resolve the shortage of catering staff in the NSW area

Vacationers in the NSW area could find themselves ordering more take out this summer, with restaurants slashing restaurant hours and capacity due to a severe staff shortage.

“Most restaurants here have to limit what they can offer because they can’t find enough staff,” says Michelle Bishop, president of the South Coast Tourism Industry Association and owner of Bangalay Luxury Villas and Dining at Shoalhaven Heads.

“It’s really frustrating because people walk into restaurants without a reservation and they’ll see the dining room isn’t full, but they can’t figure out why they can’t have a table. Unfortunately, a lot of places just don’t have staff to meet the demand.

Chef Simon Evans prepares prime rib at Bangalay Dining in Shoalhaven Heads. Photo: Janie Barrett

It’s a problem common to high-tourist areas across the country: Holiday towns are getting more and more crowded, but the closure of Australia’s international border by COVID-19 has stopped the flow of foreign workers on whom the hotel industry has long counted.

Meanwhile, see-saw lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria have pushed Australian restaurant workers to seek employment in industries more resistant to pandemics.

This means regional restaurants cannot make the most of a huge demand for their service (and recoup a good chunk of revenue lost to coronavirus restrictions) now that fully vaccinated NSW residents are allowed to travel. for their recreation statewide.

Jo Thomas and Alex Delly with their family in Small Town, Milton.  Thomas says they would like to open for the outside ...

Jo Thomas and Alex Delly with their family in Small Town, Milton. Thomas says they would like to open for al fresco dining, but they just can’t find the staff. Photo: Tim Deutscher

“Reservations are already incredible for the summer, and we continue to be excited about the state government’s $ 5,000 outdoor dining grant. [to establish new al fresco settings]”says Jo Thomas, who runs the 26-place Small Town Food + Wine in Milton on the South Coast with her husband Alex Delly.

“It would be nice to have a few umbrellas and tables outside, but then we remember that we can’t serve more people anymore. We would love to open every day, but at the moment we only have enough people for the dining room staff four days a week. “

Hospitality job boards have been inundated with ads for kitchen and dining positions since the lockdown was lifted on October 11.

While Sydney restaurateurs also have considerable difficulty finding employees, regional hotel companies have a much smaller pool of potential staff than their counterparts in the city.

“There is a misconception that anyone who comes to work in a restaurant has to be bright and polite from day one, but, to be honest, we just want anyone with two arms, two legs, a brain and a slight personality. “says Thomas. “We’ll teach you the rest. “

While a regional restaurant operator can attract a new staff member from outside their region, they must also ensure that the employee has suitable accommodation.

Engaging with staff during the lockdown means Harvest can reopen with a full restaurant team to meet demand over the summer.

Engaging with staff during the lockdown means Harvest can reopen with a full restaurant team to meet demand over the summer. Photo: Élise Derwin

“You have to offer the whole package,” says Thomas. “But affordable rentals are getting harder and harder to find on the South Coast, with more and more people from Sydney and Melbourne moving here or buying vacation homes that they can put on Airbnb.

“We were just lucky enough to find accommodation for a new chef last year just by asking on Instagram, and now she lives in the servant quarters of an old mansion just outside of town.”

It’s a similar story in the Northern Rivers, where a Byron Bay barista can find the most affordable rent is a sharehouse at Casino, an hour’s drive away.

Muse restaurant chef-owner Troy Rhoades-Brown has trained the people of Hunter Valley over the past decade and has not ...

Muse restaurant chef-owner Troy Rhoades-Brown has trained the people of Hunter Valley over the past decade and has not lost any employees during the pandemic. Photo: Supplied

“I spent a lot of my time during the pandemic finding local housing for people,” says Tristan Grier, co-owner of Harvest restaurant, bakery and delicatessen in the Byron backcountry. .

A resident of Northern Rivers for 20 years, the restaurateur has been able to use his connections to find Grandma’s apartments and spare rooms for chefs and dining staff moving to the area.

After realizing he didn’t have enough staff to meet demand after the first wave of COVID, Grier also got into debt during the last lockdown by making sure employees stay connected with Harvest. The restaurant provided an additional 15 hours of work per person each week through odd jobs on farms, delivering food and building boxes of vegetables.

"We use the word “partners” at Harvest, not “the staff”," said Tristan Grier.

“At Harvest, we use the word ‘partners’, not ‘staff,’ says Tristan Grier. Photo: Élise Derwin

“All the money we spent back then we knew we would get it back by ten because we didn’t lose anybody, and now we can reopen with a full team seven days and five nights a week,” said Grier, who will be working with Harvest’s new sustainability-focused chefs, Jo Barrett and Matt Stone, this summer, as well as the group’s senior creative director, David Moyle.

“We also use the word ‘partners’ at Harvest, not ‘personal’,” he says.

“A big part of solving the shortage problem – which was also a problem before the pandemic – is how to keep people away from being a commodity in the hospitality industry, as we have seen them for a very long time, to shaping a restaurant job into a career.

“It means providing people with pathways and asking them what they need to be happy and what they need for an education.”

Thomas agrees that better promotion of hospitality as a career choice for young Australians is the long-term key to solving the staff shortage problem in regional restaurants, rather than relying on working holidays and qualified visa holders.

“There is often a gap when it comes to working with local high schools and TAFE in regional areas and we end up losing our children to the city,” she says.

Indeed, at Muse Restaurant in the Hunter Valley, Chef Owner Troy Rhoades-Brown has focused on training local youth over the past decade and has kept his 26 gourmet staff during the pandemic.

“I ask many 11th grade students who study food technology to visit Muse so I can show them around the restaurant, cook a few dishes and tell them about the quality of hospitality as a profession,” he says. .

“I tell them about the opportunities for travel and financial success within the industry, as these students also have to come home and justify why working in a restaurant is a career they want to pursue, when their parents might want them. push towards university.

“Being an approachable boss and not throwing hot pots at kitchen staff also helps attract people.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Griffin has also focused on providing full-time paid positions and career paths at Bangalay Dining, in addition to lobbying the government for more affordable child care for the child. evening hotel staff.

“We have people ready and willing to work for us, but they can’t ask anyone to look after their children at an affordable rate after 5 pm,” she says.

“An increase in financial assistance for hotel workers who have to pay for after-hours child care would not be a quick fix, but it would help a lot.

“There are multiple barriers to getting people to work in the regional hospitality industry, and multiple actions are needed to resolve the staff shortage crisis.”

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