Christmas was not the turkey we expected say restaurateurs

Despite fears to the contrary, the Christmas period turned out better than hoped for by restaurateurs around the country, according to a survey of Irish catering establishments.

A survey carried out by Hospitality Ireland magazine showed that almost half of restaurants around the country described their business over Christmas as “good”, and “better than expected”. Forty-eight per cent of restaurants said their Christmas period had been good, with 31 per cent saying it was average. Only 15 per cent reported that it had been poor and seven per cent terrible.

Many restaurants were pleased with the Christmas figures, with 49 per cent saying the period had been better than they had expected. Twenty-six per cent said figures were the same as they had expected, and 25 per cent said it had been worse than expected. However, these reasonably encouraging figures were achieved without the usual seasonal prop of Christmas parties.

Seventy-nine per cent of restaurants questioned had seen a downturn in Christmas parties, which many blamed on the attrition levels in sectors such as property and banking, traditionally big spenders at this time of year. Sixteen per cent of restaurants saw no downturn in Christmas parties, while five per cent saw an upturn.

Of the restaurants that had seen a reduction in Christmas party spending, 20 per cent of restaurants recorded a fall of less than 10 per cent. Forty four per cent of restaurants saw a reduction of between ten and 20 per cent, while 22 per cent of restaurants saw a reduction of between 20 and 50 per cent, and 15 per cent of restaurants saw party spending fall by more than a half. Many restaurants reported that midweek nights had seen the biggest fall in customer numbers, as people found it easier to make bookings for Friday and Saturday nights.

Forty two per cent of restaurants said that midweek night figures were lower than usual, with 34 per cent seeing similar numbers of diners to previous years and 25 per cent seeing more. Saturday nights saw only 29 per cent of restaurants recording lower numbers of diners, with 57 per cent seeing similar numbers to previous years and 14 per cent seeing larger numbers. However, despite the good news, the Hospitality Ireland survey found restaurants pessimistic for the coming year, with nearly a fifth, 18 per cent, of restaurants expecting it to be terrible and 42 per cent expecting it to be poor. Twenty-five per cent of restaurants expected the year to be average, and 15 per cent good.

Asked which quarter of 2009 they saw as likely to be the toughest, restaurateurs were nearly unanimous in stating that they expected the January to March period to be the worst. Ninety per cent expected Q1 to be the worst, with five per cent saying Q2 would be the toughest and five per cent saying Q3; none said Q4.

Responding to the Hospitality Ireland survey, Gina Murphy, president of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, said: “Delighted to see the Hospitality Ireland survey is the first piece of good news in what will be a difficult but not, we believe, a catastrophic year for the industry. The Hospitality Ireland survey proves that despite difficulties in our economy, small pleasures, like eating out with friends and family, is something people are not willing to give up on.”

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