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Trade set for a record Christmas?

November 29th, 2017 | by LCN Editor
Trade set for a record Christmas?

The traditional Christmas rush has yet to begin in earnest, but early soundings from the trade around the province seem to indicate that hospitality could be in for a bumper year.

As you might expect, reports from the centre of Belfast indicate a strong early engagement with the Christmas festivities. Tim Herron, general manager at The Dirty Onion and Yardbird in the Cathedral Quarter is reporting record takings already this season.

“We don’t take bookings so it’s hard to gauge exactly how the trade is performing, but I can tell you that, financially, we are way ahead of last year and at the minute, we are looking at our most successful year ever.”

Tim said that at present, there was a definite lift in custom at the weekends and as December wears on, he expects to see custom increase during the week as well as thirsty shoppers call in for a breather.

“And we don’t wind things down for January either,” added Tim. “We keep our live music going seven-nights-a-week and our food offering and we’re looking for this great performance to continue.”

Around the corner at The Northern Whig, landlord Stephen Magorrian is also reporting pleasing early gains:

“We’re expecting a record year in The Whig”, he confirmed for LCN. “We’re very heavily booked there now and it would be very difficult for us to squeeze anyone else in at this stage.”

It’s a scenario that will have the former Botanic Inns MD smiling – he acquired and extensively refurbished The Whig early in 2016 after renting the popular venue for years.

As for the other venues in Stephen’s Horatio Group, he said that he was hopeful both Horatio Todd’s at Ballyhackamore and Molly Brown’s Kitchen & Bar in Newtownards would turn in an improved performance for Christmas 2017.

“At this stage, we’re pretty hopeful,” he added. “Basically, the patterns are the same as they’ve always been. The city centre venues book up first, then it’s out to the suburbs, then the bigger towns and finally the country places.”

Moving out of the city a little does nothing to dent the positive outlook. At the newly re-opened Clenaghan’s Restaurant in Aghalee, near Moira, Michelin-starred head chef, Danny Barry says that she’s been surprised by just how popular their Christmas programme has been.

“Obviously, we’ve just opened, but our Christmas menu was one of the first things we did and we are nearly booked up for Christmas already,” she said. “It certainly feels like a lot more people are out for Christmas this year.”

Danny said that she and partners, Stevie and Christina Higginson, hadn’t been expecting such a strong response, but that everything was looking “very positive” for December.

Further west and in Derry-Londonderry, Ciaran O’Neill’s boutique Bishop’s Gate hotel in the city centre reports that all its Christmas party nights are already booked up.

Speaking to LCN though, Ciaran did says that he had detected a shifting trend:

“I am noticing a definite change in that we are taking many more bookings for corporate lunches now than for the traditional party nights,” he said. “People are coming out for something to eat at 2pm and staying out, then going home at 8pm.

Ciaran said that after talking to other hoteliers in the north-west, it seemed that most were looking towards a profitable Christmas, but he added:

“December is always a reliable month, it’s a month when you know that people are going to go out. It’s in the Novembers and the Januarys that you don’t know what to expect.”

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