The Georgina Campbell Awards – Ireland’s Original Hospitality Awards!
From five star hotels to food trucks, representatives of the very best in Irish hospitality gathered at Bord Bia’s Thinking House in Dublin on 3rd October, for the announcement of the 2018 Georgina Campbell Awards.
An annual celebration of excellence associated with the respected Georgina Campbell’s Ireland independent hospitality guides, and Ireland’s most popular independent hospitality and travel website www.ireland-guide.com, these are Ireland’s longest-running food and hospitality awards, and highly respected by the industry.
Every year Georgina Campbell and her team of experienced assessors comb the country’s hotels, country houses, guesthouses, restaurants, pubs, cafés and speciality food shops seeking out the best food and hospitality experiences for readers of The Guide (‘the glovebox bible’) and followers of the very successful website, www.ireland-guide.com.
Speaking about the ongoing search for excellence, Ms Campbell said, “Through our programme of anonymous assessment we’re always keeping a sharp eye out for those exceptional establishments which are right on top of their game and going the extra mile for customers. Once again this year, we have found plenty of new ones worthy of recommendation, especially in urban areas, and it is always exciting to see newcomers to the hospitality industry who understand the importance of standards and want visitors – domestic and from abroad – to enjoy Irish food and hospitality at its best. What we seek is not perfection but real food and hospitality with real heart, and we’re continuing to find it in clusters of excellence all over the country.
Commenting on the lead up to the Awards, Georgina Campbell said, “We’ve had some especially good experiences in Northern Ireland again this year, and in areas like The Burren and the North-West, including Derry, where communities work together to promote quality and bring different elements of hospitality together. Strong messaging is creating new regional destinations and top food professionals, associations and agencies, including Failte Ireland, are showing vision and leadership in working towards the development of Ireland as a world class ‘food tourism’ destination. American visitors have been very much in evidence this year, and energetic marketing of the Wild Atlantic Way and – increasingly – Ireland’s Ancient East – seems to be working well.”
On trends, Ms Campbell commented that, “Despite the huge popularity of casual dining in all its variety (and this year we have introduced a Street Food Award) there is no sign of fine dining disappearing – there are times something special is needed and our best classically trained chefs are well able to deliver superb contemporary ‘fine dining without the fuss’. The biggest trend continues to be in drinks, however, and – while welcome – with new craft breweries and independent distilleries opening on an almost weekly basis, it may be time to take stock.”
Of the 2017 season, Georgina Campbell said, “Despite the disappointing weather, we’ve enjoyed many good experiences this year (too many, as usual, to recognise at these Awards), but there have also been far too many disappointments in all areas and all kinds of establishment. The Irish food experience is certainly improving – largely thanks to dedication at grass roots level and the ever-increasing availability of diverse small production foods throughout the country – but, as has become usual over the last few years, our least satisfactory experiences have again tended to be in 4* and 5* hotels. Higher prices mean higher expectations, of course, but the high level of dissatisfaction is often down to simple things that could easily be fixed at any level, plus a lack of hospitality (which often means lack of a host) and poor staff training. Our Irish Breakfast Awards – held in association with Failte Ireland in April – brought hotel categorisation into sharp focus, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there are too many underperforming four and five star properties, whereas good three stars deserve to be held in higher regard and we would like to see the best ones resist the ambition to move up to the next category.”
On the all important subject of competitiveness, Ms Campbell said, “It’s always a pleasure to find that our top restaurants offer exceptional value in comparison with equivalent experiences in other countries (which, ironically, may be partly down to food being unsustainably cheap), but rising hotel prices are of concern, especially in cities (and particularly when prices are hiked for events – something we would like to see ended). While investment in overdue refurbishment is welcome and some increases are necessary, our competitive edge is under threat once again. Some flagship hotels have seen massive investment, but – while recognising that high end quality is needed here to match the best international properties – extreme luxe is not necessarily what we do best: that is still down to the smaller, owner-managed properties with a true Irish feel to them, and they especially deserve our recognition. Either way, to get best value, customers can support Irish hotels and get best prices by booking directly and saving the huge (up to 20%) fees otherwise paid to online booking agencies; to make this happen, accommodation providers need to promote the value they offer more and ensure that online booking through their own sites can match the ease and speed of the competition.”
Unlike other predictable, commercially-led awards, the Georgina Campbell Awards always include some unexpected choices and out of the way surprises – and, said Ms Campbell, “Importantly, these awards are more than the sum of their parts as each selection is not just an accolade but illustrates a key point, so the collection as a whole gives a valuable snapshot of the best of Irish hospitality today, demonstrating its strengths and showing how good food and hospitality can lead the way forward to a better future for all. In this connection, the Guide calls on the Government to retain the current VAT rates once again in the forthcoming budget in order to help this important sector to continue to support our recovery from recession – which is far from complete – and to face challenges outside its control, notably Brexit.”
Top award winners on the day included:
James & Beryl Kearney and Gary O’Hanlon, Viewmount House, Longford, Co Longford (Georgina Campbell ‘Hospitality Hero’ Award, in recognition of a special contribution to Irish food & hospitality); The Twelve Hotel Barna, Co Galway (Hotel of the Year); Dax Restaurant, Dublin (Restaurant of the Year); David McCann, Dromoland Castle, Co Clare (Chef of the Year), and Bar One, Castlebar, Co Mayo (Pub of the Year).
Ireland’s longest-running hospitality accolades, the Georgina Campbell Awards are completely independent. Unlike most other award schemes, they are not commercially driven and are in no way affiliated with trade associations or marketing groups; there is no charge to establishments for recommendation or any element of the awards process. It is this independence which has earned them special respect in the industry, and public trust.
Accolades from a respected independent guide are not only a source of encouragement – and very good for winners’ business – but also set a benchmark for others in the industry who are determined to achieve a similar level of excellence.
Georgina Campbell Guides are grateful to Bord Bia, sponsors of the “Just Ask!” Restaurant of the Year Award, who kindly hosted the event.