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?