There has been a noticeable change in restaurant reservation times in recent years. Dee Laffan chats to Denise McBrien, General Manager of Old Street Restaurant in Malahide, County Dublin about this dining pattern and the reasons behind earlier dining hours.
Old Street is new to the Dublin restaurant scene this year, but has already found itself placed among Dublin’s best restaurants and a firm favourite with locals too. Like a lot of newer restaurants, it is pandering to casual dining trends, matched with something more special on the plate.
“I think we very much fit into Malahide as the local neighbourhood restaurant,” said Denise McBrien, General Manager. “I think that our menu and service puts us on the map. The room is really impressive, sometimes I think people are often even a little daunted by it as they think they can’t just drop in for a bowl of soup at lunch, but absolutely you definitely can. It is casual, our staff all wear t-shirts and jeans and are very approachable and friendly. Everything in the restaurant is made to order and fresh and we are happy to cater for any specific menu or dietary requests. Everything can be changed to your tastes.”
Managing customers’ demands is something a general manager is only too familiar with, but in particular when it comes to reservations, there has been a shift towards earlier booking times that can mean some creative management to try and squeeze everyone in between the popular hours of 5-7.30pm.
“I think people are less intimidated about going out to dinner now. In the past, people felt that had to go home from work, shower and change and go back out to dinner. Now they are happy to go from the office to a restaurant at 5-6pm because they have more confidence eating out. Of course dining has also become more casual in general. However, when I worked in L’Ecrivain (a one-star Michelin restaurant), we wouldn’t open until 7pm, and that’s probably still the case there, because I wouldn’t imagine you get people going straight in from the office to a restaurant like this.”
“I think on Saturdays it is still hard to get 5-6pm bookings because people do want to eat out later, but then it’s hard to them to take 9-9.30pm bookings,” she pointed out. “Having to push someone to 9pm can be really hard. If you are a restaurant that has a bar you can say to them, ‘come in at 8pm and have a pre-dinner drink’ to try and sell it, even though you know you won’t have a table ready until 9pm. Psychologically then, as far as they’re concerned, their evening has started at 8-8.15pm. I often have people saying to me, ‘but if I don’t sit down until 9pm, then it will ordering at 9.20pm and only eating at 9.45pm and I don’t want to eat that late’.”
“In general, the most popular times are midweek 5-7pm and Saturdays 8pm – that is the ideal time in people’s minds. Even 8.30pm can push it a little bit too much. I can sometimes hear people’s resistance on the phone if I say 8.30pm when they’re looking for 8pm as I’m trying to stagger my bookings. If I feel I’m losing them then I’ll say, ‘come for a drink at 8pm’.”
While dining hours have shifted earlier at home, most people are still happy to dine out later when on holidays, especially countries such as Italy, France and Spain, where it is accepted as part of the culture. Is the Irish culture destined to always dine earlier except when on holiday?
“It’s funny, I do like eating late when I’m on holidays. I always eat at 9/9.30/10pm, it doesn’t bother me, but we just don’t have that culture here whatsoever, I just don’t think Irish people like eating after 9pm,” Denise answered.
“We open from 1pm until 7pm on Sundays, but again, everything is done and dusted by 5pm. Last Sunday we did 90 covers and only 12 of them were after 5pm. We definitely get people looking for 1pm, but it is an older clientele and I would almost call that a type of conditioning. For example, with my grandmother, Sunday dinner is on the table at 1.30pm not a minute later or earlier and that’s it! When I worked in London, we used to serve Michael Winner (former restaurant critic with The Sunday Times) his lunch every day Monday to Friday at 1pm. I remember one time a new chef was on and he accidentally arrived at 1pm and he was sent away! Michael would rather miss his lunch than eat it 15 minutes late. That was a bit crazy, I’ll never forget it. But it is an older generational thing that people are conditioned to have meals at specific times. I would never have lunch same time every day, even if I am not working.”
“Perhaps that is why we will never be late eaters at home in our own country. We are sort of conditioned to eat early evening. When we’re on holidays we’re willing to buy into the whole culture of having a late breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is just something we would regularly do here. Even when I worked in Pichet in Dublin City Centre, I would notice at times a 9.30pm reservation was really seen a last resort and very often they were the people that cancelled.”
“I wonder also is it down to the food that we have on our menus. The food that you’d eat in Italy or France wouldn’t be heavy, stodgy food, it would be light and fresh, maybe tapas, and I wonder does anyone actually cater for that here? We do eat quite big dinners. I mean, if you don’t fill the main course plate, you won’t hear the end of it on Tripadvisor. We’re all about portions here at home!”
“People who go to the gym a lot will often tell you to eat little and often rather than three big meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I think we’re conditioned to eat heavy until full. I hate that really full feeling and often in Old Street people would say to me that they feel satisfied at the end of the meal. My point is that I don’t want our guests to feel stuffed, I want you to leave after having a lovely balanced meal and just feel satisfied.”
“Especially when people are heading to the theatre after dinner, they don’t want to feel full during the performance. In Chapter One restaurant, they do a great thing, where you can have your starter and main course before the show and come back for your dessert because they’ve identified that they don’t want to lose that sale and that people are not doing to have three courses necessarily before they go to sit at a show and that is very clever.”
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