Has Dublin reached peak restaurant?

We explore the industry as the city's recovery draws a host of new players into the market...

Has Dublin reached peak restaurant?

The Winding Stair Restaurant / Facebook

If you take a quick walk around the streets of Dublin it's clear that the city is now awash with new restaurants. If you are a hip foodie or after a traditional stew there is probably a new restaurant out there for you.

But are we in danger of over saturating the market and can the levels of qualified chefs cope with the increase in restaurants?

The outlook for restaurants in 2016 was the tasty topic explored during the first Down to Business Industry Review of the New Year.

Elaine Murphy from the Winding Stair, The Woolen Mills and The Washerwoman restaurants, Niall Sabongi from Klaw and Rock Lobster, and Robbie Fox from Beluccis all joined the show to discuss the challenges of running a restaurant.

Eating into Ireland's recovery

Each of the three restaurateurs agree that the outlook for the industry is positive entering 2016 as the economy continues to recover and tourism numbers are set to bounce again, but there are still a number of challenges facing the industry.

"It's always been extremely competitive" Niall Sabongi reflects, as a new class of young Irish talent enters the industry and more and more businesses compete with low prices and on razor thin margins.

"Some of the newcomers are extremely low on price and may not last," Elaine Murphy adds - she opened two restaurants in 2015 - and is currently planning the launch of a third which is due to open during 2016. 

She says that the focus of those businesses has been on food with an "ethos behind it" from trusted suppliers and that sticking to these values has helped the business to grow:

"We held firm on who we were, we didn't try to do too many things. We didn't try to expand, or to compromise the product. We just held firm and continued with that product."

Robbie Fox also raised concerns about the future of inexperienced entrants to the market selling inexpensive food and operating on tight margins - as competition heats up in the capital they could be the ones to suffer.

Bottoming out

Mr Fox had to downscale during the recession, in 2009 he lost his four businesses - nightclub Renards, and restaurants Tante Zoe's, Brown's Barn and Barracuda - they went into liquidation, leaving him with debts of €6m.

He says that he could never give up when facing that adversity, his main business focus now is Beluccis in Ballsbridge.

Elaine Murphy had a different experience during the economic downturn, she says she acquired her businesses at "the bottom" of the property market.

"One of the hangovers from the recession has been that there's a slight collective belief that we were ripped off" - she continues - and that people are coming to restaurants "looking for a bargain."

Niall Sabongi adds that "during the recession it just got ridiculous" as prices plummeted.

Live issues

All of the three panelists raise concerns over plans to introduce calorie counts on all menus in Ireland - saying that it is impractical in standalone restaurants with revolving (and evolving) menus.

It would "ruin the experience of eating out" according to Mr Fox - who says that eating out is a treat that diners should be able to enjoy without being made to feel guilty about ordering a desert.

Ms Murphy adds that calories are an arbitrary and often inaccurate way of looking at foods' nutritional value.

Each of the restauranteurs also raised concerns about a lack of cooks and chefs coming into the industry.