Hospitality group Good Spirits Hospitality is anticipating a bumper summer trading period, with the firm looking overseas to secure much-needed staff.
The NZX-listed firm, which owns 11 Auckland and Hamilton venues including Auckland Viaduct bars Danny Doolan's and O'Hagan's, alongside Doolan Brothers, Union Post and the Cock and Bull, is yet to fully reopen its venues following forced closures and reduced trading hours as a result of staffing issues brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In order to reopen its venues and return its hours of trade to seven days a week, it has started advertising "working holiday packages" across New Zealand, Britain and Ireland in a bid to fill crucial vacancies.
The business has begun pursuing recruitment of staff for working holiday visas to fill another 30 vacancies in a wide range of jobs ranging from front of house, chefs and kitchen hands, through to managers, payroll and HR.
The company is willing to pay for candidates' visas and two nights accommodation upon arrival in New Zealand, and assist with setting up IRD numbers and bank accounts. It says so far it has received strong interest.
Good Spirits Hospitality posted a net loss of $6.6 million in the year to June 30, following a net loss of $5.8m in the year prior. The recent loss included a $1.5m one-off cost from due diligence costs relating to the failed acquisition of Nourish Group.
In the year to June, its operating revenue decreased by 24 per cent to $17.7m. This was attributed primarily due to Covid-19 lockdowns, capacity restrictions and travel restrictions affecting international traveller numbers. However, the company says trading at the start of the new year is tracking ahead of expectations.
Sarah Hallie, head of people, culture and wellbeing at Good Spirits Hospitality, said the group was positive about trading in the months following a recent good run of trade.
She said trading had been much better than anticipated over the typical difficult winter months, particularly when compared to the same time in the previous year.
In July Good Spirits Hospitality clocked 7600 bookings at its venues and 6000 in August - a month typically seen as tough for the industry as a result of wet weather.
"We're definitely tracking a lot better than what had expected, I think we've had a bit of a recovery period and we're comfortable with our performance," said Hallie.
Bookings at the company's bars and eateries had increased significantly following the country's move to the orange traffic light setting in April, she said, and Good Spirits Hospitality anticipated this would increase further now that the Covid-19 Protection Framework had been abolished altogether.
"Our team members are definitely on board that we no longer need [masks and restrictions], and we have seen that with case numbers within our own business have dropped dramatically as well."
She said the move to ditch restrictions would provide a much-needed boost for hospitality and signalled a return to the pre-pandemic normal.
"There is a higher level of confidence that the risk isn't as bad and [transmission] decreasing so we're seeing more people coming out and more confident going out.
"We're preparing for a big summer, we're pleased that cruise ships are starting back and we're starting to see more tourists, and we've got a working holiday package that we are advertising in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and we're getting a huge response of people interested in that."
Over the past nine months operating multiple venues amidst the labour market crunch had been significantly challenging, Hallie said.
The business had to temporarily close some of its venues and over the past three months has changed its operating hours. Doolan Brothers in Newmarket still remains shut, and some seven-day-a-week operations have reduced operating hours to five or six days, while another was currently open only four days.
"Like many hospitality companies, we have struggled to get people in and working.
"We've really had to prioritise our staff over trading to make sure they are not working too long hours and we are doing the best we can by them," Hallie said.
Before the borders reopened in July, Good Spirits Hospitality faced significant setbacks to recruit and retain adequate numbers of staff.
This was because there were more jobs than people to do those, which had led to the student market it typically heavily relied on being more picky and choosy, Hallie said.
It has recently employed some German staff and has some Canadians and British staff members lined up to begin work in coming weeks.
It anticipates it will have all of its venues open and trading at full capacity by the end of October albeit dependent on its overseas recruitment programme.
Good Spirits Hospitality believes it is possible that trade will bounce back to pre-pandemic 2019 levels this summer if it can recruit the staff it needs. As it sets out to grow its workforce, it has begun using people-management platform Employment Hero.
"How things are going with inflation it will make things harder, but for us we're really looking at the service that we can deliver and what our offering is to make it as best as possible; make it attractive for people to come to us."
Hallie said Good Spirits could see its period of struggle was coming to end. "For us as a company we are starting to get to the other side, which is fantastic."
The wider hospitality industry had experienced a mixed recovery so far, she said, and there were a pool of businesses like Good Spirits that were doing well, but many that were still in "survival mode".
"As an industry as a whole there will be some who survive fine over summer and there will be some who will be needing help as they try to make a recovery."
Good Spirits Hospitality stock is trading at around 4.7 cents per share, down from a recent high of 16c pre-Covid-19 pandemic. The company has 200 employees.
It acquired The Fox and opened that at the end of 2020, and has recently acquired Velvet and has been operating that venue since August.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the hospitality industry had generally reported a pick up in trade in recent months.
She said operators were optimistic about a strong upcoming summer trading period. However, she warned that the severe skills shortage remained a huge challenge for many operators, with some still having to operate on reduced hours of trade.
"Trade has picked up which is encouraging to see and some business are reporting that they are busier then they expected to be at this time. There is still pressure on some of our business, however, with many still carrying losses which have accumulated over the last few years."