Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Staff shortages putting hospitality under pressure

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The Good Home owner Barry O’Shaughnessy has had an advertisement for a cook on Seek for over two weeks. Times file photo Wayne Martin

Stressors on local hospitality businesses continues to mount as they suffer from staff and skill shortages, reduced menus and hours, supply issues and cancelled functions.

Barry O’Shaughnessy, owner of The Good Home Restaurant and Bar – The Prosect of Howick, has had an advertisement for an experienced cook on employment website Seek for two weeks.

He’s had four responses. None were suitable.

Two years ago, pre-pandemic, O’Shaughnessy had 16-20 responses for each ad.

“Cooks are very hard to come by,” he says. “I spent quite a bit on employing people and not getting anything.

“The border closing means no one’s coming in. There are so many restaurants and only so many staff to go around.”

The hospitality industry heavily relies on the supply of foreign workers. With the long-standing border closure due to Government Covid-19 restrictions, businesses still recovering from the financial troubles of lockdowns, and now inflation, issues continue to batter the industry.

“I’ve been here 28 years,” O’Shaughnessy says. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s the worst year for staffing.”

Ted Waters, co-owner of local cafes and restaurants The Apothecary, Daisy Chang and Piggy Bar, says it is a recession when it comes to obtaining labour.

“Our number one position is to hold onto who we have,” Waters says. “Through university studies and high rents in Auckland, occasionally you lose someone – to replace them is near impossible.”

Waters is currently short five staff. He, like O’Shaughnessy, is spending a fair bit of money on advertising for workers.

“Staff shortages have been more detrimental to hospitability than Covid-19,” he says.

“Covid has affected immigration which in turn has affected staff shortages.”

In turn, Waters’ restaurants and cafes have had to reduce hours – an issue that Gina Henry, owner of cafes and restaurants Grangers, Marina Cantina, the Franklin and Wren Cafe, has also experienced.

“We’ve had to look at not opening as early,” Henry says. “We don’t do brunch anymore because we don’t have the skilled chefs to do it.”

“If there are only 50 cooks in the area, and between the pubs we have 50 cooks, and two go into town, there’s nobody to replace them,” O’Shaughnessy says. “No backup replacement staff.”

Henry told the Times the issue is multi-faceted and affects more than just the hospitality industry. “It’s short-staffed across the board,” she says. “Not only are you going to be short-staffed, your beef supplier might be short-staffed, your deliveries are going to be late.”

O’Shaughnessy echoes these sentiments – mentioning that his businesses “haven’t been able to get some stuff” and that “it’s a real struggle”.

Staff and skill shortages are not restricted to Auckland. Media have reported a significant critical skill shortage across Southland resulting in staff poaching, Queenstown hospitability operators facing chronic shortages and a temp agency reporting on a huge demand for their hospitality workers in Hawkes Bay.

Additionally, with the recent move into red light, businesses are facing cancelled functions.

“Hospitality loses lots of its cream in private functions,” Waters says. “That money was huge to pay staff.”

Hospitality New Zealand’s December infometrics report shows the industry’s large economic multiplier effects means a return to profit is essential for more than 232,000 workers and their families.

O’Shaughnessy told the Times that his businesses are currently making enough to cover the business.

“Going forward, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says.

“Whether I’ll have to close one bar, reduce staff and the menu, which reduces people coming through the door…it’s a snowball effect.”

With Omicron in the community now, local businesses lack the staff to have rotating shifts of workers. Henry and O’Shaughnessy have expressed a desire for two teams of workers where one group works certain days of the week and the other works the remaining ones.

This ensures, should staff contract Omicron, the other team can cover them. But this remains improbable due to a lack of staff.

“I’ve wanted to do that but couldn’t,” O’Shaughnessy says. “All our staff work on busy nights.”

Both Henry and Waters underlined the desperate need for skilled employees.

In part, this is where the reliance on foreign workers comes in. “We need skilled people,” Henry says. “People that have put a plate together. It takes years of training. There are skill and staff shortages everywhere.”

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