Pat McDonagh at the drive-through Supermacs at Ballysimon Road - PICTURE: Eamon Ward
COVID-19 was the perfect storm for fast-food magnate and hotelier Pat McDonagh.
In his over 40 years in business, the founder and CEO of Supermac’s said it is “by far” the worst recession he has come across.
“It’s a different recession to the last one. This is different because everybody is affected and it affects health as well so that changes the whole format,” said the Galway man.
As well as the fast-food restaurants, Pat and wife Una own three local hotels - Castletroy Park Hotel, Castle Oaks House Hotel in Castleconnell and the Charleville Park Hotel. Castletroy remained open throughout lockdown for health and emergency staff while the other two were back in business on Monday, June 29.
The country is in a much different place to four weeks ago, he says.
“I’m a lot more positive than I was then. You were wondering what was going to happen - the lockdown was affecting everything. Now with the ease of restrictions people are moving about and you can see more traffic on the roads.
“We have had a good lift across the country and hopefully it's going to continue. I'll be honest with you - it’s better than I expected."
While money isn't exactly burning a hole in pockets, or perhaps now that tapping is de rigueur it should be a credit card cutting a hole in pockets - there is a pent-up demand.
“There is money there that people have saved because they couldn't spend it for 10 or 12 weeks. One example is they didn’t have childcare costs. There is money there that wouldn’t have been saved had everything been normal.
“Now they want to treat themselves whether it is buying a car, doing up the house or going on holiday and thanks be to God staycations are the most favoured at the moment. They are deserving of a treat because of the sacrifices they made during the lockdown.”
Mr McDonagh says there is a good lift in bookings over the past two weeks for Castletroy Park, Castle Oaks and Charleville.
“I would say 50% occupancy currently but I’m confident it will come back to 70% of where it was. There is a lot of interest in the suites in the hotels where people can stay for a few days; have their own space; use the hotel facilities and enjoy the local attractions in Limerick and the Ballyhouras in Charleville.”
They are all diversifying at this strange time. For example, the Castle Oaks offers picnics in it gardens and live music on Sunday evenings with food and drink table service. The River Leisure Club has also reopened.
Lots of space, outdoor seating and safety are key words as we move forward from lockdown, says Mr McDonagh.
Weddings remain a challenge but there are still a good few couples who are holding dates in 2020 in the hope that they will be in a position to proceed.
They are at a big disadvantage if they have to look at dates in 2021 with most hotels booked out from Thursday to Sunday every weekend with pre-existing couples plus those who have postponed from this year. The Castle Oaks has had a strong interest in wedding bookings. Individual show-arounds are very popular.
“It's all about working together and coming up with solutions."
These include marquees, having parties and music outside and smaller weddings.
“The fact that weddings can have at least 100 indoors from July 20 - that's a help as well. Hopefully in another couple of months we can do a bit more and the social distancing might not be as severe."
One of the few plus points they have noticed is that a lot of mid-sized companies that haven’t got meeting rooms large enough for social distancing are coming to their hotels for meetings. Turning to Supermac’s, Mr McDonagh was targeting a return to 70% of normal business.
“We are nearly at that now. I would see that coming back to 80 / 90% of where we were last year. Unfortunately, you don't have big GAA matches, no concerts, no club matches yet but when those come back it will add another bit to it.
“Our key growth area has been delivery, call and collect and the drive-throughs have been very popular.”
When Mr McDonagh sits down for his Christmas dinner how does he hope the back end of the year turned out?
“It will certainly be a year to remember! All I would hope is that there will be a vaccine found for the virus; that people could get back to some type of normality again and heading - inside a few years - to where we were before this happened. I do think it is going to take a few years to recover from it.
“We have to stay positive. We will look back at it in a few years time and say why were we so worried about it. As long as you have your health and you’re able to get up for work everyday... This will pass like everything else.”