and that we follow the lead of science. And we don’t know where hotels fall in the list.”

Chef/restaurateur Jim Mullholland at 14 The Georgian House in Comber has recently introduced Local@Home, delivery of meal packs with locally sourced ingredients.

He offers freshly cooked meats, fish or vegan options from the restaurant’s kitchen. Bookings are made by phone or email ahead of delivery on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Pier 36 in Donaghadee was among the first restaurants to launch a call and collect service. The success of the initiative has recently led the restaurant to extend it to provide call and collect takeaway for those missing their freshly ground coffee with cakes or biscuits.

Top chef Andy Rea, Mourne Seafood in Belfast, launched his fightback by providing novel services for the city’s seafood lovers.

In addition to call and collect freshly prepared meals, the restaurant has set up a drive through fishmongers with seafood that’s locally sourced.

“It’s a fight that we are determined to win and will do whatever we can to protect the restaurant and valued employees, many of whom have been with us for some considerable time, and our loyal customers,” he said. “We also wanted to support the local fishing industry.”

Instructions on how to prepare the meals are included in the takeaway containers. In addition, customers are able to tune into a video for advice from Andy on how best to enjoy the tasty food. A premium meal of starters and mains for two costs £36.

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