‘No light at the end of the tunnel’: Hospo at boiling point in Queenstown

Roasters and café owners have also had cost increases on nearly everything else that goes into...
Hospo bosses say things are very tough for the industry in Queenstown right now. Photo: Getty Images
Life’s become a pressure cooker for many of Queenstown’s staff-deprived hospo operators — with some close to breaking point as customers pour through their doors.

Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Darelle Jenkins sums it up: ‘‘We’re operating at a peak, but with trough-level staffing.

‘‘It’s becoming a luxury for our operators to open at the moment.’’

When cafe operator Sam Lelievre, who’s owned The Exchange for eight and a-half years, is asked how she’s coping, ‘‘all I do is cry’’, she says.

‘‘We’re all overworked, under-staffed.’’

Due to burnout, ‘‘a lot of people don’t want to stay in hospo anymore’’, she says.

‘‘Like, chefs don’t want to be chefs anymore — ‘I’ll go and work as a labourer’, and they get paid really, really well to do that.’’

Sam Lelievre. Photo: Mountain Scene
Sam Lelievre. Photo: Mountain Scene
That said, she still pays ‘‘at the top end’’.

‘‘We’re probably short three or four staff, and I have two leaving next week.

‘‘Most of my other staff are leaving in October ’cos they’re on working holiday visas so they want to go somewhere else for summer.

‘‘We’ve got people that want to come and work for us but they can’t find anywhere to live, so they’re now looking for jobs that have accommodation with them.’’

Lelievre says she knows of places where staff have walked out because they’ve had enough.

Her solution is to close a day a week to give them a break.

However, with cafes closing, others opening on those days get even more slammed, she notes.

She has no idea when things will improve.

‘‘This is more stressful than Covid, ’cos at least you knew when you were going to get out of it, but this, you just don’t know.’’

‘No new people at all’: The Cow’s Mal Price. Photo: Mountain Scene
‘No new people at all’: The Cow’s Mal Price. Photo: Mountain Scene

‘No light at the end of the tunnel’

Staff shortages really hit home this past week for The Cow co-owner/chef Mal Price, who had to stay home when he picked up a bug.

Because he hasn’t found another cook, he had to close for five nights ‘‘in the busiest time of the year’’.

‘‘There’s no new people at all, you could put an ad out, ‘$100 an hour’, they’re not going to turn up.’’

In 21 years ‘‘I’ve never seen anything like this before,’’ he says — he’s now closing two nights a week and only doing three lunchtimes a week.

Long-time Lone Star owner Dave Gardiner says stress levels are ‘‘through the roof’’.

‘‘It feels like you’re juggling so much, and it can break down at any point.’’

‘No light at end of tunnel’: Lone Star’s Dave Gardiner. Photo: Mountain Scene
‘No light at end of tunnel’: Lone Star’s Dave Gardiner. Photo: Mountain Scene
During the April school holidays, he enlisted mates and supporters to help out, ‘‘but I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that’’.

For last month’s holidays he flew in staff from the franchise company, and put them up.

‘‘I’ve still got a chef whom I borrowed — if I didn’t have him, I’d be shut two days a week.

‘‘Part of the problem I think is there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.’’

He slates the government for its ‘‘lack of conviction to try and fix it’’.

‘‘Our industry’s been lobbying for well over a year, and told them what was going to happen — it’s pretty obvious they’re trying to restrict the labour market to drive wages up.’’

Meanwhile, Hospitality NZ’s Jenkins says the government’s freeing up of working holiday visas, announced last Sunday, is ‘‘a great start, but we’re still advocating for more wins’’.