Deane urges Executive to restore confidence in hospitality industry
A surge in running costs — that saw a Michelin-starred Belfast restaurateur’s electricity bill double late last year — means the hospitality sector is “basically hanging on the edge of a cliff”.
Michael Deane has called on the Government to take a new approach to how it supports the hospitality sector.
Mr Deane, who owns six restaurants in Belfast, including Deanes at Queen’s, Love Fish and Eipic, said it is an “uphill struggle” for restaurants at the moment who normally depend on December to see them through to March.
“It’s just uphill all the time between vaccine passports, rising costs, social distancing, six at a table… this has been a battle, we’ve come through the other side and can only hope for better,” he said.
Hospitality Ulster has said that the Christmas period was the “worst in living memory” with half of businesses trading down more than 50% and one in five trading below 70%.
Electricity costs for Mr Deane have risen dramatically. His bill doubled from £4,039 in September 2020 to £8,056 in the same month last year. “We’re facing a tremendous rise in food costs, in energy costs, alcohol costs, and does that get passed on to the public. Are the public going to go out and spend that type of money in hospitality in future? I really doubt that,” he said.
Citing the controversy over vaccine passports, he said people arriving from other countries are not aware that proof is required to enter an NI restaurant. In Scotland for example, it is only required in venues such as nightclubs and large indoor and outdoor events.
It has meant repeatedly turning customers away to abide by the rules and avoid a £10,000 fine. And “mixed messages” from Stormont prior to Christmas advising people not to go out, Mr Deane said, meant there were no “corporate bookings” with tables of 10 people and more.
Mr Deane explained: “We understand about Covid, we’re not silly, we’re professional people. But I think the messaging could have been a lot better. We’re basically hanging on the edge of a cliff waiting to see what’s going to happen tomorrow.
“If you take a look around Belfast it is an absolute nightmare. Business will remain down unless someone starts putting a positive spin on this, let’s hope that it is nearly over.
“We’re still being supported by the Belfast public and the passport thing isn’t easy but if that’s what we’re told to do then that’s what we’ll do.”
Grants are on the way, he said, but it is a “drop in the ocean” and won’t cover the surge in electricity costs. “We don’t want to be standing in a vacant building, we’ve been in this city for a long time and we’ve worked very hard and we’ve added an awful lot to Belfast city centre and beyond.”
Looking to the weeks and months ahead, he said: “I would like to see a ring of confidence. Maybe people should be looking at the individual set of accounts for each business, to look at their losses and see how they can structure grants instead of basing around rateable value, where a café in some part of Belfast will get the same sort of grant money as me.
“I think they need to examine the loss of profit and turnover.”
He added: “We’re in limbo wondering what sort of problem is going to come up tomorrow. We’re fighting. I’m just wondering do people even know any of this is going on, is there anyone with their finger on the pulse, anyone at the wheel?”