It’s the busiest year yet for some restaurants on NSW’s Mid North Coast, but workforce shortages are crippling the industry.
- Restaurant owners are struggling to keep up with a surge in visitors, amid a skilled workforce shortage
- Chefs have just been added to an expanded priority skilled migration list, which may help alleviate shortages in regional towns
- The nation’s peak hospitality lobby says the pandemic has crippled the hospitality industry
With visitor numbers in regional towns booming, Coffs Harbour restaurateur Stefano Mazzina wants to open another restaurant, but says he can’t find local staff to keep up with the growing demand.
However Tuesday’s announcement that chefs would now be added to an expanded priority skilled migration list has provided fresh hope that some of the pressure can be alleviated.
“I got a really good chef that is in Europe, if he could come over with the visa that could be great,” Mr Mazzina said.
“I don’t see anyone local coming forward, even when I do advertising.
“There are just not many local chefs that want to take on this career.”
He said his restaurant would normally employ 50 per cent local staff and 50 per cent backpackers, but with international borders closed that was no longer the case.
“We need the backpackers back — it’s the working force for our hospitality industry.
“It’s not just us, it’s the farmers, and the hostels.”
Chefs added to skilled priority list
The nation’s peak hospitality lobby said the inclusion of chefs on to the priority skills list would help address some shortages being faced by the industry.
Wes Lambert, the CEO of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, said the updated list would allow them to request a travel exemption for new staff.
“Ultimately we’d ask for cooks and restaurant managers to be added as well.”
Mr Lambert said there were currently 8,000 vacancies for chefs around the country.
But he said the industry had recently had some huge wins.
They included the removal of existing work cap hours for international students, and changes that allow temporary visa holders in tourism and hospitality to apply for a 408 COVID-19 visa and remain in Australia for a further 12 months.
Restaurants adapt to growing demand
With no signs of demand slowing down in the regions, but staff thin on the ground, owner of Port Macquarie’s Stunned Mullet restaurant Lou Perri has had to reduce his business hours from seven days to six.
“We’re not in any way ready to take on seven days,” Mr Perri said.
In order to reduce staff duties they have streamlined some processes, such as taking online bookings, rather than phone calls and creating a fixed price menu.
Mr Perri said the new, fast-tracked visa process for chefs was extremely welcome.
While he has employed overseas workers before, that visa process had previously taken six to eight months, he said.
“There’s some amazing skills offshore that are not readily available (here).”
Mr Perri said while they would always look domestically for staff first, there just wasn’t the workforce available.
While the new exemptions were very welcome, Mr Perri said the cost of a visa — “sometimes upwards of $25,000” — was also a major hurdle for small business.
“We need to find a way to create less of a burden to small business.”
Less interest in hospitality jobs
With the added pressure of COVID-19 lockdown on the industry, Mr Perri said he feared that interest in working in the sector was declining.
“The lockdowns have been a barrier to introduce people to the industry,” he said.
“It’s just too volatile at the moment.”
Despite the reduced workforce and interest in the sector, Mr Perri said he remained hopeful of a sustainable future.
“Restaurants offer a great backbone to the community,” he said. “I love this industry.”