Ireland may not have the luxury of Spain’s good weather, especially in the summer, but we can all take inspiration from the way Spaniards have their evening meals.
The concept of tapas is based on consuming small dishes of food with a drink in one place, then move on to another bar with a different selection of food accompanied by more drinks.
Tapas can be loosely translated as starters or appetisers, but they can also be miniature versions of a main meal.
Here’s a proposal: adopt the small plates business model in Ireland as a way for Irish businesses to increase profitability after lockdown.
According to Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, the food service industry in Ireland was worth €8.6 billion in 2019. €2 billion from the €9.3 billion Irish tourism industry was spent on food and drink.
Its mid-range estimates of losses to the food and drink industry post Covid-19 amount to €4.3 billion, with a worst case scenario of €5 billion.
There are also increased costs of operating a business after lockdown and new protocols to adhere to safety measures.
Dining Experience After Lockdown
At the time of writing, customers are allocated 1 hour and 45 minutes to have a meal. There is a 15 minute turnaround time to clean and sanitise tables between each booking.
Customers who are planning a night out will only have less than two hours and then go home. Pubs have to serve a meal to be able to stay open, so there is no option at the moment to have drinks in a pub after having a meal at a restaurant.
What would really help both the economy and the enjoyment of the general public on an evening out is to adopt the tapas concept. Restaurants can agree to offer small plates as part of their menu with a limited selection to speed up ordering. Small plates can be meat, fish, vegan and vegetarian.
Tapas restaurants in Ireland offer small plates for around €8-15 each, so that would comply with the current regulations to spend at least €9 on food when buying alcohol.
Because currently you can only spend 105 minutes at one establishment, you could potentially visit 3 or 4 different restaurants in one evening. To prevent anti-social behaviours, each restaurant can choose to put a cap on the maximum amount of alcohol that can be purchased in one sitting, at their discretion.
By visiting more than one restaurant customers could have a full evening of rest and entertainment within a reasonable budget and restaurants could benefit from the higher turnaround of customers. This would particularly benefit those restaurants that are less popular or don’t have big advertising budgets.
This business model (or should we call it a gourmet treasure hunt?) would also encourage collaboration among restaurateurs. To make an example in Athlone, Asian-themed restaurants such as The Silver Oak Indian Restaurant, Spice India and Jalan Jalan could join forces and agree on creating small plates menus to take customers on a culinary journey. Talking of Athlone and tapas, there is a gap in the market for Spanish tapas restaurants left by places such as Las Radas (now 1810 Steakhouse on Barrack Street).
Councils could also give financial incentives to restaurants to create sheltered and heated outdoor dining areas.
Moving forward, this initiative could be promoted by tourist offices, thus giving more visibility to local restaurants that may be overlooked otherwise, in line with Fáilte Ireland’s Taste The Island initiative.