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'The crunch is on': Lone Star Owner Dave Gardiner

By PHILIP CHANDLER

Queenstown hospo operators, already battered by the dropoff in tourist numbers, are getting further beaten up by chronic staff shortages.

As a result, restaurants are cutting trading hours, copping complaints over poor service and suffering from stressed-out staff and owners.

Making matters worse, staff time’s also being eaten up checking vaccine passports.

The problem’s obviously caused by closed borders cutting off the supply of foreign workers the industry’s relied on.

However, operators say the government’s new policy, allowing workers who’ve been in the country three years to apply for residency, means they risk losing even more staff.

They claim they’re also affected by Immigration New Zealand delays in processing visa applications for would-be new staff.

Signs of the times: Signs on Queenstown’s White + Wong’s

You know there’s a problem when White + Wong’s, named NZ’s best restaurant just two months ago, has a sign saying: ‘‘We are currently experiencing extreme staff shortages. Please be patient, we are doing our best.’’

‘‘I think we’re in for probably the worst year we’ve ever had for getting staff,’’ says Lone Star owner Dave Gardiner, who’s run his restaurant since 2006.

He believes operators have already adjusted to lower turnovers due to closed borders, ‘‘but we all know that turnover is going to be diced in half again because we won’t have enough staff to keep up’’.

‘‘And that’s already happening here — we don’t have time to sit down and get another drink order [or dessert order].

‘‘We’ve already cut our hours back massively.’’

Gardiner predicts Queenstown will see a ‘‘mass exodus’’ as staff gain their residency due to the government’s new policy.

He points out hospo’s a tough industry — ‘‘you’re working nights, it’s anti-social’’ — so newly-qualified ‘residents’ could easily leave.

Staff issues ‘worst by length of a straight’

‘‘We’re doing everything we can to hold on to staff, but the crunch is on.

‘‘It’s like putting on band-aids on my roster every week — those band-aids are being stretched and eventually they’re going to rip in half, and they already just about are.’’

For Speight’s Ale House owner Clark Frew, who celebrates 20 years in business in September, the staffing situation’s ‘‘the worst by the length of a straight, I’ve never, ever, ever had staffing being this tight’’.

‘‘All the travellers can go home — they can all get back to Britain and North America and Europe — but no one’s coming in.’’

And the government’s residency policy is helping those left, also leave.

‘‘They get more work elsewhere and it’s cheaper to live elsewhere — they couldn’t get sponsored elsewhere before this happened.

‘‘This next five months are probably going to be the hardest of the whole lot we’ve faced.’’ Pub on Wharf owner Chris Buckley, who’s been in local hospo since 2007, also says the staffing’s ‘‘by far the hardest it’s ever been’’.

On New Year’s Eve, when he’d normally have 12 front-of-house staff, he only had four — which he supplemented with friends and family.

‘‘It takes an extra person out to check these vaccine passes, and it’s just a pain.’’

Most Kiwis coming to Queenstown would end up in construction, he suggests — ‘‘fair enough, it’s quite good hours’’ — but he notes hospo employers are paying even new young staff ‘‘bloody good pay rates’’.

McDonald’s’ local franchisees recently advertised they were paying staff $25 an hour over Christmas and New Year.

Fat Badger’s owner Matt Marsh also believes Immigration NZ isn’t helping staffing issues with their delays in processing visas.

Meanwhile, Hamish Klein, Good Group’s chief operations manager NZ, whose company owns White + Wong’s, says their Auckland and Aussie operations also face staffing
challenges.

scoop@scene.co.nz