To bypass the issue of trying to staff a new restaurant only weeks out from opening, Jenkins said Applejack started their hiring process three months ahead of when RAFI will open in September.
“It will be 290 seats, so a big venue,” said Jenkins.
“We are pretty close to getting the team sorted out, but we started recruiting three months ago, and we have been holding them [the staff] in other venues. Yes, it would cost a little more in labour, but we saw that the value would be there once we opened up the restaurant.”
Hospitality is often a tough industry with business failures common. Bureau of Statistics data shows the pre-tax profit margin in the industry was about 6.5 per cent pre-pandemic with wages and salaries a significant cost at about a quarter of turnover. The sector’s margins are relatively low at about half those of the overall private sector economy.
Yet hospitality, which employs about 900,000 people, is diverse. It ranges from often struggling cafés and smaller restaurants to giant hotel and pub empires that can make hefty profits.
A worker from one of Sydney’s giant clubs, Dave, who preferred not to name his current employer to protect himself from repercussions, said the pandemic opened up options for hospitality workers.
“A lot of people during the pandemic realised there were a lot of opportunities out there, and you don’t have to deal with the stress of dealing with customers or customer abuse,” he says.
“In warehousing, in pick and pack, you can make up to $35 an hour – that’s for a day shift. Why would you work for $22 an hour in a day shift in an environment where you could be abused and have to deal with drunks?”
United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy said the labour shortages are a product of the pandemic and the heavy reliance of the industry on temporary migrant workers. “They were subject to wage theft and exploitation, and we told them to go home,” he said, “They haven’t come back.”
Kennedy said getting these workers back involves giving them greater rights and a better pathway to permanent residency.
For Applejack, providing permanent work options to casual staff and showing employees that there are career options in hospitality has been a key focus coming post-lockdowns.
“We are a lot more focussed on asking front-of-house staff if they would like a career in hospitality and having succession plans in place for our employees.”
“A lot more focus has been on staff retention and promoting our workplaces as a social environment.”
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