"Food service staffing crisis as SA school leavers urged to consider careers in cooking and serving food"

(c) Dianne Mattsson and Nick Tabakoff

Restaurant and Catering SA deputy chief Sally Neville said that, of those, the state needed 3400 to be skilled workers.

Many restaurants around the country reported the shortfall was forcing them to source 40 per cent of their staff from overseas, through a combination of working holiday and longer-term foreign work visas.

“Given we do not have adequate numbers in training, it’s clear that the industry will need to rely more on immigration to fill jobs,” said Ms Neville.

“In particular, the regions struggle to find skilled staff. They just don’t have the steady stream of travellers or uni students to plug the shortfall.

“There is a huge shortage in management levels,” she said, noting that it became particularly evident when quality new restaurants opened and needed skilled staff, such as the recently renovated Hardy’s Verandah at Mt Lofty House.

“There are very few at that level available.”

Ms Neville said that, while South Australia was a smaller market and it might seem like more workers were from the casual and transient group, the balance was the same as other states.

“The whole country relies on transient workers and uni students. It’s that drop-in, drop-out labour that fills the lumpy trade gaps,” she said, referring to the seasonal nature of dining.

“There are clear times of high need and in some regional areas some businesses close off-season, so they need that pool of casual workers.”

While skilled labour was the main issue, she said the industry could not survive without casual labour either.

Chef and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo, of fine-diner Orana and its casual arm, Blackwood, said it didn’t help that the Adelaide public was accustomed to dining-out bargains and were “unwilling to pay the right price for food”.

Consequently, it was a struggle to pay staff, he said.

“The food industry is undervalued here,” said Zonfrillo. “Staff should be earning 15 to 20 per cent more. No one wants to work the hours for the pay we can afford, and it is stopping people from going into hospitality as a fulltime profession.

“There has not been a week that has gone by in my career that we haven’t been looking for staff. We take people with no experience and teach them. It is more about finding people with the right attitude.”

Head chef at Penfold’s Magill Estate, Scott Huggins, said staffing was one of the hardest day-to-day things to deal with.

“It’s the same all over Australia,” said Huggins.

He believed tipping interstate helped draw people into the industry as professionals.

“Tips in Melbourne are phenomenal. In Adelaide, it’s not a thing,” he said. reporting tips of $1000 a week to high-end staff interstate.

“They become career waiters because (tipping) becomes quite profitable for them.”

He agreed that Adelaide staff didn’t earn enough to make it an attractive career.

Both chefs had employed staff on the one-year working holiday permit, known as the 417 visa, and believed it would become more common practice in the future.

The 417 visa allows visitors to work with two employers for no more than six months each. There also is an employer-sponsored 457 visa which lasts four years.

Rockpool Dining Group’s Neil Perry, who employs about 3000 staff, said he was forced to hire about 30 per cent of his workers from overseas.

“There’s some perception that you’re hiring non-Australians because it’s easier,” he said. “It’s actually much harder. We spend so much on training but, with many foreign workers, they are only allowed to work for six months with one employer.”

Guillaume Brahimi, who runs Sydney’s Bistro Guillaume and other restaurants across Australia, said 60 per cent of his employees were from Australia or New Zealand, and 40 per cent were on work visas.

“If I could, I would have 100 per cent Aussie,” he said. “We never say no to an apprentice. I’d give them an apron straight away.”

Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO John Hart said the shortages meant 38,000 food service jobs were unfilled.

“That will swell to more than 100,000 by 2018, and 160,000 by 2020,” he said.

Asked for his message to an inexperienced 18-year-old jobseeker who showed up at his restaurant today, Brahimi said: “I’d say: ‘I’ll get you an apron’.”

Zonfrillo advised: “Come in, bring your apron, prove you are keen to learn, be prepared to have a trial for a day or two, move quickly and you’ll probably get the job.”

Nathan Fallowfield, 18, is a first-year apprentice chef at Zonfrillo’s Restaurant Orana.

He said working in a cafe in his younger years helped him develop an interest in the “upper echelon” of the industry.

“I really strive to be good and work under good people who are doing really good things in food,” Nathan said. “Orana has got me really interested and really passionate, and I want to help out with what they’re striving to do.”

Nathan, who also had kitchen experience at Assaggio, added that skilled service people were just as important as good chefs.

“Especially at Orana,” he said. “Greta (Wohlstadt) is our front of house, and she’s totally different to anyone else I’ve worked with. She really has her unique approach to managing the front.

“They’re the backbone (of the restaurant). A lot of people think it’s what’s in the kitchen, and that’s true too, but it’s also about the service you’re given and how you’re treated.”

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