“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
Tourism is now Ireland’s most important indigenous industry, probably the most sustainable industry we have available to us here in Galway and the West in general. The importance of Food Tourism to our economy cannot be over-emphasised. Not withstanding some negative media coverage regarding the compromise within our food chain recently, it is still widely recognised that Ireland grows some of the world’s greatest food produce. In spite all this, there are still places that continue to offer menus that in no way reflect the food the consumer wants, or showcase the abundance of wonderful produce we have available locally.
Some, like Westport, do so very well. There is plenty of choice and you would be unfortunate indeed to have a bad meal. Some do it very badly, like Clifden where apart from a couple of eye-wateringly expensive seafood restaurants, the many eateries may as well club together to produce one menu. There is so little variation in the menu listings of Irish stew, smoked salmon and other items, they must imagine every tourist, without exception, wants to eat the same food. All this with little or no mention of provenance. The Irish version, perhaps, of the establishments many will have encountered in Spanish resort towns with the same pictures of fish and chips and full English breakfasts in every window.
Here in Galway, particularly in Quay Street and throughout The Latin Quarter, there is exceptional variety for visitors and residents alike. A little village of independent and family run restaurants, bars and cafes with few ‘chain’ establishments to blot the landscape, it is more than just your average tourist hub. The restaurants and pubs have an amazing diversity of cuisine and quality of food, they are largely Irish ingredient led and consistently deliver on quality and value for money. Whether you are looking for a fine dining establishment, a family watering-hole or more of a fish and chip joint, you are likely to find something that meets your needs. The obstacle course of menu boards offer a wonderful selection of international cuisine including Thai, Indian and Japanese. There is authentic tapas, seafood and steak, pasta, pizza and wine bars aplenty. There is also a large choice in burgers, kebabs, and other more affordable options. You certainly won’t have to settle for a Starbucks or an overpriced museum cafe as in other cities.
Yes, there is another side to that story. Of course some of the restaurants are poorer than others. There are a few that will take advantage of the crowds and increase prices for the busiest weeks, which penalizes the ordinary diner. Dining out in Galway is not just for tourists. These restaurants depend on the local community for business too.
There is still some suspicion of these restaurants, an assumption that being on the main drag must mean easy money. The reality is very different. Whilst those in the service industry had the opportunity to make a few extra quid last week, they worked punishing hours to do so. There is an unremitting stress inherent in the restaurant business. Costs are high and margins are slim compared to other professions. The hours are long and unsociable. In Ireland, we do not have the tradition of eating out like our continental neighbors. This exceptionally hardworking industry is primarily about service, but there is sometimes a divergence between service expected versus the respect that is shown to them. Many turn up late without apology and upset a carefully planned service or as happened all too often during Race Week, not turn up at all. There are the added modern exasperations of Tripadvisor and Twitter trolls to contend with. Sometimes the customer is very wrong.
The Galway tourist season has passed its crescendo and can now start the gentle glide into Autumn. After the bumper crowds for the three weeks of the Film Fleadh, the Arts Festival and the sheer madness of Race week – by accommodating so many extra visitors to our town with good grace and humour, our service industry staff were the real winners.