by Beck Vass
Tauranga restaurants may be forced to raise their prices to help overcome a critical shortage of chefs.
Offering higher wages and perks such as health insurance are moves those within the industry say are necessary to fill key job vacancies in the lead-up to the industry's busiest time of year.
Bay of Plenty Restaurant Association president Nancy Hogg said some chefs were working six-day weeks, uncertain of whether they would get a day off.
Some employers were now increasing hourly rates or offering health insurance to attract staff, she said. "We have to start offering packages now. Once you pay your staff, you could offer things like paying for people's Southern Cross."
Restaurants could eventually be forced to raise menu prices to recoup the costs of attracting staff, she said. "One option would be that as salaries rise, as hourly rates rise, it has to be got from somewhere, so that would be one of the unfortunate consequences."
Paying higher wages would compound the financial burden facing businesses which, from April next year, have to pay staff four weeks' annual leave.
Staff shortages were mostly with trained chefs but waiting staff were also wanted, she said.
However, "the cheffing area is at a critical stage".
Mrs Hogg, the owner of Bravo restaurant and cafe, said she was currently one chef down and had been lucky to find an Irish chef looking for work who filled another vacancy.
She was aware of other restaurant and cafe owners advertising repeatedly for workers.
"It's a critical situation for chefs. There's not enough coming out of polytechs and many are going to Australia."
The Western Bay's "suburban spread" had also affected the situation, she said. "If you think about it we've had Gate Pa - not so long ago we had Fraser Cove - we've got Te Puna, we've got Papamoa and it's just spreading the energy of chefs."
Wharf St restaurant and bar owner Dennis Barrington said he had given up advertising for staff but was still seeking two wait staff and a part-time chef. He said he had been looking for staff since buying the business more than three months ago.
"No one seems to want to work in the industry at the moment. It is concerning. We've been looking for qualified staff ... we've advertised, we've spoken to Government departments. It's very difficult to find experienced people.
"I suppose the hours have something to do with it and it's not always seen as a glamorous industry."
One restaurant manager, who declined to be named, said Tauranga's bar manager wages were "appalling" - paying up to $7 an hour less than other cities such as Auckland. "You know what it is? Ten-dollar Tauranga. The rates we pay in Tauranga are really low.
"Tauranga's been at $10 for 10 years ... the wages are appalling for what you do."
Bar managers had extra responsibilities now, enforcing smoking and drinking laws but pay rates had not risen to reflect this, he said.
Joanna Braunias, executive chef at several Western Bay restaurants including the Kestrel and Amphora at Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, said although she had been forced to advertise for staff outside of the Bay, she had attracted several applicants.
Many chefs were foreigners and were good but "it would be good to get some more good Kiwi chefs though that's for sure".
Shane Armstrong, who owns or part-owns several bars and restaurants in Tauranga including the Harbourside, Coyote, Lone Star and Grumpy Mole, said he paid for health insurance for the entire family of one of his chefs.
"It is a hard industry to get staff in but what you find is when you get good people, you look after them."
A hospitality conference hosted by Waikato University's management school and AUT will be held in Hamilton this month to discuss ways of attracting staff to provincial centres. Organisers say it's harder for restaurants to compete with the higher wages offered in bigger centres.
Tauranga offered plenty of hospitality opportunities but it needs co-ordinated growth.
Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief Alistair Rowe said the industry needed 6000 staff trained annually to combat shortages.
by Beck Vass