Launching the 2010 Georgina Campbell Awards in Dublin yesterday, Ms Campbell described 2009 as the toughest year ever for the Irish hospitality sector.
“Many fine establishments have cut costs to the bone and their businesses are now literally hanging by a thread,” she said.
“Prices have often been reduced to an unsustainable level and yet there is constant pressure from the public to make even further cuts,” she said.
Ms Campbell said the failure of the Government to reduce costs outside the control of businesses, such as VAT and rates, meant fixed costs remained too high for further negotiation.
Consumers should really think twice before pressing for even better bargains if they wanted to continue enjoying eating and staying in their favourite places, she warned.
The awards are associated with the respected Georgina Campbell’s Ireland independent hospitality guides and website www.ireland-guide.com.
Each year Georgina and her husband, backed up by some of Ireland’s best food writers and critics, trawl the country to find the best places to eat, drink and stay in Ireland.
Ms Campbell said they had maintained their rigorous programme of anonymous assessment visits. “No prizes for guessing what we’ve been looking for this season – a determination to keep standards up, while prices fall,” she said.
Ms Campbell said there was concern that standards in Irish hospitality, generally, are visibly slipping but their award winners were made of stern stuff and absolutely dedicated to providing the very best for their customers.
Garret Byrne, former head chef at Dublin’s celebrated Chapter One, was delighted when his Kilkenny eatery, Campagne, that opened just over a year ago, won the Restaurant of the Year award.
Ms Campbell said the restaurant, which specialises in French-inspired modern cooking, provided an exceptional dining experience.
Mr Byrne, who opened the restaurant with his partner and restaurant manager, Brid Hannon in September 2008, had resisted pressure to cut prices.
“The one thing we will not do is skimp on the quality of the products we buy. I would prefer to close the restaurant rather than start doing that,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be OK if we keep ensuring people get value for money.”
Another top winner was Aherne’s Seafood Restaurant in Youghal, Co Cork, owned by the FitzGibbon Family. They won the Seafood Circle Restaurant of the Year, sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
Ms Campbell noted that servings were still impressively generous in these budget conscious times. “Lovely service, a good wine list and good classic desserts too and, for overnight guests, an excellent breakfast,” she said.
Gaye FitzGibbon said they were not getting the same number of customers as they did before the recession hit and were having to work harder to keep the business going.
“We are now trying to increase our business by promoting it as an intimate wedding venue,” she said.