Celtic Tigers Eat Out … and Late!

How has Ireland’s economic boom changed life in Dublin?

August 8, 2000

How has Ireland's economic boom changed life in Dublin?

Many of the countries on the fringes of the euro zone have made significant adjustments to accommodate the common market. Spanish workers, for instance, had to say “hasta la vista” to siesta — not enough work was getting done otherwise. Similarly, in anticipation of joining the euro next year, Greeks are busily installing air conditioning units in Athens office buildings to raise productivity.

Now, the landscape of Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, has a fair share of good and varied restaurants that can more than hold a candle to their counterparts on the European mainland. Feeding this appetite for gastronomic diversity is the money Irish people seem to be making in unprecedented amounts, thanks to high paying jobs in the information technology and financial services sectors.

Gone is the day when Dublin’s Grafton Street, the posh pedestrian street around the corner from Trinity College, was the exclusive domain of wealthy shoppers from South Dublin, and Bewleys Oriental Café was the only decent coffee shop in the vicinity.

Dozens of new, spiffy chrome and pine coffee shops dot Grafton Street and all the main streets in the city. The clientele start arriving well before nine o’clock in the morning — unheard of in the old days. In place of tea and corn flakes at home, more and more work-bound urbanites fuel themselves with exotic coffee drinks first thing in the morning. The cappuccino craze has caught on in other parts of the country, too.

Irish emigrants returning to “the old sod” to reap the rewards of the new economy are in for a big culture shock upon touching down at the Dublin airport. For starters, people work later. Tea time — a light evening meal, once served around six o’clock in the evening to the peel of the Angelus church bells on TV — is decidedly out. Dinner — perhaps after the ISEQ stock exchange rings its closing bell — is massively in.

More disposable income seems to have brought out the Mediterranean inclinations of the Irish. Most restaurants fill for dinner around 7 o’clock and offer a second, popular seating around 9:30. No wonder pubs have decided to extend their opening hours to catch some after-dinner trade!

Returning visitors will discover that Ireland’s fabled spontaneity does not pay off in Dublin’s restaurant districts. Reservations are now a must to secure a table in any, let alone your favorite, restaurant. And even in traditional Irish places, the wait staff now frequently hail from Italy, France or Spain (meanwhile their Irish peers are racking up punts in high-end service and manufacturing jobs).

A moment of “where am I?” disorientation is par for the course for many diners as Giampaolo from Rome lists the daily specials, or Rosa from Madrid pulls your pint of Guinness in the “local” pub. Apart from the novelty of popular outdoor seating, further proof of Dublin’s sunnier temperament is the availability of real southern cuisine. Meat and potatoes have ceded territory to tagliatelli and tortelloni, and increasingly, fish and chips have competition from sushi and tempura.

Thanks to a little help from the profitable economy and eager entrepreneurs and employees from mainland Europe, Dubliners’ taste for the exotic has at last been liberated!