From removing dishes to not reopening long-established venues, owners are taking drastic action in face of rising prices and loss of customers
Fillet steak and salmon are off the menu at one of south Belfast’s favourite bistros, while in the city centre, a long-established office workers’ haunt will not be reopening.
Mr Taylor said he had already removed fillet steak from the menu of his Ormeau Road venue, as it would soon hit the prohibitively steep £40 level.
Turbot is also off, he said, and even salmon is soon to be removed. At Blank on Malone Road, the other restaurant he owns with his wife Christina, the price of the tasting menu has been increased from £50 to £70.
Mr Deane, who owns Deane & Decano and Deanes at Queen’s, as well as Howard Street’s Love Fish, Eipic and Meat Locker, said he had so far avoided increasing the £85 cost of the tasting menu at Michelin-starred Eipic.
However, he revealed he won’t be reopening his Deanes Deli/Deanes Vin Cafe on Bedford Street, which has been shut since the first lockdown in 2020, as its usual customer cohort of office workers are still absent.
Mr Deane said he was concerned at the long-term impact of rising prices on his trade. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we turn an eating out experience you used to have every week into something you can only afford to do every two months.
“The industry has taken a complete hammering since Covid, and now you’re hit with the price of energy and everything… we are fighting fire with regards prices.
“My electric bill at Howard Street has gone from £6,000 to £15,000. Every day we have had to put some increase on beef or fish because some fishermen can’t even go out on their boats — they’re in the harbour in Kilkeel because the price of diesel is so high. The big fishing firms are still going out but the smaller ones are really struggling.”
He said that some menu prices were already up, “but for the sake of customers, we are trying to hold as steady as we can”.
“Nobody wants to go out and pay £50 for fillet steak. Now it’s costing high 30s, but last year it might have been £24, £25 or £26. At the minute a Dover Sole is £28 but last year that was £22.” Last month triple-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume in Cartmel in the north of England announced its tasting menu had gone up in price from £195 to £250. It also dropped its £100 lunch menu.
Mr Deane said: “At Eipic, we’re still one of the best-value Michelin starred restaurants in the UK and we’re still £85 for our tasting menu, but we could go up to £90 or a bit more, depending on what alcohol you have.
“We have to manage our way through this but whether the costs come back down, I really don’t know.
“The prices have to change by the week. The menus are printed off every week and our accountant is looking at it, so every day our guys are having to add up what they have got to spend so the wheels don’t fall off.
“We have to make a margin of whatever we have to make every week, maybe 70%, and anything less than that we are going to be out of business.
“VAT returned to 20% in April after being 12.5% since October.
“There are a lot of people who may not see the other side of this VAT quarter. It’s going to be very tough. The good days might be over for them as they just can’t charge £30 or £35 for a fillet steak.
“You can talk about buying cheaper produce but there’s no such thing as cheap produce any more.”
He said he wouldn’t be reopening Deanes Deli/Deanes Vin Cafe on Bedford Street, which has been shut since March 2020, adding: “The offices around there are still empty, and the best we could get from our landlord was a two-year lease, and there would be no point going back for that. The street is still dead.
“Office workers tell me they’re doing what they call ‘TWAT’ — which means Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the office. So that means a long, four-day weekend for them if they’re working from home on a Monday and Friday. That’s not stabilising the city whatsoever.
“I’ll not be going back to Bedford Street and I’ll have to look at another site instead, if we get the momentum up to do it.”
Restaurant critic Joris Minne said seafood prices were going up dramatically.
“One place is doing a whole lobster and chips for £42, but you would have been able to pay £22 or £24 for that not so long ago,” he said.
“Fruit and vegetables seem to be getting a lot more expensive, and the price of starters is up, which is pretty telling.
“I think in a good restaurant you might have had to pay £5 for a nice bowl of soup, and up to a maximum of £14 for a starter, but now you’re looking at £8 to £20 for a starter.”
Jonny Taylor, owner of Shed and Blank, said: “The rising prices have been happening for about six months now, and in one of the restaurants we’ve had to put prices up and in the other, we’ve taken some things off the menu.
“In Blank, it’s always a set menu and we’ve seen prices go up and up and up, so we’ve had to increase the price. When we opened in October, it was at £50 a head, and we thought we’d put it up to £60 eventually. But prices have just kept going up, and it’s now £70 a head.
“Every week we are getting messages from suppliers that something else has gone up. For example, the price of some olive oil has tripled over the last few weeks.
“Beef has gone up, and we’ve taken fillet steak off the menu. We would have been looking at £40 for an eight-ounce fillet, and nobody would pay that.
“A couple of fish items are off the menu as well, and that started with the turbot coming off. Now the salmon is coming off, as it’s been going from about £12 or £13 a kilo to about £18 or £19 per kilo.”
He said suppliers were battling with factors like rising staff costs and the increase in petrol, resulting in price increases being passed on to him.
Shed had also implemented a strict cancellation policy, he added, with a charge of £10 per diner if a booking is cancelled within 24 hours and the table isn’t resold.
And bookings cancelled within 60 minutes incurred a charge of £30 per diner if a table is not resold.
But the co-owner of a restaurant in Co Tyrone, who did not wish to be named, said price increases at her venue had been limited to “£1 here and there”.
What we are seeing is that suppliers will often make random changes — for example, the other week, we couldn’t get bags of lettuce, or vine or baby tomatoes. But then the week after, it goes back to normal.”
Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said the global food supply chain was in an “abnormal” position. He added: “Ingredient prices have continued to rise for the past year, and the war in Ukraine has intensified these pressures causing costs for commodities like wheat and sunflower oil, as well as energy and fertiliser, to dramatically increase.
“Locally, firms across our ‘eating ecosystem’ of sectors linked to food and drink are feeling the impact of inflation on a daily business, with farmers, manufacturers, retailers and restaurants all having to deal with increased costs.
“Food and drink manufacturers have been doing their best to absorb these increased costs where possible but inevitably some of this will be passed on to consumers and reflected in price on the supermarket shelf.
“In this environment it is vital that all stakeholders across industry and government work together to keep the cost of doing business as low as possible, and stimulate growth.”