An economist says an increase in pay for McDonald's staff would likely have stopped what have been described as "utterly disgusting" scenes at a Hawke's Bay restaurant.
A visitor to a Napier branch of the fast-food chain was so "sickened" by the mess she encountered that she refused to eat the food.
The woman shared her outrage on social media, claiming the tables, rubbish bins and drinks counter were filthy and overflowing with bags, trays and unfinished food during her weekend visit to the Thackeray St branch on Saturday night.
She ended her scathing post with an appeal to local health authorities to intervene.
A McDonald's spokeswoman said an influx of restaurant guests at the Napier branch was likely due to multiple events taking place nearby.
"McDonald's has protocols around rubbish, and expectations around restaurant cleanliness, and will follow up with the restaurant to ensure this isn't repeated," she added.
A fellow fast food fanatic noted similar issues at the Havelock North branch of McDonald's.
The McDonald's spokeswoman said recent harvests in the region, home to hundreds of orchards, had led to workers choosing apple bins over burger boxes.
"Many businesses in Hawke's Bay face staff shortages at this time of year," she said. "In 2021 in particular, shortages have been exacerbated by the fruit picking season and the demand for harvest workers."
Infometrics senior economist and director Brad Olsen said in provincial economies like Hawke's Bay, there's a lot of work and not enough people to fill the roles – meaning the job has to be appealing.
"Pay is certainly part of this and an area where the horticulture sector has focused on to attract more people," he said.
"Let's be clear – money talks when it comes to getting a job. There is a lot of competition on at the moment."
Olsen said a lack of overseas migrants has created a hole in a number of sectors, creating a shift in tactics and drawing resources away from areas that haven't experienced the same level of competition in some time.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday the minimum wage will increase to $20 an hour on April 1.
She said 175,000 New Zealanders will receive the increase.
However, Olsen said it was also important for jobseekers to remember that fruit picking is a seasonal job, while working at an employer like McDonald's offers non-pay benefits.
"Picking isn't a locked in job for an extended period, while McDonald's can talk up a secure job in the longer term and more than just the money in your back pocket," he said.
"Pickers know they can swap back to work at McDonald's after the harvest season, so providing something more upfront to lock them in these periods of high competition means they'll be able to get more staff up front."
The McDonald's spokeswoman said their franchises, which employ more than 10,000 people nationwide, offer a starting rate above minimum wage, and provide a "clear training pathway, along with flexibility and other benefits".
She said many local franchises are facing cyclical staffing challenges, such as students heading to university.
"As most people will understand, recruitment and retention for many local businesses recently has been exacerbated by the temporary increase in pay rates and bonuses offered in the absence of RSE workers," she said.
"We consider and balance any increased investments and costs in our restaurants with the impact that can have on the price of products we offer our customers."