By Marisa Bidois, CEO, Restaurant Association of New Zealand

I started my career in the hospitality industry at the age of 16. From the very first coffee I served, I understood what a privilege it is to work in this industry. Out of sheer love and passion for hospitality I have committed the majority of my professional life to it.

I’ve been so inspired by the professionals that I have met as they pursue a career or run a business in our industry that I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.

To watch the community of chefs, front of house staff, café and restaurant owners grow around the world, share ideas, inspire one another, and establish genuine relationships is for me, what this business is all about.

But we are not without our issues. We have a serious skills shortage and we need more people to see us not only as a viable career option but also to take us to their hearts.

At the Association we have put a lot of work into trying to highlight hospitality establishments as great places to work. We spend time consulting with government, focusing on immigration policy, training our people and telling our stories. But, we cannot do it alone. Our goals will be achieved far quicker if we, as an industry, work together to meet them.

When we look at the barriers to our industry we see recurring themes. “No development opportunities” they say, “long hours, and low pay”, “not a respectable place for your children to work”. This is not my reality, but it is often how our industry is perceived.

Understanding the issues, of course, is the first step to solving them.

It’s about providing genuine development opportunities and looking out for the mental and physical wellbeing of our colleagues. We need to start a collective movement to address these areas and then we need to start a relentless pursuit of sharing our great work so that others will see the industry as a positive place to build their careers.

We released tools for the industry around wellness last month, in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation and courses for industry through St Johns and Lifeline. So be sure to check these out.

I also believe that hospitality extends outside of our industry and plays a role in the lives of so many. From two old friends enjoying their weekly morning tea together to big deals being negotiated in private dining rooms, hospitality owners have the power to change the way that we interact with one another – a power that should not be underestimated or undervalued.

This month we had our hui. The idea behind the hui was to incorporate the vision of two organisations; the Restaurant Association in its mission to champion our industry and assist hospo owners with running their businesses while protecting, promoting and educating our industry, and Eat NZ’s vision to promote and champion our best food, drink, and culinary tourism opportunities.

Our shared desire was to link the many siloed sections of our industry and bring them together for two days in a mission to create a collaborative and shared vision for New Zealand food.

So many of the attendees were nourished by what they heard over the course of the two days, we shared ideas, offered perspectives, and established meaningful connections.