‘Real crisis’: Restaurants fear post-COVID staff shortages will make Christmas bookings scarce

Staff shortages and other factors are stopping the hospitality industry short of a full rebound.

Staff shortages and other factors are stopping the hospitality industry short of a full rebound. Photo: Getty

Your local restaurant is rebounding after lockdown, but hospitality businesses are facing a staffing crisis as they work up to the Christmas holidays.

New data from point-of-sale firm Lightspeed shows our bars, cafes, and restaurants are enjoying a post-Delta revival, with revenue rising 42 per cent across the nation during October.

But as the Christmas rush approaches, sales are still well below where they were this time last year and businesses are struggling to find staff.

The industry is now warning Australians could be left disappointed over the holidays as many operators fail to keep up with a surge in bookings.

Chris Tate, co-owner of Pablo & Rusty’s in Sydney’s CBD, said a “real crisis” has developed in the industry that could make it harder to find a booking at your local venue in the coming months.

“The concern we have is our capacity to serve customers given the staffing challenges we’re facing,” Mr Tate told The New Daily.

“There just isn’t enough staff to go around … there’s a real crisis.”


Chris Tate lost 70 per cent of his staff during the pandemic, but is optimistic for the future of the industry once borders reopen. Photo: Pablo & Rusty’s Coffee Roasters

‘Devastating’: Restaurants shutting down

Earlier this week the Restaurant and Catering Association sounded the alarm about staff shortages heading into Christmas, saying there are 90,000 job openings across the industry that businesses still can’t fill.

Wes Lambert, CEO of the association, told The New Daily that owners are already shutting their doors to customers because of staff shortages.

“It’s devastating,” he said.

“Many hospitality businesses are telling us they’re only able to be open four to five days a week for one or two meals.

“They normally open for six to seven days a week for two to three meal periods.”

The shortages threaten to sour an all-important Christmas period for the hospitality industry, which is hoping to make up for lost time now that lockdowns have ended in NSW and Victoria and borders are opening.

Lightspeed data compiled for The New Daily shows hospitality industry’s revenue is still lower in annual terms, despite Delta lockdowns ending.

Sales are down 1.4 per cent for bars, 0.1 per cent for cafes and about 3 per cent for restaurants.

Mr Tate said revenue has doubled post-lockdown, but sales are still a “long way off” pre-COVID levels, which has helped him cope with otherwise crushing labour shortages.

But once these restrictions ease, he fears some customers will miss out.

“Our ability to service their needs is going to be limited,” Mr Tate said.


The hospitality industry is steadily rebounding. Source: Lightspeed

‘Emergency’: Industry requests migrants

In an attempt to head off the crisis, Mr Lambert this week requested an influx of migrant workers in talks with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

But this isn’t expected to materialise before 2022, meaning businesses will have to deal with staff shortages over the coming holiday period.

Mr Tate said international workers on working holiday and student visas are the “backbone” of the industry, but many had to leave the country during the pandemic.

His cafe lost almost 70 per cent of its staff, as many weren’t eligible for government assistance, such as JobKeeper, and had to return to their home countries.

The cafe is currently trying to fill “a number of critical roles”, the concern being that it won’t be able to meet slowly rising customer demand.

“Now it’s about building back a workforce under the ‘new normal’,” Mr Tate said.

He said the “resilient” hospitality industry will survive, but warned customers that it will be different from pre-COVID.

Topics: Hospitality
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