FOTE 2020 – Live Sessions – Week 6 – Clare Smyth

Week 6: Clare Smyth (Core)

Call for Fairness and Respect in Order to Survive

JP’s conversation with Clare Smyth this week was a frank reality check for chef patrons trying to decide on their next move! Her restaurant, Core is just two and a half years old and would usually have a three-month waiting list. Since Covid-19, those three months have become months of closure. Now that the world is different, she is heartbroken that everything has changed for Core.

Decimation is everywhere and she is adamant that the role of farmers in restaurants needs protection. JP agreed. She also calls for fairness. “The key thing is that businesses are haemorrhaging money, we should not have to foot the whole bill for this. There is a need for fairness from the government, landlords and insurance companies, none of this is our fault, everyone should be in this together”.

JP referred to the ‘just adapt’ mantra from some people, that is putting pressure on restaurants to open. For him “there is a limit to adaptability, we’re in food because we are passionate, the last thing is for you to adopt a concept if you don’t feel your heart is in it”. Clare agreed and cautioned that “it could completely destroy your brand, and it may not be worthwhile” it just doesn’t work like the way others perceive it.

Her vision sees the next 12-18 months being crucial for our industry and government supports are critical. Opening needs structure and good guidelines. Professionally, chefs understand food safety and take daily responsibility for implementation, so whatever new regulations come in “we will adopt them and be responsible for our places.” This, therefore, will be a strength on reopening. JP agreed to state that “restaurants will be a safe place to go as they are clean”. She suggests that for those that fulfil the criteria for health if they were deemed safe, that they should be signed off by the EHO and let open and the others should be kept closed and given more government support.

It was encouraging to hear their positivity in relation to the future of the culinary career. For JP “more than ever, there is a great reason to get into cooking”, and Clare sees this time as giving us an opportunity to rebalance the shortage of chefs. “We will get back to normal in about 2-3 years and young people will have a future in the industry, but hospitality needs to be a good profession and lucrative for young people to want to go into it”. This led to further discussion on the changes needed for survival. Clare vehemently highlighted the need for the industry to readdress some of the issues that have impacted its efficiency and professionalism. “We were running on such thin margins before, if we want to survive, it will be a case where we have to tighten up on these things e.g. customers paying for things, cancellations etc. It’s not about cheap! Every seat in a restaurant is so valuable”. According to JP, there can be an attitude that “hospitality is just the worker, an extension of the working class”. Both concurred “Hospitality isn’t free!” People have to treat hospitality the same way they treat other industries. For Clare, “this is now a necessity if we are to survive”.