Deirdre Devitt, the LVA’s new Chairperson – the first woman to hold the title in its 200-year history – has a sharp sense of humour.
“We’re celebrating our bicentenary next year, so it only took 199 years to have a woman elected Chair,” she tells me with a twinkle in her eye.
Deirdre has been on the LVA’s Council for the past 10 years and has been a Board Member for the last four.
Her father Willie had a business partnership with his cousin Andy who decided to retire in 2006 when Willie bought him out.
Today, the Devitts have two pubs, The Two Sisters in Terenure and Devitts in Camden Street.
Deirdre’s background is in financial services.
Taking an Honours degree in Economics & Italian from UCD she began working with Meridian financial services in Tallaght.
When she left 12 years later as Director of Outsourcing, her work involved liaising with multinational clients.
“In that regard I have the requisite commercial experience,” she says, “When I came back into the pub business I found this very useful for budgeting and business knowhow. I’d always worked in pubs part-time anyway,” she says, “My father was on the LVA Council for over 20 years and to me knowledge is power. I like to know what’s coming down the line.”
And much is already planned for what’s coming down that line.
Relieved that we’ve finally got a government, vintners need their voices heard from a lobbying perspective.
“We employ a serious amount of people and make a tremendous contribution to the Exchequer yet the perception of our industry has been poor for the last number of years, not least because of alcohol abuse.
“We know where the real issues lie – and they’re not with the pub.”
Step one will be to write to every TD highlighting the importance of Dublin pubs from a tourism perspective, introducing the LVA “… so that they know who we are”.
Deirdre wants the Association to move with the times, to use social media to solve common problems, get solutions and get more members talking and socialising.
Her first task will be to reposition the LVA by refreshing its logo and providing a new tagline: ‘The Art of great food & drink’.
This follows the LVA’s Innovation Committee taking a long, hard look at the logo and seeing how it could be developed.
“The LVA is a strong brand and has been around a long time but it needed a new tagline,” she believes.
The LVA has seven new Council Members so it’ll be regrouping, repositioning, making the Association more relevant to its members and putting a three-year plan in place.
Present climate for Dublin licensed trade
Consumer sentiment has improved, she believes, leading to an improved business climate.
“We’re getting to the end of the road for bank negativity. The city centre has been in recovery for the past 16 to 18 months and the last number of months has witnessed a turnaround in the suburbs.
“People are open to going out more than once a week now. So pubs are doing different things, putting on event-led opportunities for their customers.”
Boom to bust to….?
Now that the industry is in recovery, some of the issues that the Dublin pub is going to encounter are similar to those of the Boom Days such as getting good staff.
“We need to get the basics right. I’d hate to think we’d go back to the boom times when customer service lost its way. Everybody lost the run of themselves. It was very hard to get good staff.
“It’s hard to get good staff today. Many pubs after the boom had to cut full-time staff and bring in part-timers.
“Staff commitment is so important in knowing our customers through our bar staff.
“You can’t operate a good pub with people who don’t know their customers.
“We need to get this skill back. A lot of my staff are part-time, going through college. From a full-time perspective we need to get skills back into the trade whether that’s as a barman, coffee barista or a mixologist.”
So part of her brief will be to provide relevant training to members to deliver a better service, she says.
Lots of pubs are serving better quality food now and while we may still have some way to go, some of them are serving restaurant quality food, she says.
Pub Food Good
Food has become a priority for today’s pub so she plans running a number of seminars on food at which those serving up top quality food can showcase what they do so that other members can learn from them.
“We’re going to place a significant importance on food as a key driver for our business this year as well as champion the Dublin pub as a venue of choice for the vast majority of locals and tourists alike for food and drink.”
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill
The Association looks forward to the introduction of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, particularly in relation to Good Friday Closing as it understands that Minister Fitzgerald will address this under the Bill.
“Minimum Pricing and structural separation all need to be dealt with, as do supermarkets,” she says, “They need to be put back on the table and the Government needs to implement this Bill.
“It’s one thing putting it together and putting it out there, but nothing has happened since, so we need to get them working on it and moving it on.”
Beyond the city centre
Beyond the city centre, which enjoys huge tourism footfall, it’s more about knowing what your customers want.
At The Two Sisters, for example, they pride themselves on being ‘the hub’ of the residential community.
“Anything we can do to cement ourselves further into that community, we’ll do,” she says, “Anything you can find that’s relevant to your community you need to get involved in.
“We promote local people in business, try to use them when we can and we also hosted a number of markets to showcase local people and their products.
“People will support that as everyone who comes in is local, not just a random visitor,” she explains, “In a community like this locals organise their own events and I feel it’s important to support them. It’s all about ‘local’ when you’re a suburban pub.
And there’s one more thing Dublin pubs could do.
“Weekly, a friend who works as a volunteer for Inner City Helping the Homeless calls into the pub and we give her sandwiches, soup, scones etc – whatever we have left after service that day – and whatever clothes, coats sleeping bags etc customers have donated (through our social media campaign), to bring in and hand out directly to the homeless on the streets of Dublin.
“I’d like to encourage our members to do the same if they can… homelessness is at a state of emergency in Dublin and the issue needs urgent attention.”
Rates & revaluations
Ongoing problems persist in regard to the present Commercial Rates and Revaluation process for Dublin pubs.
Is the Association satisfied with the present situation?
“I don’t think Dublin pubs will ever be satisfied with the rates situation” she responds, “especially in the last number of years when lots of big premises in the suburbs were not doing the business.”
She heard of one pub that had to sell 200 pints a day just to cover their rates bill.
“How could any business afford that?” she exclaims,
“Paying €30,000 to €50,000 a year – for what?
“On the whole, there appears to be little opportunity for negotiation with County Councils; there’s no business acumen there to appreciate that someone might be struggling at the moment and that perhaps it could benefit both parties to strike a deal.”