Top restaurants are desperate for staff. Kiwis aren’t applying

Normally Napier’s much-loved Bistronomy and Emporium restaurants would heave with diners seven days a week in the lead-up to Christmas.

This year the demand for the food’s the same, if not more. But critical staffing issues have forced them to make some compromises, and even in the last week before Christmas, they’re shut two nights of the week.

On Sunday, the Government stepped in, announcing visa changes for onshore migrants to help fill labour shortages like that in the hospitality industry.

Changes include a six-month extension for employer-assisted work visa holders, a six-month extension of Working Holiday visas, a postponed stand-down period for low-paid Essential Skills visa holders and retaining the 2019 median wage of $25.50 per hour for immigration settings until at least July 2021.

Hospitality New Zealand has called it “a game changer” but Napier’s publicans aren’t certain that will be the case.

In October, Bistronomy cut down hours from seven to five days a week as, despite being busy, they couldn’t find enough staff to maintain the quality of service.

Bistronomy owner James Beck said Government announcement was good, but “it’s really just a drop in the bucket” for an industry used to getting usually getting “big waves of backpackers” at this time of year.

“I’m not sure what else they can do, obviously we can’t just open the borders and let people in.”

He said extending visas so that those working in other jobs such as picking can also work in hospitality “would be really helpful”.

But, he also thinks there needs to be change within the industry itself, as there are no New Zealanders applying for jobs.

“All of my colleagues and myself are constantly advertising at the moment, and we are literally not getting Kiwis in.

“As an industry hospitality, we need to work out a better way of encouraging people into our industry and that goes hand in hand with treating them better, paying them better, giving them more opportunities to grow.”

When Emporium Eatery & Bar re-opened after Covid-19 lockdowns, they made the decision to only open five days a week because of a shortage in experienced roles such as sous chefs, chef de partie and restaurant managers Art Deco Masonic/Emporium general manager Rob Poole said.

Looking on Seek on Monday, he said there were 290 vacancies for chefs around the country. Twelve of those are in Hawke’s Bay.

Poole said the announcement was “welcome” for anyone in the industry, but it doesn’t address migrants who have a visa assigned to a certain region or workplace and have moved.

“They have listened, but it’s almost the 11th hour. Rosters have been published for Christmas New Year and even with these announcements, there aren’t the people to fill those gaps to allow us to open up seven days at the moment.”

More flexibility around visas, faster processing of visas and allowing visa holders to potentially work in more than one job would help, he said.

He hopes the industry can continue to work with the Government, who he wants to listen.

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said extending employer-assisted and working holiday visas and postponing the stand-down period “will potentially give desperate operators access to many thousands of chefs, duty managers and wait staff right when they need them so they can make the most of the summer season”.

White said employing New Zealanders is the “top priority” but “until we can shift perceptions and attract and train more” the industry is not in a position to fill roles without turning to migrants, who continue to play “a vital role” in the sector’s future.

Poole said the shortage is a complex issue with other factors such as accommodation shortages also impacting.

“You know over the summer season you’re going to get busier so you factor that in, but this year it’s become harder because everyone is competing for smaller resources of people who can do the job.

“We’re competing against construction, horticulture, viticulture, everyone’s in the same boat.”

Poole said they are committed to growing local talent but it’s a “chicken and egg” situation where senior workers are needed to help train.

After “an incredible winter” of Kiwis supporting local businesses after lockdown which has since tapered off, he anticipates a busy but short summer because international tourists keep the business busy in between February and April.

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