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"When people are losing their jobs, they're not eating out"

Restaurateur Paul Flynn on what it’s really like trying to run one of the country’s top restaurants in an environment where people are losing their jobs and struggling to pay the mortgage.

Paul Flynn

AS WITH MANY other businesses, the last two and a half years have been fraught with anxiety.

Despite creaking bones and diminishing stamina, my wife Máire and I find that we are working harder than we ever have to keep everything going.

I grant a lot of this is due to us adding to our business when things took a dive. The cookery school was another feather in our cap – and, one I hasten to add,  I wouldn’t change. However, the hustle factor has been ramped up tenfold.

Before our days work even starts, we put into practice the ideas we have hashed out from the night before, usually over a wind-down glass of wine.

What promotion do we have?  What do we tell in the hope that they might include it in a weekend supplement?  What can we come up with that will make people travel to us instead of the scores of establishments in the same position around the country?

I console myself in the fact that we are no longer a standalone restaurant.  What would we have to tell the people in that case, that we had lowered our prices yet again or our early bird menu can now be had at 2000 prices.

However, this relative comfort has come at a big price.  We bought high.  Such was my confidence at the most important time of my life I chose not to apply my well honed haggling skills.  I practically offered the auctioneer more money on top of the king’s ransom he was asking for already.  I have come to rue that day of days when I chose to be penny wise and pound foolish.

We are where we are, fourteen years after we first opened in Dungarvan.  Máire and I have accomplished much.  Best Restaurant, Best Chef, Best Cookery School, Best Cookbook, Best Wife (I made that one up but there should be an award!).

What we don’t have after all that is security.  Who has these days, you may – rightfully – retort.

We are holding our own.  The good people of Dungarvan have been loyal over the years but the fact remains that we are in a town of 10,000 people.  When people are losing their jobs and struggling with the mortgage, they are hardly going to spend money in a restaurant.  I would be the same.

I am not that delusional to think that what we do for a living is that high up on people’s necessities.   I sometimes find myself suffering from the green eyed monster when I hear friends turning over multiples of what we are, despite being relatively newly open.  I am, after all, human .

A reputation will not make the repayments

A restaurant needs people, life, laughter.  Without it, its soul is sucked away and – with it – the confidence and bravado that make people want to go there.  I came back from holidays this year wanting to change the food, simplify it, strip away the bling.  Do it with less staff and thereby affording a little leeway with the pricing.

Maturity and experience has taught me to be confident in my cooking and, even with this wisdom,  I began to lose the sense of our value.   In Dublin recently I ate in a café. The menu pricing was almost the same as ours, for the cheapest possible ingredients.   There has to be some middle ground here: good value shouldn’t mean cheap.

We received a letter from one of our suppliers last week – this paragraph leapt out:

“Between our customers expectations, the all too obvious trading conditions and the suppliers needs, small businesses like ours are in a vice.  We will get through it, it’s not about making money now, it’s surviving.”

Our school and Townhouse is an investment for the future, far more tangible than the speculation a lot of us indulged in.

Our reputation is the most valuable commodity of all.  This is the thing that will sustain us.  We built it, and we look after it -  but a reputation will not make the repayments.  We have to do that on our own.

The Tannery Restaurant Townhouse and Cookery School, Dungarvan, Co Waterford is on 058 45420 or email info@tannery.ie

About the author:

Paul Flynn

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