The hospitality industry is in the grips of a "beyond critical" staffing crisis.
Those in the industry say the labour shortage is at "levels never seen before". Some are reducing operating hours due to lack of staff and some have even had to close temporarily or for good. Chefs are doing the dishes at one Bay of Plenty bar.
Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said the staffing crisis was the biggest issue facing the industry.
"The situation is beyond critical and is impacting our businesses.
"We were experiencing a skills shortage prior to border closures, but the sector is in the midst of a skill shortage at levels never seen before."
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government was aware of the challenges facing hospitality but measures to protect New Zealand's borders had kept the country safe from the community spread of Covid-19 and allowed business activity to continue.
The restaurant association had launched a two-month-long Reset Campaign, calling for urgent additional visa extension for employer-assisted work visa holders currently in New Zealand to allow employers to retain their existing migrant workforce.
Hospitality business owners stopped service and turned their lights out for two minutes on July 6 as part of the campaign.
The restaurant association's industry workforce overview showed 83 per cent of Bay members who responded to the survey said they had not noticed more Kiwis applying for hospitality roles.
One hundred per cent said it had been extremely difficult or difficult to find staff for senior or high-skill roles in the past two months; 94 per cent said the same for mid-level roles and 69 per cent for junior or low-skilled roles.
Only 33 per cent said it was easy or extremely easy finding staff for junior or low-skill roles.
Bidois said if the staffing crisis continued, businesses would have to reduce operating hours or shut up shop altogether.
"We already know of businesses that have closed permanently because they do not have sufficient staff, while many others are closing on particular days or for long periods of time to give their staff and themselves a break."
Bidois said many Bay businesses had bucked the trend, with many performing better than previous years but "the challenge now is to find sufficient staff to allow our businesses to trade at full capacity".
Hospitality New Zealand's Bay of Plenty branch president Reg Hennessy said it had been almost impossible to find staff and, sadly, locals were not responding to job advertisements or weren't showing up for interviews.
"I believe even the employment agencies have not got suitable candidates to offer."
Hennessy employed nine staff but he would normally have 18 at this time of year.
"The problem is we can't find them, chefs, kitchen hands, bar staff, floor staff or even cleaners.
"Running without the full numbers puts a huge strain on everyone and means we can't always provide the level of service we want to and have even had to turn away business, reduce our opening hours and ask staff to pick up extra duties.
"We now even see our chefs doing dishes."
Papa Mo's owner-operator Luke van Veen said it was "very hard" to find skilled staff and a lot of Kiwis were not keen on doing the job or not capable of filling some positions.
He said there was a "massive shortage" across the industry with limited numbers of travellers and open work visas being issued. The only way to relieve some of the pain was to pass on costs to customers by increasing prices, he said.
"There are many applicants that are now no longer an option due to unrealistic criteria needing to be met and pay being one of the biggest factors, as our industry already operates on very small margins."
The criteria for hiring a migrant worker are to prove there are no New Zealanders available to do the work, provide 30 hours work a week, and pay minimum wage.
Miss Gee's owner Ashleigh Gee said, in her opinion, the skill shortage was an issue.
"But this is just the immediate issue we are facing right now.
"How many people in NZ don't have a job right now? Why don't these people want to work in hospitality? That's the real issue."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the biggest issue in hospitality was trying to manage business costs.
"Their customers are generally price-sensitive so they cannot increase their costs too fast. Even small increases in minimum wage costs put more pressure on business margins."
Cowley said hospitality was struggling to find people for skilled and non-skilled jobs but the most common issue was the shortage of labour.
"Some are fortunate to find recent graduates but they still require mentoring and coaching.
"Others are lucky to find ex-pat Kiwis. The shortage of willing Kiwis meant the hospitality sector has generally relied on backpackers and visitors on temporary work visas."
A lot of stress was put on businesses that could not get skilled staff, he said.
"More work is spread across the short-staffed team, and the business owner is dragged more into managing shifts, rather than working on the business."
Restaurant Association of NZ Rotorua branch president Sharon Wallace said the biggest concern was staffing and trained chefs were in short supply.
"As I am a trainer, I am now finding it hard to meet the demand of the industry. As soon as I post a photo of a student on Facebook, I get asked for staff. They get snapped up very quickly."
Wallace said in December last year she could not go into a cafe without being asked if she had students looking for work.
"I did a lot of juggling and even went as far as going to pick them up myself in my pyjamas to make sure they were there for their shift in time."
Faafoi said the Government extended about 10,000 Working Holiday and Supplementary Seasonal work visas, due to expire between June 21 and December 31 this year, for an extra six months to help manage ongoing labour shortages while borders were closed.
"Under the Immigration Act, the minister cannot extend these temporary visas for longer than six months at a time."
Faafoi said the Government had also given work rights to Supplementary Seasonal Employer work scheme visa holders, allowing them to work in any sector, including hospitality.
"These changes provide employers with continued access to the current onshore workforce to help fill roles."
Essential skills visas for jobs paid below the median wage will also be increased from six to 12 months, to align with pre-Covid settings.
"This provides more certainty to workers and their employers that workers whose skills are still needed in New Zealand can remain here."