A NUMBER of restaurant owners in Waterford have expressed fears about the city’s economic health, telling the Waterford News & Star that they are seeing very little evidence of the recovery that seems to be happening in other parts of the country. Speaking honestly about their day to day trade, some of these restaurateurs have gone as far as to say that this is the “worst year ever”.
“We’ve found it very challenging this year and we can’t put our finger on why it’s been so poor,” said Rachael Cavaliere of Espresso on Parnell Street. “Footfall is definitely down and there are not enough shops to draw people to the city from the outside. Initiatives like Summer in the City are great, but only for the specific areas in which they are happening. Simply, there aren’t enough tourists staying in the city and that’s hurting us all.”
Trevor Prendergast from the Olive Tree on The Mall said that the last six months have been the toughest since they opened.
“Restaurants are having to deal with increases all over the place, such as rent, rates, tax etc, and yet as we stand here on the Mall, the only thing that seems to be busy is the traffic,” Trevor said. “Don’t be fooled by the buses parked up outside the Waterford Crystal showrooms, they don’t spend any of their money anywhere else. They get off the bus, have a quick tour and it’s off they go to the next place. There has definitely been a decrease in footfall, especially after 6pm during the week. From chatting to the tourists that do hang around, they are often shocked that everything closes at 5:30pm in the summer time.”
Christine Theze of La Boheme described the summer as “horrendous”.
“There has been hardly any footfall and the town is deserted,” Christine said frankly. “All our suppliers – who supply the surrounding area – are saying the same thing, everywhere is dead.”
Christine considered the factors that have led to the recent decline and admitted that the problem is “not only Waterford’s”.
“There have been a huge amount of closures in Dublin so obviously it’s not just Waterford,” she said. “It’s been a poor summer for tourists but then, it’s the year before the US election and historically a lot of Americans don’t travel then. There also seems to be very little English tourists and we had a large number of them last year. Maybe it’s all Brexit related.”
Christine said that a friend of hers, who works in a local Pharmaceutical company, always brings a team of 10-15 managing directors to Waterford in August time, and books a hotel for them each time.
“She said that she usually has to book a year in advance to get the rooms but this year, she had to do it at the last minute and was amazed that she was able to book 12 rooms in the city centre no problem,” Christine said. “That must be saying something. I think we need to advertise our city further afield.
“I brought down a well-known food blogger last weekend. She could only stay the afternoon, so it was a rushed visit and we didn’t get everywhere. She lives and works in Dublin and was quite sceptical about Waterford. She was here 20 years ago and found it grey and dismal. Boy oh boy did she change her mind. She loved everything about it. She says, in Dublin, we never hear about Waterford. Why is that, its only two hours away? We have everything on our doorstep, so targeting the Irish market is primordial. She’s going to make a point of coming back to experience more of what is so wonderful in our gem of a city.”
Donal O’Brien, General Manager of The Reg, said that there has been a definite drop in food sales this year.
“The unpredictable weather hasn’t helped as we have an outdoor terrace which is very attractive for al fresco dining,” he said. “There has also been a noticeable decline in the amount of tourists, particularly from the UK. However, another element that has to be considered is the increase in cafes/coffee shops in the city, which has saturated the market. It’s also worth mentioning Waterford Council’s strategy of driving footfall up to the Apple Market to justify the investment up there.”
Despite the feeling in other parts of the city that there has been a concentrated effort to increase footfall in the Apple Market with council support/events etc, traders down there say they are suffering as much as everyone else.
“Footfall/trade in both my establishments is significantly lower,” said Cormac Cronin, proprietor of Bodega and Burzza. “I think Brexit is having a double whammy on us as the number of UK visitors is definitely down and Irish businesses are fearful of what’s coming down the line so are saving for that rainy day.”
Cormac believes that there are wider issues at play in the region.
“The combination of no university, insufficient health care and poor IDA investment is contributing to poorly paid jobs and a higher than average unemployment,” he said. “Online shopping, access to city centre and cost of parking are also contributing to the problem. Why not introduce free parking for off peak times, or reduced parking rates?”
Cormac also highlighted the fact that there’s a chef shortage in Ireland right now which is having a profound knock on effect. He said that the Government abolishing CERT training colleges a number of years ago was “madness”. Interestingly, Cormac also mentioned the increase in restaurants and cafes in Waterford suburbs like the Dunmore Road, who also enjoy the benefits of free parking.
“How can we compete with that?” Cormac said. “There’s an imbalance there that has to be rectified.”
Jim Gordon of Revolution Bar, also in the Apple Market area, said that they had a “bumper year” in 2018 but this year “not so much”.
“There is a palpable lack of pre Brexit UK tourists, and not as many American tourists as last year,” he said. “As we have transitioned to a Craft Beer and Whiskey Bar, sales are good, but tourism is weak. Waterford has a good put through for bus tours to Waterford Crystal, but this does not translate to sales in the city centre. We have only 800-ish hotel beds in the city, compared with 1,200 in Sligo Town. We need more hotels, more hostels, more overnight stays so we can all benefit from extra money spent on food and drinks in our city.”