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Opinion: We've spent weeks preparing for indoor dining - who is going to foot that bill?

Rachel Keane of Póg Cafe Group says people in the industry are tired and fed up of the lack of clear communication from Government.

Rachel Keane

Updated Jul 1st 2021, 3:56 PM

‘TIRED’ WOULD BE the best word to describe how we in the hospitality industry are feeling today.

Perhaps ‘exhausted’ would be better, however, that would be a bit too dramatic a way to encompass the long, drawn-out, and ultimately inevitable decision made by the Government to further delay the reopening of indoor hospitality.

One thing we are not is surprised. Over the last 15 months, we have become used to being used as scapegoats and guinea pigs, seemingly responsible for enabling the spread of this virus, like no other sector of society.

And all this despite huge cost, both financial and emotional, that has been borne at every level from owners and directors to chefs and dishwashers, that we are expected to swallow in the face of ‘the greater good’.

On the face of it, our own business has blossomed during the pandemic, opening two new locations and giving a facelift to our original Bachelors Walk café. However, all the way we have had tough decisions to make, like shutting our city centre locations in the face of Level 5 restrictions, telling loyal staff members that they face an undefined period of temporary lay-off, or having to offer a reduction in salary to others.

A long road through Covid

There have been small victories, like receiving a letter from a regular customer in your local area telling you how the positivity and welcome of your remaining team is the only thing that made them smile that day.

But even that comes at a cost; in deciding to stay open and service the community that supports you, you must weigh that up against the slim profit margins and the personal responsibility you have to keep your own staff members safe and healthy in the face of this virus.

Over the past month, we have been working day and night planning for the 5 July as our date for things to go back to some semblance of normal. We have been hiring and training new team members, working with suppliers and bringing new software systems, including reservations, HR, HACCP, stock control, etc online to make the transition as seamless and safe as possible.

We have been cleaning long-unused floors, bathrooms and shelves, polishing glassware and cutlery, rearranging chairs and tables, servicing dusty equipment.

Reopening is not just about flicking the lights back on, it takes days and weeks of planning and hard work, which now seem completely wasted. There is also the huge cost around all of this work being done. Our wage bill has significantly increased over the last month to cover all this planning, and organising. Who is footing this bill?

The level of financial support extended by Government to individuals and businesses to assist us during this time has been a lifeline. However at this stage we don’t want this security anymore.

Lack of clarity

We want to run and grow our businesses as we used to, without any handouts. The personal satisfaction of doing this successfully has been completely lost.

What has been hugely lacking is clarity and communication. Like everybody else we have received the majority of our information through watching news reports and reading the papers, leaving us totally guessing.

This is not the first time that the rug has been pulled from under us at the 11th hour, but every time we must meet each new date and deadline with perfect execution, and a hope and optimism that is becoming harder and harder to muster.

Not to mention that we as hospitality professionals are now expected to be Covid experts without so much as a phone call of support or guidance from the HSE or any governing body.

I am not privy to the information provided to Government, and I am sure that this decision was not an easy one to make. However they are there to make these tough decisions, it’s what they were elected to do.

I understand that because of the nature of this virus situations change and evolve rapidly, but these repeated knee-jerk reactions and pushing out of dates shows a staggering lack of foresight and planning.

And the most recent half-baked mutterings about indoor dining exclusively for the vaccinated only serve to confuse the situation further. There is no system in place for such a proposal, and ultimately the responsibility to enforce it would fall on the businesses themselves. We have pivoted enough already without having to be judge and jury to our patrons as well.

If we are to open, let us open. If we are not, then let us know. Treat us with the same care and respect you are extending to the most vulnerable in society. We are vulnerable too, and some of us will not survive.

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Rachel Keane is the owner of the Póg Café Group. For more, see Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and TikTok.

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