The LVA’s new Chair Ronan Lynch is the proud proprietor of an authentic Victorian pub (once a Mediaeval inn) in Dublin’s York Street.
The Swan bar has been in the Lynch family since 1937. Ronan’s grandfather John purchased it (having worked in Sheehans of Chatham Street), passing it onto son Sean (Ronan’s Dad) before Ronan himself got involved in the late 90s.
“I worked there all during school and college,” says Ronan who recalls picking up glasses and ash trays of a Friday night when he was 12.
In addition, using his J1, the student Ronan worked on events including international boat shows and food festivals in the US in the early 90s, giving him further grounding in the hospitality industry.
Even when he got a job back here working in finance he could be found in the pub serving customers before finally becoming involved full-time in 1997.
Working there boy to man he must have witnessed quite some change in the licensed trade.
“It’s a totally different animal today,” he agrees, “Back then the pub was the only place you could really have a drink, now there are lots of alternatives.
“But the standards of the Dublin pub are way up on back then when there was a much smaller range of product, condensed to just a few brands.
“The emergence of the craft beer and new locally-produced spirits is great to see and the customers love the local story.”
As LVA Chair, insurance reform remains a top priority for him.
“It’s a massive problem affecting lots of businesses across the board who’re struggling with the premium increases,” he says.
The LVA is working heavily with the Alliance for Insurance Reform to get an updated Book of Quantum established and a Garda Fraud Squad set up.
Ronan also hopes to help maintain the high profile of the Dublin pub.
“We’ve a few initiatives going on at the moment such as the food in Dublin pubs initiative via Taste.ie,” he explains, “At the same time the Irish Pub Awards help showcase and profile pubs that are best in class in the country. There’s been a healthy uptake from members wanting to participate in what are essentially the ‘Pub Oscars’ which push up standards.
“The Irish pub is a great product and should be promoted internationally. We don’t get as much credit as we should from Irish tourism bodies for what the pub does,” he believes, referencing, for example, “the ‘Tender Loving Care’” given out to tourists by pubs across the country.
“In essence they’re also tourist offices and should be acknowledged as such.”
Then there’s the ‘Support Your Local’ campaign to try to reduce excise tax.
“We’ve the highest excise duty in Europe. Being able to keep the excise duty down is important for the tourist industry so that the tourist doesn’t feel that they’re being overcharged. If we can get a reduction it keeps those prices relatively competitive for tourists.
“We’re also improving and growing our supplier partnerships,” he adds, “My role as LVA Chair is to improve the trade environment for all our members.”
Outstanding issues in the trade
Other outstanding issues remain to be tackled and Ronan cites these:
“Firstly business costs have gone through the roof yet people think that we’re coining it in. But look at the number of high profile restaurants that have closed down recently – that should tell us something….. Staffing has emerged as a major problem too. In a full-employment economy we need more staff in the licensed trade and in the kitchens.
“Dublin and Ireland have the best pubs in the world,” he says, “People come here for that whole pub experience. The pub reigns as the best place to consume alcohol and the pub does a great job of representing Ireland to all our foreign visitors.
“The challenge is to keep our customers happy as attitudes change, staying on top of what’s going on as the industry itself comes under more regulation.”
That regulation impinges on the licensed trade to an increasing extent, perhaps most visibly in the night-time economy.
So when Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan commented on reform of the night-time economy, she failed to consult all stakeholders; certainly the licensed trade was not informed or consulted.
“I welcome the concept of the night-time economy because pubs are central to that, they’re a big part of city life. A lot of people are looking for reform. But government must consult all stakeholders on this.
“We need to take into account everyone’s wishes and bear in mind that pubs already have staggered opening and closing times so the best way forward is to consult all the stakeholders.”
Changing consumer tastes
Night-time economy apart, consumers’ attitude to alcohol and their tastes in this respect are changing quite considerably and publicans must keep up-to-date with this, especially the move to NoLo alcohol consumption.
Here, Ronan may be ahead of the consumer curve.
“We were the first pub in Ireland to have non-alcoholic beer on draught in Estrella Galicia,” he explains, “I think it’s going to be a huge part of our offering moving forwards. A lot of companies are working on non-alcoholic products now.…. Once one goes they all go!”
It’s important to have a unique Point Of Difference for your pub, he stresses.
“By having it in your offering it gives something to consume to people who don’t drink – and it helps contribute to the overall atmosphere in a pub. It brings everybody into the party.
“Association members are aware of this and a lot of pubs look forward to stocking more of it as part of their offering moving forward.
“We’d have always been keen to support smaller microbreweries, microbreweries with a story.
“People love the local story of the product, the story of whiskeys, gins and of the pub too.
“It gives people a bit of variety in going into bars. They migrate a lot in what they drink these days where once they’d stick with the one brand. Consumers are simply more adventurous.”
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill
Everyone supports the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill claims Ronan.
“We’ve been crying out for the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing which has been passed but remains unimplemented.”
Other aspects of the Bill seem to hit out at alcohol in isolation.
“The government has passed the cancer labelling but postponed it for three years. But cancer has also been linked to other products and nothing’s done about that. The drinks industry has been singled out – they wouldn’t dare highlight a link that would affect farmers. It’s very difficult to come to Ireland on holidays and order a bottle of beer which has a cancer warning label in a Dublin pub but which is not on bottles in Northern Ireland, for example.
“It’s not good for the industry. I remember speaking to a politician and suggesting that alcohol awareness should be conducted through educating children when they go into transition year (or younger).
“The dangers of over-consumption should be explained rather than going nuclear on the whole thing because a person, having made the decision to have a drink, is unlikely to be put off by such a label so what’s the point?”
Future of the Dublin pub
One doesn’t need a crystal ball to foretell the future.
“This pub has been here since 1661,” he says, “It wouldn’t be in business still if you didn’t give your customers what they want. If you continue to do this you’ll still be in business in 20 years’ time.
“There’s been a massive change in the last 20 years. Standards have been completely lifted in that time simply through customer contact.”
The Lynch family has a huge rugby connection evident throughout the pub. Sean played international rugby for Ireland, the first publican ever to do so and had the distinction of playing in all four tests for The Lions in the only touring side ever to beat the All Blacks in 1971.
Ronan himself coaches under-10s at St Mary’s rugby club nearby.
He also follows National Hunt horseracing.
To relax, he likes to go down to the farm owned by Michelle, his other half and “get stuck in” when down there.
“It offers me a bit of down time to get away from it all,” he says.
It would seem more like a ‘busman’s holiday’ to me…