• Cyril McAree

Pubs Using Restaurant Loophole to Open Early

It looks as if the pubs are going to steal a march on the restaurant sector come next month, when it is estimated that anything up to 40% of Dublin pubs will be re-opening as restaurants on the 29th of June next.

The pub trade, along with the restaurant business, has been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 lockdown and both are eagerly awaiting the planned dates for their reopening. Under the current governmental plan to return to some kind of normality, Ireland’s restaurants were the ones due to welcome customers first at the end of June, with their vintner colleagues not joining them until the tail end of the summer on the 10th of August.

But recent years have seen an insidious blurring of lines between what is a pub and what is a restaurant, even though the difference might seem to crystal clear in the eyes of most consumers. Surely, then, this latest trespass of the pub sector into the hallowed patch of the restaurants should be seen as an affront to the restaurant sector who, for so long, have had to suffer archaic licensing laws that always seemed to be bent towards the will of the vintner rather than the will of the customer?

Not so, says Adrian Cummins, who doesn’t see any division from his perspective as chief executive of the RAI (Restaurant Association of Ireland):“This shouldn’t be about ‘them’ and ‘us’,” says Cummins, “because we have about a thousand pubs that are members of the RAI. I think that, when the dust settles, we need to have a national conversation about licensing laws in the country in a fair and balance way. The most important thing for now is getting people back up and running in a safe environment.”

That being the case, is it not, therefore, time to bring in some kind of license to trade as a restaurant, similar to the manner in which publicans have to be licensed to sell alcohol? That, at least, would avoid the phenomenon of pubs essentially piggy-backing on the restaurants.

“We need to maybe look at having a more Continental-style hospitality situation. Our licensing laws are very archaic and they have to be modernised.”

The near future is one where pubs and restaurants become the one entity, says Cummins:

“I think that’s where we’re heading. Pubs have now morphed into restaurants and restaurants will morph into something where there’s more provision of alcohol… there’ll be no difference between both. You’ll either have food-and-drink or drink-only.”

One wonders if the many members of the RAI as of now share the same view of a harmonious future. Are there not any stirrings amongst members at the moment as they look at their cheeky johnny-come-lately ‘restaurants’ being allowed to elbow their up to the top of the reopening queue while they must stay locked down for another six weeks?

“There’s no animosity between members of the Association whatsoever,” assures Cummins. “Obviously, you’ll have localised skirmishes, like you’ll have in all businesses where people have differences of opinion on the ground but those are things that will need to be worked out locally.”

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