Northland eateries were among 2000 restaurants across the country that switched off their lights for two minutes during service on July 6 to raise awareness of the industry's ongoing staffing crisis.
The hospitality sector is facing nationwide shortages of chefs, bartenders, waiters, kitchen hands and maitres de maison as New Zealand borders remain largely closed to travellers because of Covid-19 restrictions.
It has prompted the Restaurant Association to lead a two-month "Reset campaign" which included the recent "lights out" event to educate customers and the Government on the impact the skill shortages are having on business owners.
The campaign also includes a petition calling for further Government consultation on its immigration policy which has so far gathered more than 5000 signatures.
Māha Restaurant owner Diane Langman, who signed the petition, said it was "concerning" how difficult it is to find skilled chefs in Northland.
The Kerikeri eatery's current chef is from Argentina and they're not sure if he can stay after his visa runs out in September.
"It's very uncertain," Langman said.
"It's an awful situation. Where are we going to find the next person?
"Finding the next person is very difficult in Northland.
"It's not just our industry, regular customers are saying it's horticulture and other professions ... everyone's finding it difficult."
While restaurateurs agree business has improved post lockdown, many are now struggling to find and replace key staff enabling them to keep up with demand.
The owners of three top Auckland restaurants recently closed their businesses for two weeks because they don't have staff to keep going through the school holidays.
Restaurateurs Sid and Chand Sahrawat, who own Cassia, Sidart and the French Cafe, said they simply don't have the people, and their current staff, who have been working harder to keep the business going, are physically and mentally drained.
Daniel Fasnacht, the owner of Beachcomber Restaurant in Kaitāia, took part in the "lights out" event, explaining to customers the reasons for doing so.
"We had to do something to make Wellington listen.
"I don't see anything from the Government that they're helping hospitality and the bigger picture.
"If bigger restaurants in Auckland are struggling, how are the smaller ones in Kaitāia going to survive?
"New Zealand has to change something otherwise hospitality will die."
Fasnacht, who was struggling to find skilled staff when the Northern Advocate spoke to him last November, said it's "even worse now".
He has been trying to find replacements for a restaurant manager and a chef who left three months ago.
Fasnacht said he had to train a 19-year-old waitress who had only been in the job six months into the restaurant manager role "throwing her into the deep end", and he still hasn't found a suitable chef.
Two have been hired, but the first one didn't last a week, he said.
"She was mentally not ready, and the second chef started and after four days said he had a job offer at a building site, that he earns more money there, so he's leaving.
"There just no-one out there."
The campaign is calling on the Government to provide an urgent additional visa extension for employer-assisted work visa holders currently in New Zealand.
It also wants to allow border exceptions for other critical workers from other industries such as hospitality where there is a proven need.
The Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said the situation is "beyond critical".
"It's a bit of a perfect storm in the industry with closed borders, and reduced holiday visas. We used to have lots of people holiday in New Zealand and working part-time while they were doing that.
"We'd like to see some of the essential skilled visas extended for around six months.
"We are competing with other industries ... no-one seems to have enough workers at the moment.
"It's a population issue, we just don't have enough people."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is "aware of the issues" around worker shortages in hospitality and signals there will be moves to address them in the "not too distant future".
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced in June around 10,000 working holiday visas and supplementary seasonal employment work visas due to expire between June 21 and December 31 would be extended for another six months to help manage ongoing labour shortages.
Faafoi said the Government's long-term vision for New Zealand's immigration system involved sectors "making a managed transition to new ways of attracting, training and upskilling Kiwis into jobs and investing in productivity measures that will support New Zealand's Covid-19 recovery".
He encouraged employers to "think about how to make this shift and look for ways to recruit New Zealanders before turning to temporary migrant workers."
From July 19, visa applications will be assessed against the updated median hourly wage rate of $27.
But Fasnacht said paying workers $27 as a starting wage is "out of our reach".
"It's not possible because the margins in hospitality are way too slim.
"Hospitality is the biggest industry in New Zealand and we don't address it right.
"The Government thinks there are enough locals to do the jobs, that's just not true."