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'It's been manic' – Restaurants and bars struggle with avalanche of bookings as €50m expected to be spent this weekend

Irish restaurants and hotels are struggling to cope with an avalanche of festive bookings ahead of their busiest weekend of the year.

Some €50m will be spent on hospitality over the next three days as people look to make the most of Covid-19 restrictions being loosened for the hospitality sector.


In Cork alone, some €10m is set to be splurged as an Irish Independent survey of a number of city restaurants revealed little or no availability in restaurants and gastropubs.

Data from real-time online booking network  also shows many of Dublin’s most popular venues are fully booked tonight, with only limited outdoor seating available at some venues.

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However, this comes as the country faces icy, windy and wet conditions across the weekend.

Martin McCAffrey, owner of the Hole in the Wall

Martin McCAffrey, owner of the Hole in the Wall

But business owners in the hospitality sector, who have been desperate to open after a turbulent eight months, are anticipating a profitable few days.

The Hole in the Wall pub on Blackhorse Avenue in Dublin – a venue renowned for its dramatic Christmas decorations – is no longer taking online reservations after its system crashed on Wednesday.

Owner Martin McCaffrey told this newspaper they received more than 1,500 emails in two days from customers looking to book a table at Europe’s longest pub.


“We’ve had to put two staff on the switchboard to ring people back to confirm bookings, it’s been manic,” said Mr McCaffrey.

The Shelbourne Hotel – where one night will set you back close to €500 – is fully booked for the weekend.

“Many choose to mark or celebrate Christmas in The Shelbourne and while this year celebrations will be different and gatherings will be smaller, our guests are happy to adapt their tradition as required,” said Yvonne Donohue, director of sales and marketing.

Staff Lauran O'Reilly and Morad Gharib of Luigi Malones restaurant, Cork city.

Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Staff Lauran O'Reilly and Morad Gharib of Luigi Malones restaurant, Cork city. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

This weekend is set to prove one of the busiest of the year for the hospitality industry as families and friends gather to celebrate the end of a six-week lockdown.

One Cork restaurant, Luigi Malones, revealed it had every available booking for Saturday dining until the New Year snapped up within just three hours of their booking system going live.

Luigi Malones general manager, Morad Gharib, admitted they were stunned by the level of interest.

“We went live for bookings after it was confirmed that restaurants would be allowed reopen for the Christmas season. It was absolutely crazy. We thought the booking system might crash because the demand was so great.”

Cork members of the Irish Hotels Federation, Restaurants Association and Cork Business Association said December 4 and 5 could emerge as amongst the most important trading periods of the entire year for pandemic-hit retailers.

A survey of ten Cork restaurants revealed not a single available booking for a Saturday night over December 5 and 12.

Many of Dublin’s most popular restaurants and gastro bars are fully booked tonight, with only limited outdoor seating available at some restaurants.

Cafe en Seine on Dawson Street received 140 bookings alone yesterday via .

La Peniche restaurant manager ,Shiful Islam pictured ready for customers at the restaurant on the Grand Canal at Mespil road. Picture:Frank McGrath

La Peniche restaurant manager ,Shiful Islam pictured ready for customers at the restaurant on the Grand Canal at Mespil road. Picture:Frank McGrath

Some business owners learned harsh lessons after the last reopening, with many losing out due to no-shows and last-minute cancellations.

La Peniche restaurant on the Grand Canal – like many other restaurants – now requires deposits.

“As the restaurant is on a boat, we don’t store our food and have to buy it fresh every day,” said the restaurant’s marketing manager, Wayne Lawlor.

“Last time there were 11 no-shows and cancellations in the one day and the owners lost out on a lot of money.”

Tony McMahon, who operates Waterford restaurant Bellissimo, said bookings have been very heavy for Friday nights, Saturday nights and Sunday nights.

“One of the difficulties we have faced is that table numbers are restricted to six – and many people want to book tables for eight, ten or 12 people,” he said. “Added to that is the fact a lot of restaurants are already operating to limited capacity.”

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Hotels are also experiencing a surge in demand, despite being hamstrung by the inter-county ban which remains in place until December 18.

Honor Byrne, commercial director of the Cliff at Lyons Hotel in Kildare, said bookings “look great” for the weekend.

“We have a few rooms left but I think they will fill as there is a lot of interest. The people of Kildare are ready for a break or night away after the lockdown, and are looking forward to treating themselves or loved ones in the run-up to Christmas.”

Kingsley Hotel general manager, Fergal Harte, said their Cork restaurant, Fairbanks, has been booked out for every Saturday up to the New Year.

“We are delighted because it has been much busier than anyone expected,” he said.

Strong bookings have also been recorded mid-week for get-together such as afternoon tea.

Mr Harte said the booking tsunami is being led by families who want to finally mark long-delayed birthdays, anniversaries, engagements and other special occasions.

Trigon Hotels director, Aaron Mansworth, said strong bookings have been recorded for people eating and drinking, but overnight accommodation has been constrained by the inter-country travel ban.

“We have had good bookings but mostly for after the December 18 period,” he said.

“About 70pc of hotel bookings come from out-of-county customers so the inter-county travel ban has obviously had an impact.”

Allen Flynn, one of the three Flynn brothers who own The Flynn Hotel Collection, said they have been “overwhelmed by the response form our loyal customers and new customers”.

Successive lockdowns have battered the local hospitality industry in Galway.

But Padraig Lally, owner of the legendary Taaffes Bar on Quay Street, is feeling positive for a busy December.

“It was strange, it was eerie, to see how quiet it was, particularly during the first lockdown,” said Mr Lally.

“It was like a ghost town. This weekend, you see it, people are out and in the shops. Galway is waking up again and it’s great to see it.”

Paul Donnellan, the owner and head chef of Gemelle’s on Quay Street in Galway city centre, says bookings have been coming hard and fast.

“We open tomorrow and already most of the weekend is booking out. We are due to be very busy this weekend.

“People have been locked up so long they are dying to get out and we are dying to get back open.

“I think people will come out an support us. Most of our bookings are done online and I have seen them flooding in over the past few days.”

Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), said it’s been a “hectic” few days as the hospitality sector prepares to reopen.

“December usually makes up 30pc of the hospitality sector’s profits, so this weekend will make up 10pc alone.

“We’re expecting at least €50 million across the board.”


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