Chef shortage starts to bite Waikato pubs and restaurants
All Graeme Blackford wants is a "good country chef".
Someone who is qualified but can cook a juicy steak, a good chicken meal and rustle up a few burgers.
But the Grand Tavern publican's search for a chef has moved into its fifth month with no sign of a likely candidate coming forward.
He's advertised in local and national newspapers and even has a blackboard sign outside the tavern in Te Aroha, advertising for a chef.
While there are cooks out there looking for work, no-one qualified has put their hand up.
It has meant the tavern's restaurant hasn't been able to operate.
"You can't function without a cook or a chef so we're not getting by at all, and it's starting to cost us money."
Blackford is president of the Thames branch of Hospitality New Zealand and he reckons his problem is not an isolated one.
And he's right. Hamilton restaurants were also struggling to attract top chefs while the New Zealand Restaurant Association admitted there was a skill shortage when it came to finding people willing to work in a commercial kitchen.
A search of the job website, Seek.co.nz, showed there were 26 jobs listed under the title, "chef" for the Waikato.
Pay rates ranged from $20 to $29.99 per hour while another job was listed with the rate of $35,000 to $44,999 per year.
"We [the association] had a meeting recently and talked about the lack of chefs," Blackford said.
"You can't get anyone. You look at the hospitality column of the situation vacant and it's all people looking for chefs.
"I know of a hotel in the South Island which took about 12 months to find a chef."
He thought there was a shortage of trades people across the board. Costs involved with training programmes were holding people back.
A lack of accommodation in rural towns like Te Aroha also added to the problem.
"People from the cities don't want to come into a country town, even from Hamilton.
"In Te Aroha, there's no accommodation, no where to rent."
Blackford said he had been spoilt for the past 11 years where he had been able to lease out the restaurant at the tavern to people who had "worked hard but made good money".
"With the summer coming up, we're going to miss out if we can't find anyone."
Blackford agreed there were plenty of Aucklanders moving to Te Aroha but most were retirees, and not looking for a new career challenge.
"They're people who have probably made about $500,000 or $600,000 on selling their property, and paid about $300,000 for a good house in Te Aroha.
"They've got cash in the pockets but not looking to work, they're 70-plus. You're not getting anyone in their 40s or 50s coming here."
Blackford said he was still hopeful someone suitable would answer his call for help before the summer season starts.
"We just want a qualified person who is happy to work evenings and weekends especially, that's where you're going to get most of the work."
Head hunting chefs
In Hamilton, the city's top restaurants were head-hunting chefs from each other because they couldn't find new people to fill the void.
More successful city restaurants were offering higher pay rates to retain chefs.
Lawrenson Group owns 16 restaurants and pubs in Hamilton's CBD.
Its chief executive John Lawrenson said his HR manager kept watch on recruitment websites to find new staff.
Their search showed chefs were the sixth most advertised in the country and the least responded to.
With no new qualified chefs answering advertisements, Lawrenson said there was a fair bit of work going on to lure head chefs from other restaurants.
He thought there were only about five or six good restaurants in Hamilton and about the same number of "good cafes".
"The sad reality is there's not a lot of good qualified chefs around."
Pay rates had "skyrocketed" to about $35-$45 per hour, in an attempt to keep staff.
Long hours and difficult working conditions were a few of the factors Lawrenson thought were limiting a chef's career.
"Working as a chef is hard. They work long hours prepping, work 12 to 14 hour days and we try to juggle the hours for them so they have four days on and three days off.
"Kitchens are very hot places to work in. It can get up to 30 degrees [Celsius] in the summer."
Some chefs moved into the industry in their late 20s but by their early 30s were ready to get out.
"They leave and become a rep or open up a cafe somewhere. As a result the demand for chefs continues to rise."
He believed many restaurants were considering applicants from as far as Asian to work in commercial kitchens.
Shortage of chefs
New Zealand Restaurant Association Chief Executive Marisa Bidois said chefs were on the skill shortage list for the country.
"We have done a lot of research on how difficult it is for our industry to recruit any particular position. Chef seems to be one of the most difficult," she said.
A recent NZ Restaurant Association survey found from 200 members, 65.57 per cent said it was "extremely difficult" to find a chef and 28.67 per cent said it was "difficult" to find a chef.
"We had 0.82 per cent - that's not even a whole person - who said it was easy," Bidois said.
"It's such an important issue. It's a hot topic for our industry."
Bidois also said more than 60 per cent of members stated finding a suitable candidate had increased in difficulty over the past year.
The New Zealand Restaurant Association runs a Pro Start training programme, working alongside the government to try recruit and promote the industry to unemployed people.
It's aimed toward people the association believes can make a suitable transition into the industry and offers month-long training and on-the-job experience.
The programme runs in Hamilton and Auckland.
"Our employment rate is extremely low - there are not enough people to cover submissions at the moment.
"There are great stories from people who come through the programme but it is difficult in general for employers to find the right people."
Bidois has seen small community restaurants get creative when it comes to pitching their job offers.
Businesses propose a lifestyle change, cheaper rent and a balance between work and home life, she said, but Bidois understands the difficulty.
"Through speaking with other members, they've said it can take months to find the right people, but that's not through lack of trying.
"There's been substantial growth in the hospitality and tourism industry in the last five years. It's grown a lot and grown quickly.
"All of these things are good for the industry but it puts more pressure on finding the labour."