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Are loose alcohol-sale laws turning Irish diners into a nation of 'handbag drinkers'?

Restaurateurs want a shake up of liquor pricing… and immediate action to fix a chef-shortage “crisis”.

Image: M. M. Sand via Flickr

LAX ALCOHOL-SALES LAWS and high wine taxes are turning penny-pinching diners into a legion of “handbag drinkers”, restaurateurs claim.

The submission from the lobby group representing the sector comes from a wide-ranging pre-budget pitch to cut down the threats to Ireland’s rebooted tourism industry.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said there should be a massive cut to taxes on wine along with better regulation of cheap alcohol sales in supermarkets to protect the sector.

It also said the government needed to step in to tackle a growing chef-shortage “crisis” in Ireland and immediately create 1,000 workplace apprenticeships to fill the shortfall.

The RAI wants the special VAT rate of 9% for food and drink suppliers to be kept in place for the next six years, as well as a cut in overheads and regulations affecting restaurants.

A nation of “handbag drinkers”

RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins told TheJournal.ie that restaurateurs were finding groups of diners smuggling cheap alcohol to their tables and then making their own mixers to cut their bills.

“It’s usually groups of six or more and stereotypically it’s young women … they’re bringing in cheap vodka and they’re topping it up with soft drink they buy at the restaurant,” he said.

Cummins said the government had done nothing to tackle the cheap availability of alcohol in supermarkets across the country and a minimum price needed to brought in, along with laws to tackle below-cost sales.

“They’re often selling it for less than we can buy it for – so obviously there is a problem there,” he said.

RAI Against Value Added Tax Increases Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

The RAI has also called for the budget to reverse the “savage increases” in excise duty on wine, which it said should carry the same 9% VAT rate as restaurant food.

The excise tax on wine has been increased in the last two budgets – up €1.50 per bottle since late 2012 on top of the 23% VAT level - and is the highest rate of any country in the EU.

A chef crisis?

The RAI said the shortage of chefs across the country had reached “crisis point” and the problem was threatening the whole tourism sector, which has added nearly 24,000 jobs since the low VAT rate was brought in to help stimulate business in 2011.

It wants a training fund to be set up straight away so employers could fill the “huge demand” for chefs of all levels.

Cummins said restaurants had been advertising for chefs but were struggling to get the applicants they needed because not enough students were being taught the trade.

“The problem is that the colleges don’t have enough spaces being created so that we can get the chefs we need,” he said.

READ: Authorities ‘should offer compensation to restaurants’ over water restrictions

READ: Government urged to keep lower VAT rate for tourism

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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