Children were forced to lie on the floor at gunpoint while a gang of well-disguised robbers armed with pistols, rifles, screwdrivers, hammers and knives demanded cash from staff at a busy family restaurant.
The men are thought to be responsible for five robberies in Auckland's eastern suburbs over the last two months. Each time they have turned up to bars or restaurants full of customers and demanded money while brandishing the weapons.
They then use stolen vehicles to get away, dumping them nearby.
A manager at Valentines restaurant in Pakuranga said the ordeal last month was "very scary".
She was in the office when she heard a loud noise in the restaurant. Thinking it may be a rowdy or drunk group of diners she walked out to see what was happening.
"I came down the stairs and one of the robbers pointed a gun at me and told me to walk out the front," she said, asking not to be named. "I went out there and I saw customers and staff all lying on the ground.
"The robber told me to lie there, too, so I listened to him. Then they asked for the duty manager. They wanted all the cash out of the till. He just gave them the cash, and they had a look in the office and then within about 10 minutes they were gone.
"It was scary. They were all covered up apart from their eyes ... two had guns, the others had knives. I just did what they said. There were about 15-20 customers here and three or four young children. It was very scary for them."
The restaurant does not keep a large amount of cash on site, so the robbers did not get away with a significant amount.
The manager said as soon as the men left someone called 111 and a staff member noted the registration number of their car, which turned out to be stolen.
"The next day we had staff too scared to turn up to work," the manager said.
Police say because of the efforts the men have gone to to hide their faces and any distinguishing features, they have proven difficult to identify.
The series of robberies began on October 2 when the men burst into the Highland Park's Shiraz Bar at 12.45am, threatening staff and demanding money. They struck again at Miss Q's Pool Bar and Cafe in Mt Wellington at 1.20pm on October 22; Africa in Highland Park at 9.20pm on November 4; at Valentines at 9pm on November 10 and O'Hagan's Irish Bar at Highland Park at 10pm on November 20.
Counties Manukau police spokeswoman Ana-Mari Gates-Bowey said the group were "targeting bars when patrons are in there".
"Most of the robberies have followed a similar pattern," she said.
"One man enters the bar and asks for the money, while his associates make sure the patrons do not intervene. They wear hoodies and bandannas to cover their faces and despite plenty of CCTV footage, there have been few opportunities for police to establish their identities."
Some witnesses have been able to give police limited descriptions. They said they were all Maori or Pacific Island men. One was muscular and in his 20s or early 30s and another was younger and thinner.
"Police are urging any residents in the area to report suspicious behaviour immediately," said Ms Gates-Bowey.
Anyone who has information on the robberies should contact the Counties Manukau police on 09 261 1300 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.