People, and their Businesses are Suffering out there; Nightmares, Stress, Worry, we are Back, to Dark 1847. The asses of Ryan, Varadkar, or Martin and their cohorts, will not be Cold this Winter? Gas Bills rising in hundreds of % and oil too. Electricity mainly run off gas and that is why we have to pay so much due to this war in Ukraine, caused by Russia Federation. Fucking Madness, Sadness?

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‘I hardly slept after my energy bill arrived: Restaurants face the cost-of-living crisis’ – 4h ago

Friday evening dinner service is under way and Mike Ryan is busy in his Limerick kitchen cutting and preparing meat. His Cornstore restaurant is well known for its steaks, he said. Fillet steak is back on the menu.

“One of the challenges is trying to make sure it is still enticing for people to come. Good meat has become very expensive and there is a balance between making a margin to keep the doors open and, excuse the pun, what the customers can swallow,” Mr Ryan said.

Mr Ryan is the director and executive chef for four restaurants in Limerick and Cork — there is a Cornstore and Coqbull branch in each city.

His complaints are the same as many operating in the sector: energy bills are sky high. Mr Ryan estimates his gas and electricity costs will still be up by 200pc this time next year. Food costs are way up.

CSO consumer price index data released last week show food inflation for the year to September was about 10pc. Flours and cereals increased 16.5pc, meat more than 12pc.

Paul Kelly, director of the Food Drink Ireland industry group, said some food commodity prices have cooled in recent months, but high energy, transport and input costs — such as fertilisers and seeds for farmers — mean gains have been wiped out.

“There is no sign of it abating, unfortunately,” he said. “The average [cost] for 2023 is going to be higher again, and that indicates we are going to see a further wave of food inflation at retail level and food service level.”

Suppliers are also challenged by competition from the UK, where energy price caps give certainty to businesses about their costs. He said this could enable them to undercut Irish exporters. Targeted supports may be needed to help these businesses manage energy costs, he added.

In Leitrim, John Kelly recently received an energy bill which left him stunned. He had a sleepless night afterwards.

This time last year the bill for The Riverbank Restaurant near Dromahair was €4,200 for two months. Now, it has risen almost three-fold — €12,500.

“Even in 2009 to 2011, in the depths of recession, I never thought I would have to close the restaurant. This is the one time we are looking at money going out and what is coming in and asking: ‘Are we able to keep the restaurant open?’” he said.

Mr Kelly does not mean a permanent closure but reducing the opening hours to bring energy costs down.

“The bar is downstairs with bar food. The restaurant is upstairs. We always opened the restaurant from Thursday to Sunday.

“Now we are looking at cutting it down to just Sunday lunch unless there is a large party that makes it worthwhile to open, heat it, turn on the lights and open an extra part of the kitchen that runs when the restaurant is open.”

He has put considerable time and effort into training a skilled staff but is worried it will be a challenge to retain them.

Between opening in 2009 and closing for the pandemic he adjusted his prices twice.

The restaurant reopened in June last year after the pandemic. The menu prices have been adjusted three more times because of increasing business costs — before the €12,500 energy bill.

“Every five or six months, or even just once per year in some cases, you might get a letter saying a box of chips is going up, or something else. But [lately] it was every two or three weeks you were getting letters from suppliers.

“Your heart might not sink but you wouldn’t sleep great that night. The night I got the electricity bill I hardly slept a wink.

“I can’t go back to my customer again, because I won’t have customers.”

If I were advising anyone I would say watch figures and margins like a hawk

If I were advising anyone I would say watch figures and margins like a hawk

Heading to Co Kildare, Paul Lenehan, who owns both Harte’s and Firecastle in Kildare town, and the Dew Drop Inn in Kill, said a tweak to opening hours helped him manage costs.

Firecastle is still open seven days, but after Covid Harte’s and the Dew Drop Inn reopened five days per week to manage a staff shortage. “Mondays and Tuesdays traditionally have always been very hard,” Mr Lenehan said. “Sometimes it makes business sense not to be open all the time. Once you make that plunge to close and see the benefits immediately, you see it makes sense.”

Gareth ‘Gaz’ Smith of Michael’s in Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, said his restaurant was doing well but the sector needed better representation.

“It is a travesty there is no specific minister for hospitality,” he said. “If you were to calculate the number of people affected if things go sideways, it deserves greater representation.”

He estimates 250,000 people work in the sector. Another 150,000 are probably dependent on it for income.

“Nobody is going to bat for us as strongly or as loudly as [a minister] could for us,” Mr Smith said. “It would also bring greater guidance as well.

“If I was advising anyone right now it would be to watch the figures and margins like a hawk. The next six months will have to be handled like a game of chess in terms of the rising costs.”

Many restaurateurs are concerned about bills due next year. Some are only surviving because state supports during the pandemic allowed them to cut Vat and warehouse tax debts.

But Vat is due to increase from 9pc to 13.5pc in the New Year and the warehoused taxes will also fall due. Some feel extending both schemes into next summer will buy businesses more time.

John Kelly is reluctant to call for more supports but said costs needed to come down. He welcomed the temporary business energy support scheme (TBESS), covering up to 40pc of the increase in electricity or gas bills up to €10,000 a month for qualifying businesses, but wonders if it will help everyone.

“That rise in electricity is unsustainable. I know they will cover 40pc of the difference but is it enough to keep people running their own business? Is it enough to make people say I am better off where I am than on the dole?,” he said. “I love my job but it is very hard to love doing something when you are under pressure.”

Back in Limerick, Mike Ryan is talking about how the housing crisis ties in with all of this.

Some of his staff left Ireland and returned home to winter out the pandemic with their families. They wanted to come back to work when it was clear the hospitality sector here was going to stay open but they could not find places to live. He barely finishes his point when there’s a cheer in the background.

“I’m standing here and the restaurant is after going dark. We must be after blowing a fuse. I’d better sort this out.”

We say goodbye so he can get the lights back on. It’s a temporary blip, part of running any business, but there are plenty of restaurants who fear this darkness will descend on them permanently.

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