Restaurants left short-staffed

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Bars and restaurants in Nelson say they’re struggling to find staff with their busiest month of the year fast approaching.

Nelson Weekly spoke with several restaurant and bar owners who say finding enough front-of-house staff and chefs is becoming a real problem and it will only get worse as university students begin to leave the region within the next few weeks.

Fords and Panama owner Garry Ford says finding suitable staff has been his biggest headache over the summer. He says it’s tougher to find good staff now than in any time over his 40 year hospitality career. “We have a lot of people coming through the door for jobs but a lot are foreign and aren’t here for long, or their English isn’t very good.”

He says he employs around 40 staff between the two restaurants and there seems to be a lot of staff movement between restaurants in Nelson. “Because everyone is looking for staff, workers are tempted to look elsewhere.”

Vic Brew Bar general manager Phil Williams says it’s also an issue for his Trafalgar St restaurant.

“Oh yeah, I think everyone is struggling,” he says. “It‘s a problem. Over the last five years that we’ve owned the business, the size of the pool has decreased. We’ve managed to pull together a really good team this summer, but finding the team has been a lot harder than other years.”

He says there is a “massive” shortage of chefs in Nelson and to counteract it they are trying to help train up the people who they’ve got.

“If I had chefs leave, then we would be in trouble.”

He says that even Winz have struggled to find chefs. “I’ve spoken to Winz and there has been very little coming through there.”

He says bar and wait staff are typically university students who leave in mid-February and are difficult to replace.

Garry says he’s tried to advertise on Trade Me but that is often a waste of money. “It costs $120 and often we don’t get any replies.”

February is, traditionally, the busiest month of the year for the industry and Garry says, with his experienced university staff leaving, he’s had to look hard for replacements.

“We have eight students with us who are all heading off in February and they are skilled, experienced, good staff.”

Garry says finding trained and experienced chefs is also a battle.

“I know the polytech puts through all these chefs, you wonder where they are going.”

Howard Morris is a consultant with the new Waka bar and restaurant on Collingwood St, where Hanger 58 used to be.

He says finding experienced staff has been a huge problem.

“The former head chef here has been rehired, but finding a sous chef is proving to be very, very difficult.”
He says the pay is good for people with the right skills but Nelson does struggle because it has such a busy season in summer and such a quiet season in winter.

“In summer we need extra people and in winter you are hard pushed to give your core staff enough hours. Finding people who are willing to work for a short time, and with good skills, is hard.”