When Michelin-starred Mews in Baltimore announced that it was closing for good, the news was met with sadness but little surprise.
I ate at Mews in the spring of 2018, a few months before it was awarded the star that owner Robert Collender had coveted ever since he and two friends opened their restaurant in 2015.
My meal was exceptional – steamed cod with eight kinds of seaweed prepared by chef Ahmet Dede, that was my dish of the year – and the whole experience of being a customer at Mews, with its sophisticated décor and relaxed yet professional service, was a delight.
In Dublin, corporate gigs and press launches sustain many upper-end restaurants, but this is business that simply doesn’t exist in a rural location. There’s little in the way of footfall in Baltimore, other than in the peak summer months, and Mews was only ever open for six months of the year. It’s a business model that had other restaurateurs scratching their heads, wondering how on earth they could pull it off. And it turns out that they couldn’t continue to do so.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
New to Independent.ie? Create an account
There are chill winds blowing through the hospitality industry, and Mews is not the only restaurant to have closed so far this year. Amuse on Dublin’s Dawson Street did not re-open after Christmas, and every day I hear rumours about others teetering on the brink. The expectation is that there are many more closures to come, with February predicted to be a particularly savage month.
Restaurants are affected by factors such as no-shows, rising rents, rates and insurance, staff shortages and Vat, which has returned to 13pc from a temporarily reduced rate of 9.5pc. But there are specific additional factors that affect high-end restaurants.
The simple fact is that restaurants that win Michelin stars do so because they serve food that, even when it appears simple, is complex and labour intensive – just think of all the foraging, pickling and fermenting that’s involved – and in the Irish market they find it difficult to charge a price that will cover their costs and provide a decent margin. Add to this the fact that most of these restaurants are small, and may have only one sitting per night, and it starts to become clear just how difficult it is to make the numbers work.
Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons, for instance, which earned two Michelin stars last October, has only half-a-dozen tables and most of the bookings requested are for two. On an average night it serves around 20 customers. The 18-course tasting menu costs €135, with matching wines a further €105. Of course, this is not a cheap night out, but neither does this pricing give the restaurateur much of a buffer. In other countries, prices in upper-echelon restaurants are much higher.
Most in the industry believe seismic changes are coming, and in the future there will be fast and affordable restaurants that cater to the simple demand for people to be fed.
There will also be fine-dining establishments – increasingly in rural locations, but with rooms to accommodate guests – which customers will plan ahead to visit and be prepared to pay for accordingly.
The middle ground, particularly outside the capital, looks increasingly unsustainable.
Source: Read Full Article