A Belfast bar owner has spoken out about crippling cost increases and how they’re managing.
Kelvin Collins is the owner of Ben Madigan’s Bar & Kitchen on the Cavehill Road which opened in late 2019.
First dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and now navigating the cost of living crisis, Kelvin said they have some mitigation plans in place to help them along.
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“From a business point of view it’s been a challenging few months,” he told Belfast Live.
“We opened again last year after the pandemic and there were some supplier issues with getting goods to us and because there was increased demand at the one time, there were problems with the timings for deliveries and prices started going up.
“Then we had the war in Ukraine starting around March, and fuel prices went up and up. The first thing we saw was our ordinary suppliers like our meat supplier or smaller suppliers have had to pass those increases on, and they’ve said it’s specifically due to the fuel costs.
“Our butchers also said they won’t be delivering on a Tuesday as generally it’s a quieter day for them, and it doesn’t make sense for the van to be out on the road on a quiet day, so they do a four day week now. We can work around that if it helps get costs down.”
In recent months, a major increase they have experienced has been visible in the price of cooking oil.
Other price hikes have included the increase in VAT after the rate was slashed during the pandemic.
Kelvin said: “We were paying £1 a litre until the beginning of April when it went up to £1.28, which was guaranteed for three months. Last week we were told it would be increasing to £1.60 a litre on the 1st July, then to £1.65 on the 1st August, then £1.70 on 1st September.
“We’ve been told to expect further increases in October, because if they were confident with the price, they would’ve tied it in for longer.
“Our VAT was reduced because of Covid. Then from April 1st it was up to the full 20% again. Minimum wage went up, rightly so, in April too which is another factor of costs for us too.
“It’s almost like the perfect storm of all these factors contributing to more costs for us. Our utilities bill, our gas and our electric is up too – it’s just everything all at once.”
But despite these increases, Kelvin said they have plans in place to avoid putting the cost of their food and drink up, and will be updating their menu next week to keep things fresh.
“The bills are going up and up, and we’re very reluctant to pass that on to customers,” he continued.
“We’ve always stuck to our seven days a week of being open. In North Belfast, we have that community atmosphere, people like to come down to us even during the week and we know that works.
“Last year when the electric increases were coming into play we knew it would be an issue, so we started putting inquiries in about solar electricity. This week we have a team in installing solar panels on the roof to mitigate any increases there – it’s not going to make a fortune but it’ll certainly help pay for itself.
“We got an oil filtration system which will help us get an extra two or three days extra life out of our oil instead of having to get rid of it quickly. It’ll help in the long run, it’s all about making investments now so any further increases are mitigated at the best possible time rather than waiting too long.
“If I put a chicken dinner up to £20, I have no customers. We are in North Belfast, we’re £4.40 for a pint now, if we go up to £4.70 or £4.80 people would stop buying beer, or they’d sit at home and have a carry out rather than come out to the pub, and that’s not what we want.
“We’re all about creating a friendly environment, where people know they can come in any day and get a good experience, with good food and drinks. If we wanted to charge what we had to charge, we may as well close the doors.
“If people deem you to become expensive, they won’t come. If you go out for a meal and it’s more than you’re expecting, you’re still shocked about it and would think twice about going there again.”
Although they are able to put their own mitigations in place, the bar owner said more support is needed from the government to help local businesses survive price hikes.
Kelvin added: “I could see a lot of businesses not getting through this. There are places having to close a day or two a week to survive now.
“It’s almost as if the government have put all this money and effort in to help businesses survive during the pandemic, through grants and the furlough payments, and now when we’re in need of help again everyone’s being left on their own.”
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