Caution urged over NI hospitality awards after hundreds of finalists named - including restaurants that are shut

Stock image of an awards event
Stock image of an awards event Stock image of an awards event

QUESTIONS have been raised over a series of Northern Ireland award events organised by a Glasgow-based marketing company after restaurants, some of which have been out of business for a number of years, were short-listed as finalists.

Some 278 businesses were last week named as finalists across 35 categories of the Northern Ireland Restaurant Awards 2023.

On the same day, around 400 tourism and hospitality businesses were named as finalists in the Northern Ireland Hospitality Awards.

Both events are among the dozens of different awards organised by Glasgow-based Creative Oceanic, a firm understood to be owned by businessman Irfan Younis.

The finalists for the Northern Ireland Restaurant Awards include the members dining area at Stormont, which is short-listed in the fine dining category, despite the Assembly’s collapse last year.

Other nominees include restaurants which ceased trading in 2021 and others which don’t exist in the towns listed. At least one restaurant listed in the best pizza category does not serve pizza.

According to a social media page connected with the awards, the event will take place in La Mon Hotel on August 21.

It’s unclear whether any of the hundreds of businesses published as finalists were contacted ahead of last week’s release of the ‘short-list’.

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A press release issued by the organisers said the finalists were selected following a public voting process.

It’s understood that process simply involved an online nomination form using the ‘Survey Monkey’ website.

After The Irish News contacted the company for clarity on its nomination and judging process on Monday, a statement appeared on its social media page.

It claimed the organisers had been “overwhelmed” since opening the nomination window four months ago. It expressed "genuine surprise" that some businesses have shut in the months since.

The statement went on to say: “Our team is working diligently to assess each nomination carefully.”

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, which represents the north’s restaurant and pub trade, said: “We’ve no idea who runs these so called awards, nor are we aware of any credible judging or valid nomination process.

“We appeal to anyone who has been earmarked for an award like this to be very careful and double check its authenticity before proceeding. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

One of the north’s most respected food critics, Joris Minne, said local awards events are typically well-managed, involving a judging panel of experts and detailed entries and nominations.

“What appears to be going on here is an events company is issuing lists of so-called finalists in a competition and then inviting those finalists to buy tickets to the awards dinner.

“I have asked this company repeatedly to reveal who the judges are and how they make their selection of finalists but have heard nothing back.

“This kind of event devalues awards schemes.”

In a statement, the north’s The Trading Standards Service (TSS) said it cannot comment on the detail of individual cases “as this may prejudice any ongoing or subsequent investigation”.

But it urged businesses to be cautious when notified of an award.

“While awards may be genuine in that they do exist, you should also ask yourself how meaningful the awards are within your industry."

It said nominees should research the company behind the awards, and check if they are registered with Companies House.

"Make enquiries about the transparency of the nominations and selection process and ask whether there is an independent judging panel.

“Make enquiries about whether you need to make a payment to receive your award or attend the event.

“If businesses have a complaint they should contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or log on to”

According to Companies House, Creative Oceanic Ltd was dissolved in 2012.

The company did not respond to the questions from The Irish News at the time of going to print.

Creative Oceanic's website states it also runs The Food Awards Northern Ireland; The Northern Ireland Wedding Awards; The Northern Irish Independent Retail Awards; The Northern Ireland SME Business Awards; The Northern Ireland Women’s Awards; and The Northern Ireland Hair & Beauty Awards.