Taranaki hospitality industry adapting to tough times during Covid – Stuff.co.nz

Nice Hotel owner Terry Parkes was making beds on Thursday morning.
He had to. The New Plymouth hotelier and restauranter has lost many of his housekeeping staff to the vaccination mandates. If he doesn’t make the beds there’s no one else to do it.
‘’So, here’s me working more than I’ve ever worked, when I should be semi retired,’’ he says.
And he’s not the only one. Restaurant owners are cutting chefs’ hours and doing more work themselves to stay afloat. The increase to the minimum wage is hitting hard, as did the vaccination mandates.
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Nationally the Restaurant Association of New Zealand (RANZ) says members are reporting losses on average of 30 per cent year-on-year, with an accumulated impact on their business.
On top of declining revenue, costs continue to rise – not only fixed costs, but also the cost of doing business under Covid with supply issues, RANZ chief executive Marisa Bidois said recently.
There were 348 food related business closures during the three-month lockdown last year, 247 in August, 55 in September and 46 in October.
In Taranaki, it’s estimated the cancellation of events this summer has sucked at least $15 million out of the Taranaki economy, off-set only by the L.A.B concert in January which attracted a crowd of around 12,500 music fans.
Many in the industry feel they have been left to their own devices without Government relief packages.
But while the hospitality industry is doing it tough, there are some who are brave enough to start a business just as the Omicron wave sweeps the country.
Chere Bailey opened the Wild Pear Kitchen on Devon St East in New Plymouth two weeks ago.
‘’It’s been a bit scary,’’ she admits.
Bailey previously owned the Deluxe Diner, which she sold towards the end of 2020, because it was too hard to operate during Covid, she says.
The plan was to rest and have a year off. But after being in the industry for 35 years it’s what she does, so she decided to start again, this time ‘’selling immunity boosting food’’.
So she looked for a location for about six months and in September bought the Three Pillars Cafe, also known as the Loving Hut, which closed because of Covid. Bailey then shut it down for four months.
‘’I felt like if we opened in February we should be over the worst of Covid,’’ she says, laughing.
‘’The closer we got I thought ‘oh my goodness’, but we were committed. We had to make this work. So, we decided to make the business contactless, which was a big risk.’’
But she had seen the ‘’writing on the wall’’, for the traditional dine-in restaurant model, so set it up as a takeaway.
It helped the New Plymouth District Council had recently built a large outdoor dining area in front of the cafe. People feel more comfortable eating outside these days, she says.
‘’People don’t want to be (inside) businesses too long. We just have ride out the Omicron wave and once we’re into the green light we’ll put out the tables and chairs.’’
Restaurant Association of New Zealand regional branch president Barbara Olsen-Henderson says takeaway businesses seem to be holding their own.
But there has been a big dip in sales for sit down restaurants.
‘’People are nervous about going out. It’s difficult, so it’s head down bums up trying to work through it until people are confident to come back.
Increasing the minimum wage has had a major impact, she says.
‘’We put our prices up.’’
It’s going up again in April, ‘’people are going to struggle’’.
It’s not just paying the restaurant staff, but suppliers need to pay their staff and the costs get passed on, Olsen-Henderson says.
‘’And you have to put the other staff’s wages up, because otherwise it’s not fair if they’re experienced and now earning minimum wage. It’s putting young people out of a job.’’
The whole uncertainty is causing anxiety, she says, and restaurant owners are doing a lot more now.
‘’It’s cutting chefs’ hours and doing it yourself. You have to do something to stay afloat. It’s stressful.’’
Olsen-Henderson closed her restaurant Lemonwood in Oakura at the end of last year after the rent for the building went up.
‘’Profits were down, and the rent was going up. If Covid hadn’t happened I would have been able to cover that.’’
But like Bailey, it’s what she does, so she has plans to re-open in the future.
Back at The Nice Hotel Parkes’ future plans are on hold.
‘’I was going to build another two or three storeys, extend the restaurant. But the money that was to go on that I’m using to keep the ship afloat. My dreams and aspirations of what was going to happen to the Nice Hotel won’t be as grand.’’
People don’t have the confidence to be going out, he says.
He used to have 30 to 40 diners a night, and now it’s down to about 12.
‘’Our accommodation is dead in the water. We can have nights where we have no one in and this isn’t going to fix overnight. Help is needed.’’
There was a meeting with the restaurant association on Wednesday, Parkes says.
‘’When Government makes decisions its behind closed doors, and they don’t liaise with the restaurant association and the industry. I don’t know where they are getting their information from. It’s all very well to offer a resurgence, but this is ongoing.’’
The slow down in the hospitality industry isn’t just impacting on owners. Over the years Parkes has sponsored ‘’everything, you name it”. That’s all gone.
‘’We’re still getting asked on weekly basis, but we can hardly pay the wages let alone…,” he says, trailing off.
‘’People are very unaware. People who own businesses are seen as creaming it, but we’re working harder.
‘’I lost most of my housekeepers because they were not vaccinated, so they all lost their jobs. As we’re speaking I’m making beds.’’
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