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Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

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Louth
posts: 34
Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

I am from Austria, have lived 6 years in Edinburgh and two years in Italy. Since May 2005 I am resident in Co. Louth, where my wife is from and I commute to work to Dublin where I also eat out every now and then for business purposes. I have two children, aged 1 and 3.

I don’t want to be one of these people who move to Ireland, take advantage of the good jobs that you get and then moan about the negatives, but when it comes to eating out in Ireland there are a good few things that do my head in and I would generally be interested what other people think about this, in particular native Irish people. Are you guys happy with what you get in your local restaurants or are you just frustratedly putting up with things?

The main issue that I have with eating out in Ireland (that is the same in the UK mind you), is that it is always such a big affair. Eating out in Ireland is expensive, hence it is always kind of a special occasion, hence you don’t want it spoiled e.g. by young children in the restaurant etc., but all this seems to be kind of like a dog biting its tail and running in circles.

I think a key issue for me in Ireland is the ratio between formal restaurants, where you are expected to order at least 2 courses, usually 3, buy an expensive bottle of wine, where you expect children not to be present etc. to other, more informal eateries where you could get top quality food in a more informal atmosphere.

If you go out in Italy you can choose between Trattorias, Osterias, Pizzerias, Agritourismi (= farm restaurants who are allowed to sell their own produce) and Centri Sociali (= political party social clubs who are open to everybody and often serve very good food), all of which offer top quality food in an informal setting, and in fact the only difference to a proper Ristorante may be that in the latter you will find white table cloth and waiters in dinner jackets, and you pay extra for the latter. As a quick guess I would estimate that proper Ristorante make up only about 10% of Italy’s eateries. In comparison to this I find that in Ireland even places who explicitly declare themselves as Bistros expect their customers to treat them like a top class formal restaurant. In fact the name Bistro is often just applied as chic name to a restaurant.

In my opinion the relationship between formal restaurants to top quality informal bistros in Ireland is almost 100:0. Am I alone with this impression? To eat out informally, and that’s what you often want with kids, I find myself often thrown back to either chains, pub grub on Sundays or carvery lunches.

I don’t know of a single place in Ireland where I would feel completely comfortable to just ad-hoc bump in with the kids and eat what I like (not what I think I have to order so that I haven’t wasted a valuable slot in the restaurant’s schedule), particularly at evenings. There definitely is that pressure but I don’t know if that is actually driven by the restaurants themselves to maximise profits or is it, in the opposite, customer expectation of an “exquisite dining experience” that drives the restaurants to adopt such a formal behaviour?

Things I find problematic in particular:

• Restaurants like the Monasterboice Inn near Drogheda or Fitzpatrick’s near Dundalk that don’t let you book a table, instead you are sent to the bar with a buzzer. I generally detest that I have to drink at the bar if I want to go for a meal and in particular with children you want to be in and out within a given timeframe. However, the mentioned restaurants admittedly serve good food and seem to get away with it.

• Unacceptable though are restaurants where you can actually book a table and they still send you to the bar before they seat you. And that happened to me in a variety of places that don’t meet the standard of food of the above mentioned places by a mile.

• A lot of my Irish friends complain about the settings system = you can only book for pre-defined slots. What do people on tripadvisor think about this?

Cavan
Destination Expert
for County Cavan
posts: 4,082
reviews: 37
1. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

Well put and very fair questions too:

I remember someone talking at a seminar once about the famine and the question arose about the Irish eating out of a bucket, did it really make any difference? It seems a pity therefore that the Irish are not more aware of what they are paying for, that so many expensive Irish restaurants are not good value for money and their chefs are very ordinary indeed.

Friends of mine in Navan own an Italian restaurant and I know from the long time that I have known them that they work very hard to keep their business running. Three things which really drive up the costs of running a restaurant: Rates to the County Council, high wages to staff and heating/electricity costs. It should be noted that the basic food and wine costs have not changed much over the past few years but the other costs have risen substantially.

Shannon, Ireland
Destination Expert
for County Clare, Aran Islands, Bunratty, The Burren
posts: 8,212
reviews: 33
2. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

NiceWeekendAway - you make some good, well observed points - and when I think of many of the exceptions to your examples, many of these are Italian restaurants.

Your problematic areas ring true of many places - I mentioned an example on the Bunratty forum whereby you are sent to the bar to wait - essentially because there is a limit to the seating / tables.

Another very popular restaurant in Bunratty uses your second point (sending to the bar) again helps with limited seating (extra few drinks consumed while waiting I'm sure is an advantage for the restaurant) but they take this time to talk you through the specials, place the order, and walk you to your table shortly before the meal arrives.

I also dislike the concept of the pre-defined slot point.

In some cases - these are just practicalities - running a restaurant is an expensive business - but they certainly do little to enhance the experience of the dining party.

It's hard to know how to reply to these issues - because for the most part, you are correct - possibly by asking the question for places in particular areas that do not have these associated issues, yet still manange to serve good food at a reasonable cost.

Luigi Malones (at least the Limerick branch (franchise - but only 3)- have not been to the others) comes to mind.

luigimalones.com/LUIGIMALONES/…index.htm

As a seperate point (and not in any way to detract from your observations), I think it was the DK eyewitness guide that mentioned Vienna is not particularly up there with child friendly dining (?)

Louth
posts: 34
3. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

Thanks Ferdia,

I take the point on Vienna. I left Vienna 10 years ago and didn’t even think of children then. I will be back in a few weeks and check it out for myself. The problem with Vienna is that that they have a particular issue with friendliness and Viennese, and in particular the Obers (= waiters in coffee houses) are grumpy by profession. There are even council issued stickers in Vienna saying “I am a friendly Viennese” that people stick on their cars or front doors to show that they are different. However, if it comes to food I always got the very best in Vienna, even though it took my a really long time to understand that a lot of the gruffness of the service is just attitude while at the same time they really look out for you.

To be fair to Ireland, I have my own issues with service in some of the more touristy areas in Austria, like the Tyrol where I am from and I remember as a local not being welcomed at stages or being asked to re-order 10 minutes after finishing a drink, because the places there have become proper feeding and consummation machines. But still, as a local I would find plenty of places off the beaten track that I can subscribe to. I am in Ireland for 3 years now and I am still struggling a bit with this.

If you want a really good culinary holiday in Austria I’d recommend booking a week in Southern Styria, which is an up and coming but still relatively unspoiled good food and wine region. You can find some info at anglogermantrade.com/destinations/styria_win…

Galway, Ireland
posts: 521
reviews: 47
4. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

Some great points that you have brought up and you are more than welcome to air your very honest and open minded views that will take us all for ever to cover! Your queries are what I call' positive criticism' and if you work here,then you pay tax here so every right to address your queries. The whole nub of your querie really revolves around access with your very young kids and this puts a difficult spin on answering.

Being lucky enough to be 'retired' and the loot to travel I am always amazed that Ireland (in general) is considered anyway expensive in relation to other Euro and N.American countries.We had a short break in Spain a short while ago and the high prices and poor quality there floored us! We went to 'real'Spain and everywhere we went had only Spanish guests and locals so no 'costa ' travels!Switzerland in December had prices above Ireland but great food quality but no better /worse than here.

American quality cusine is very expensive and you will wait (even in burger restaurants such as Red Robins) to wait politely in queue and sit.Lots of bad experiences in US and Canada.

Italy - what you say is partially true but I always objected to every Restaurant there throwing a basket of stale bread in front of you and then discovering that we were all charged €1.50 apiece for privilage!!Even or friends 6 month baby and 4 year old twins were charged.Its a lot of these little carry ons that travellers never seem to mention when assessing true costs of dining in ther countries.

In France should you order a mineral (ornagina etc) you will find you are charged same as if ordering a glass of wine.You can order a Steak and then discover to have an accommpaning sauce will set you back another €3 - €4 .

Realistically Ireland has being very slow in catching up with other Countries variety of restaurant choices to cater for broader mass.Restaurants here have very rigid and expensive rules to comply with that are expensive and cunbersome to maintain.Running costs are not helped by high VAT and other taxes.Wines costs are partially explained by high excise and vat but high mark ups by restaurants are not an excuse to dodge.

Restaurant sizes are small by nature hence (frustrating for us also) time slot allowances etc.Also biggest factor is lots of Restaurants being run by the owner who is usually the Head Chef and biting reality is that most of theses people are not business men.And with that the statistics for highest business failure in any one business grouping is always Restaurants.

We are always happy with the Restaurants that we dine in in Connemara, but then again ,trial and error is only way to sort good from bad.The Alcock & Brown Hotel (closed but re-opening soon) was/is a place where your needs would be met to a T. Also Signal Bar/Rest is another good haunt.Olivers in Cleggan another but come Summer -crazy ! But I have and will continue to complain to management where ever we get bad anything so as Irish people,some of us will not accept second best!

Louth
posts: 34
5. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

Thank you pkpj

Being reminded of what Irish people may find problematic when eating out abroad actually does help me cope with my frustration over here.

And I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying. The cost of sparkling water in restaurants is an often discussed issue also amongst Austrian consumers and there was even a law demanded, which I assume is in place now, that there always must be at least one soft drink on the menu that is cheaper than alcoholic drinks because usually wine or bear are cheaper. BTW, my experience when first moving to Scotland was that in particular bar staff usually had to look up the cost of sparkling water or wipe the dust off the bottle because they hadn’t sold any yet ;) .

Shannon, Ireland
Destination Expert
for County Clare, Aran Islands, Bunratty, The Burren
posts: 8,212
reviews: 33
6. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

Thanks for the link Niceweekendaway - it looks like a terrific spot.

We're spending 2 nights in Austria between Czech R & Italy next summer, so Salzburg seems like a convenient choice - but hopefully we'll get back again to see more of southern Austia, and that area in particular.

Pkpj's post reminds me of being presented with a full breakfast bill in our hotel in Spain a number of years ago for our then (just )one year old who was just eating bits of fruit off our plates with a yogart.

Needless to say we did not pay the bill - which was above the price of a main course in an average restaurant in Ireland.

Once off experience - but it left an impression.

Ontario
posts: 447
reviews: 56
7. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

We have a son and daughter-in-law, and their 4 children under 12, living in N. Ireland for a year. Certainly their largest single complaint over the past 11 months relates to food. They have echoed what you say about any family-friendly restaurants--high prices and low quality. They have been living in Japan for 12+ years, so may have rather elevated expectations.

Travelling in the Republic, we (a couple in our 60s) were mostly pleasantly surprised. We tended to eat at relatively informal places, especially pubs. The Michelin-recommended Granary and Laurels in Killarney were both great experiences; Station House Bar in Clifden was very good; and, back in Belfast, we liked both the Crown Liquor Saloon's food and (especially) the fish at Mourne's Seafood.

We also ate at Greene's in Cork (more high-end), where the food was excellent. The chef from France (with several years experience in London and Ireland) whom we chatted with at the bar afterwards, generally was despairing in his attempts to elevate Irish cuisine. He said when they featured roast beef, most orders would be for Well Done (he was almost banging his head against the bar as he said this). That he could not buy decent fresh fish less than €20 per kilo, and therefore he could not feature it at a price diners would pay. (My wife thought maybe this French chef was burned out and ready to move back home.)

The service in the pubs was very friendly. In other, regular restaurants, when the staff were Irish, they did not seem well trained, nor highly competent--tho' they tried hard. However, the foreign waitstaff, whether from France, Poland, Sweden, or Malaysia, were all really expert, and great to interact with. (It occurs to me that maybe they're better with tourists like us than with native Irish?) I'd say they're a great boon to Ireland's hospitality industry.

Ireland
Destination Expert
for County Meath, County Louth
posts: 3,046
reviews: 170
8. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

Niceweekendaway

As I dont have any children, I haven't experienced first-hand your frustration - but do sympathise with you and can only imagine how irritated I would be. I am having visions of the Monasterboice Inn or Fitzpatricks - especially on a Sunday evening and the chaos that ensues - thats why I don't bother going there anymore - and I actually don't think the Monasterboice Inn is good value for money - albeit the steaks are the best around. I do think that we Irish should at this stage be expecting/demanding more when dining out. There is nothing I enjoy more that seeing a family eating out and the children not devouring plates of chicken nuggets and chips (or the other crap they serve on the 'Children's Menu') - but instead eating small portions from the main menu and being introduced to good food at an early age. However, we have a long way to go before we reach the dining culture of (for example) Italy. We spent a delightful afternoon last September in Fuiggi and came across a little restorante by chance. The owner was standing outside and asked if we had eaten. Several hours later (and a couple of bottles of vino!) we emerged, having had the granny and the extended Italian family sit at the table next to us and taking in turns to go into the kitchen and prepare the next course (wonderful fresh local produce) - which they happily shared with us. It was like something out of a movie and I think it cost less than 30 euro. An experience I will never forget. Not a chance of ever experiencing anything remotely like that here in Ireland.

I recall a review (in the Sunday Independent) a while back of Eatzen in Ashbourne (which incidentially is one of my favourite chineese restaurants) which stated they didn't have children's portions and diners would have to pay full price for kids to eat (Sunday Lunch). To me - this is a disgrace. I know the reviewer left and ate at another restaurant in the town instead.

We are being ripped off with mediocre standards in our restaurants. The "better" and more well known charge what they want. For example - I checked out a two night stay (with dinner on one night)in Dunbrody House for a couple of weeks time - I actually booked a four night trip (flights and a 5star hotel) in Lisbon for a comparable price - where no doubt we will be able to savour wonderful fresh seafood and dining experiences.

Have you ever tried Carlito's in Dunleer? It's been a while since I was there - but I always found it to be good and family friendly. Another 'favourite' of mine at the moment is Scholar's in Drogheda. Restaurant may be a little 'stuffy' for the kiddies - but they have a great bar menu also.

On an other note - I was in Vienna late 2006 and found any of the restaurants to be wonderful with attentive/friendly service and better value for money than here in Ireland.

Have just had a thought - if by chance I win the lotto tonight I might open a family friendly restaurant in the North East for the more discerning diner. Any chance your family could be my Researcher's....?!!

Louth
posts: 34
9. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

LittlePumpkin

I can do more than just being your researcher. I can set up web sites, help with marketing and whatever else is needed. I might even help and wash the dishes.

BTW if you go to Lisbon check out my review of a seafood restaurant there at tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g189158-i203-k1748…

Louth
posts: 34
10. Re: Eating Out in Ireland – Your Opinion?

LittlePumpkin,

Thinking about what you said it occurred to me that actually quite few restaurants do mention child portions on their menu or even have a separate children’s menu and I will make it a principle not to eat out in restaurants anymore that don’t have that. But if I come across a restaurant that I like to eat in but they don’t have a children’s menu I will let them know that they just missed a booking by a customer who is keen to spend some money but is denied access.

I also will stop calling restaurants and ask if I can bring my children, because really this is asking if I am tolerated with them – and that is not good enough. If restaurants want my custom, they should advertise themselves for families.

But to round this off on a more positive note I’d like to mention at least two child friendly places in my area that I am fond off, and that I almost keep forgetting in the light of negative experiences:

One is the Café Acqua in Blackrock near Dundalk. We just had a family breakfast there again. It is one of these informal places that I want more of, meaning: I don’t need to book a table, I don’t need to have three courses, but they still provide me with very good food. The food at the Café Acqua is more of the snack type, sandwiches, soups and lasagnes kind of thing. It is not exceptional, I would say, but it is all freshly prepared and their coffee truly is exceptional top quality Illy coffee and I travel 30 miles just to get their coffee. You can also take the coffee and a sandwich away and take it over to the wall above the beach, just across the road where you can watch your children play in the sand. So even if it is full you are served well, and funnily, even though they don’t provide child seats I find it a very family friendly place and don’t really mind that I may have to wait a little bit or put two tables together or ask another party if we can share their table. I’d like to see more such places and I personally would love if some of them could do fresh seafood, especially if they are right at the beach.

Another real gem in terms of child friendliness is the New Grange Farm. In particular it shows how little is needed to make it truly exceptional if people just put thought and attention into it, not necessarily money. Apart from all sort of farm animals, puppies etc. they also converted their barn into an adventure playground – also for parents I might say –simply by providing vintage tractors you can climb up to, making a quarter of a barn into a maze by piling up straw bails between which you can play hide and seek, providing a good 40 or so ride on toy tractors the little ones can whiz around on and – my personal favourite – they have the biggest sand pit that I have ever seen and my only pity is that I as an adult am not allowed onto it – but that is correct too.

You can get a bite to eat there, nothing exceptional but fresh soup and the like and they have a huge picnic area, I mean not just a couple of tables, it’s a small field that is set aside for that where you can eat as well as play ball or frisbee or what you like.

So there are good examples too. But I think a particular problem still is early evening dining especially if you were to go on a weekend trip away….