The owner of a popular south Belfast restaurant said he has never experienced the crippling costs facing the business he has run for over two decades.
Restaurants, cafes and businesses have closed across Northern Ireland, while those still standing must grapple with the soaring costs of food and energy.
Shu restaurant owner Alan Reid said there is no difference in the number of people coming into the Lisburn Road eatery, but the cost of doing business is crippling.
This encompasses many different challenges not only faced by businesses and restaurants, but regular consumers as the cost-of-living crisis races towards a difficult winter.
Yesterday, the Bank of England announced interest rates rose to 1.75% with inflation now set to hit over 13% with predictions of a recession set to hit the UK later this year.
Mr Reid said his popular restaurant has yet to face any major impact on his customers but says behind the scenes it’s a different story.
“We were full Tuesday and Wednesday night there, maybe we’re not as busy at lunch due to the effects on the corporate scene but at this moment in time what is hitting us hard is the input costs of doing business, utilities, and in particular the cost of cooking oil,” he said.
Cooking oil faced major shortages earlier this year after Ukraine, the world’s top supplier of the ingredient, was invaded by Russia.
“It’s at least tripled in cost, it runs into a huge amount of money for our type of business. Something which was costing us around £6/7,000 a year before is now hitting around £24,000,” said the businessman.
Mr Reid says the increase in prices of items such as oil outweighs the increases in food items like dairy and meat products his restaurant would use, but what is affecting his most is the cost of actually running his restaurant.
“Our electric has gone from 20k to 60k a year, they are huge numbers, our numbers related to our food, they’re certainly not going down but they’re not significantly impacting us like our energy or gas costs.”
He also says there have been issues in recruitment, saying he’s found it incredibly difficult to gain new staff due to “a low unemployment rate".
When asked about if any of his loyal customers have shared any concerns with him about the rising costs of everything affecting their dining choices, Mr Reid says he believes his customers are more than aware of the current climate in terms of rising costs, adding in his opinion he thinks people value a social experience of a restaurant more.
“I think our customers by and large are very well-informed. They expect prices to go up and whilst it doesn’t mean they can afford to pay them, we are at an intersection, but have I seen that yet? No.
“I think people really value the social aspect of a restaurant, we’re social animals, and that’s not going to change but it’s whether everyone can afford it to the same degree and our trade has actively still been very good.”
He warns, however, that a small seemingly insignificant change such as cutting down eating out to once a month could be catastrophic for restaurant owners.
“It’s a competitive market in the restaurant trade but people are not going to stop going out. All it needs for restaurants to feel a lot of pain is for people to cut back from going out twice a month to once, if everyone started doing that you’ve cut 50% of the trade and you would certainly see a lot of casualties.”
He continued his warning looking ahead to the approaching winter months.
Mr Reid says the bill for Shu’s electric use was higher last month, during which the restaurant was closed for holidays for ten days, than it was last winter.
“The big impact of all this will hit as we come into the winter months, people don’t need to heat their houses yet and we don’t need to heat the restaurant and those utility bills will be brutal in the winter. It’s a ticking time bomb, it’s extremely worrying."