Challenges finding quality staff have prompted heavyweights in Auckland's hospitality scene to call for more flexible immigration policies.
As foodies descend on the four-day Taste of Auckland festival and a swag of big names open new ventures, restaurateurs are fed up seeing high performers leave because they can't get visas.
Simon Gault, a stalwart of the waterfront food scene, said immigration was the biggest problem facing the sector.
"We struggle to get people that want to work in the restaurant industry and that want to put a smile on people's faces.
"That doesn't seem to be in the New Zealand psyche as much as it is in some of the travellers that come.
"Recently I had a French guy who was probably the most talented hospitality person I've ever seen.
"He was working for us and training people and Immigration wouldn't renew his visa so we lost him.
"Within two hours he had an Australian visa and he went there and he's not interested in coming back. He said, 'they want me in Australia and I'm going there'. It's a massive issue."
Guy Malyon, a 30-year hospitality veteran, is the owner of Good Luck Coconut, a Pacific/Asian fusion restaurant newly opened at North Wharf.
It was very difficult finding good people, "the worst probably I remember it", he said.
A slew of new ventures along the waterfront and the pending opening of the Commercial Bay development at the foot of Queen St meant other operators were facing similar pressures, he said.
Malyon said a "fantastic" Italian cocktail-maker "can only be with us for three months because of a ridiculous Italian working visa".
"I really think the Government don't quite understand the predicament of the industry at the moment, particularly in Auckland."
The fight for good staff is the flipside of the new openings in the hospitality sector. At least four new ventures from some of the sector's best-known names are open or imminent in the Viaduct-Wynyard Quarter precinct.
Beside Malyon's new restaurant, Stuart Rogan, the former executive chef for Harbourside, White + Wongs and more, has opened Hello Beasty at the sun-soaked former Cowboys Bar site in Market Square off Customs St West.
Savor Group - the brains behind Ostro, Ebisu, Azabu and more - is advertising for staff to work at a major revamp of the Auckland Fish Market next to Silo Park.
And the trio behind Dr Rudi's Rooftop Brewing Co are taking on the former Kermadec premises next door.
Malyon is making his first foray downtown after big success with Little Jimmy and One Tree Grill in Epsom.
Hello Beasty - beasty meaning "something cool", says Rogan - has been a long time in the making.
The owner and chef had been cooking for other people since 1989 but said it was the right time to strike out by himself - despite the strength of competition: "You've got to believe in yourself and what you do and your business model."
Both said the looming America's Cup, with its many participants and tourists, would be a bonus but wasn't the driver behind their openings.
"The America's Cup is a crazy time, fairly hedonistic and go go go, and there's no question it will be busy, but really that's a blip in a restaurant's life cycle," said Malyon.
"I know some operators are going down here just for the America's Cup but that's certainly not us - we're long-term players."
In the days before the successful soft launch of Hello Beasty last weekend, Rogan said it was "one of the biggest weeks in my career".
"You put everything on the line. What a lot of people don't know is how much. You put your reputation on the line, your capital and the amount of work that goes into it a lot of people don't really know."
Gault has seen plenty of changes since opening Gault's on Quay in the 90s. He went on to put Euro on the world culinary map and is now winning plaudits for Giraffe in the heart of the Viaduct.
"Having good people around increases the offering of the precinct so I always welcome good new people coming along and doing something. But it's tougher and tougher.
"The public have a bigger choice which is great, however you do see people struggle more.
"Yesterday I had a real estate agent ring me trying to sell me three different restaurants, all people that had invested their hard-earned money and were not making a success of it and were getting out for way less than they put into opening their business and that's very sad to see."
Gault said waterfront rents were "massive, ridiculous" and restaurants should ensure they stuck with top-quality ingredients if they wanted to stay around long-term.
"I've been in the waterfront for a long time and I still think it's a fabulous location, a little old fishing village that's now the Viaduct. There's a lot of foot traffic and that's what you're paying the big rent for. The America's Cup is a nice bonus."
ON THE WATERFRONT
Good Luck Coconut
Location: 39 Jellicoe St
Style: "The best of the Pacific with just a hint of flavour from the East."
Owner: Guy Malyon's Luna Group (Little Jimmy, One Tree Grill)
Vibe: "Uncomplicated, not too high-end, fine dining."
Sample dishes: Ika mata, poke salmon, hula hula chicken thigh yakitori.
Location: 95-97 Customs St West (formerly Cowboys Bar)
Style: Contemporary New Zealand cuisine inspired by the cuisines of Japan, Korea and China.
Owner: Stuart Rogan, formerly group executive chef for Good Group (Harbourside, Botswana Butchery, White + Wongs)
Vibe: Fun with big focus on New Zealand produce: "We didn't want stiff white tablecloths."
Sample dishes: KFC (Korean fried cauliflower), fried sticky beef cheek buns, Hello Beasty Ramen cup noodle.
Saint Alice/Bang Bang China Cafe
Location: Viaduct, adjacent to Dr Rudi's Rooftop Brewing Co, the former Kermadec fine dining rooms.
Style: According to the ad for duty managers, Saint Alice will offer wood-fired meats from a 2.5 metre grill and a raw seafood bar with sea views. On the other side of the site, "hidden treasure" Bang Bang will offer Chinese street eats.
Vibe: At Saint Alice "less is more and all pretension is left at the door". Bang Bang will offer "food and vibrancy you could expect in the back streets of China ... anything goes".
Sample dishes: TBC, but Saint Alice is expected to offer a selection of ceviches and sashimi.
Open: They're hoping in time for the pre-Christmas rush.
Auckland Fish Market
Location: Jellicoe St
Style: Fresh seafood cooked in multiple ways (charcoal grill, wok, fryers, etc)
Operator: Savor Group (Ostro, Ebisu, Azabu)
Vibe: "Set in the heart of Auckland's waterfront, with amazing super yachts and beautiful sea views, Auckland's fish market is reopening its doors with a modern open style venue with a state of the art fit-out."
Sample dishes: TBC
Open: The ad for front of house staff says November.
The blurb says Auckland's "newest destination lifestyle precinct" will offer "world class food and beverage experiences".
Confirmed ventures include:
* A "vintage styled Korean bar" from the team behind Parnell's Simon and Lee.
* The latest branch of Hawker & Roll, a Malaysian-inspired street eat operation fronted by Josh Emett.
* Saxon + Parole, the NZ bow from New York-based AvroKO Hospitality Group with a menu overseen by Michelin-starred Brad Farmerie, who cites our own Peter Gordon as a mentor.