Let’s start with good news: overseas visitors’ experience with food here now far exceeds their expectations prior to their arrival in the country.
These happy tidings emerged during Fáilte Ireland’s one-day Grow Your Own Food programme for VFI members which finished touring the country recently. The seminars help vintners optimise those food and drink practices that can help boost a pub’s food business and came about as a result of Fáilte Ireland’s Food & Drink strategy 2018-2023 with the aim of increasing the number of tourists in pubs in rural areas.
One such seminar was presented recently in the Riverside Park Hotel in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, by Fáilte Ireland’s Kevin Brown who believed that by the end of the day the attending vintners would have a better understanding of the food and drink opportunities for their business.
Crucial role of pubs
Pubs have a crucial role to play in delivering the tourist offering and telling that story, believes Fáilte Ireland and the seminar’s purpose was to provide the tools necessary to optimise profits while delivering an authentic, quality and value-for-money experience for the pub visitor.
Irish food & drink experience – never better
The Irish food and drink experience has never been better: “Ireland is in prime position to become the next big European food destination… what all travellers will discover is the exciting food and beverage revolution redefining Irish cuisine” stated last January’s edition of Vogue magazine.
Tourism & food
Tourism is on the rise here with overseas tourists up 43% since 2012 to an estimated nine million in 2017. To the end of August this year already some 7.4 million tourists have visited our shores.
Food & drink consumption here accounted for around €2 billion or 35% of total tourism revenue from visitors to Ireland last year but consumer expectations around food and drink are changing.
50% of visitors say food is more important now than it was five years ago while 67% are today interested in provenance thus driving the search for authenticity and cultural experiences to that area of ‘taste of place’.
But such ‘traceability’ comes at a (labour) price to trace that Irish beef all the way back to the field and the farm, Kevin Brown pointed out. Nevertheless, he believes that pubs can strengthen their food and drink experience by offering this ‘taste of place’ while knowing what’s unique about their own story and how to communicate it to others.
Tourism and drinks
Irish drinks and locally-produced drinks are becoming just as important as the burgeoning number of microbreweries while Irish whiskey has become the fastest-growing premium spirit in the world.
When respondents who’d not visited Ireland were asked in a 2016 WFTW World Food Travel Monitor “What stands out when you think of ‘Irish food & drink’?” the responses proved illuminating.
Interesting, too, that the rating for visitors’ food & drink experience in Irish pubs currently stands at 85%.
But in speaking with tourists to the country about what we could improve on, Fáilte Ireland found that some favoured lighter dressings while others found that pub menus tended not to vary much around the country.
In Enniscorthy, the seminar participants were asked “What makes a great Irish pub?”
Amongst the responses were:
Sense of community
But it’s not just about tourists, the pub’s local customers should also get a unique experience on visiting.
And ‘drinks’ are not just about craft alcohol drinks but about non-alcoholic drinks too.
“If we can marry the drink to the food then we’ll have something really exciting and unique to Ireland,” stated Kilkenny publican and former VFI President Pat Crotty in a short Fáilte Ireland video, “Our own young people are much more likely to spend their money on an experience so if the visit to your premises is an ‘experience’ they’re going to walk away happy.”
Ireland can count itself among the new generation of food destinations, believes Food writer and McKenna Guides producer John McKenna in the same video while the Dublin Bar Academy’s Ronan Rogerson added, “If you go to France or Italy you have expectations but when coming to Ireland people don’t necessarily have the same expectations and so they’re absolutely blown away by what they find here….”
Improving the definition of ‘local’
‘Local’ can sometimes be difficult to define.
In Ireland one cannot source everything within a 60-mile radius 12 months of year so how might one better leverage the value that one’s customers place on local sourcing?
Perhaps by highlighting the produce that we’re using already or by extending the scope of locally-sourced food on menus, suggested Kevin.
Vintners might, for example, check with their chicken supplier as to the source of their chicken – is it locally produced or from abroad?
‘Supporting local’ can result in €45 of every €100 spent in a local business coming back to the local community as opposed to just €14 from a multinational chain, for example, according to Local Food , Understanding Consumer Attitudes, published by Bord Bia last year. And so those attending the Enniscorthy seminar were asked ‘What’s the biggest problem in locally sourcing one’s food supplies?”.
The general answer seemed to be “Cost”.
But there are solutions.
Choosing produce in season avoids excessive cost – when strawberries are out of season, for example, don’t use them.
Make a ‘local hero’ from some of the ingredients supplied locally, suggested Kevin, such as making a syrup to give an ‘essence’ of the area.
Alternatively one could grow one’s own food or encourage someone else to do it.
If you have no food or cannot do it, focus on ‘no cook’ solutions, he advised – make use of local oysters etc.
Alternatively, link with a local food delivery/collection service or bring an independent food truck into the car park for a season to test demand.
A menu needn’t be massive.
The Georgina Campbell Award-winning Pot Duggans in Ennistymon, for example, has a simple menu: stew, salad and toasted sandwich.
If you do food well, how do you tell people about it?
What makes people come through your doors?
Are you telling your local story?
If done well, this can create one or two extra customers a night which can be extrapolated into a year, suggested Kevin.
Incentivise staff to build their general food and drink knowledge and foster an appreciation for what you offer.
95% of 18-34 year-olds are most likely to follow a brand via social networking these days. That’s the significance of social media so publicans need to understand the type of person they’re talking to. Millennials & Generation X differ in their demands, for example. Millennials prefer inspirational and entertainment content more than Generation X.
One third of all social media content is via mobile which has potential for food and drink content. So think of anything you post up as your ‘upsell’.
Social media musts
- Know what you want to say and how you want to say it
- Show personality and be personable
- Get people talking – to you and to each other
- Don’t take criticism personally but do respond, nicely!
Tastings, tips, & producers
Involve your food producers in decision-making and encourage their participation by hosting pop-up events at your premises.
Serving food gives you access to new consumer markets, but an enhanced quality offering drives upselling and sales.
If you’ve just one dish that’s home-made, that’s the selling point, concluded Kevin Brown.
Fáilte Ireland’s Trade Portal is now available for publicans to use in helping deliver profits from food.