Creating an Industry Roadmap for the Future: The Restaurant Association Looks Ahead to 2021

The shape of the hospitality industry may change forever as a result of the events of 2020.

Seeing revenues rise and fall over the year and watching our hospitality members try to get back on their feet under the most challenging and uncertain of conditions has fuelled our work at the Restaurant Association and will continue to in 2021 as we focus on the recovery of the industry. We are all too aware that preparing for future operational success will need to be conducted carefully and with a plan to continue to adapt in the future if necessary.

Targeted support will be crucial for the industry’s recovery

The year ahead will present many inevitable challenges, including fewer tourists and international students, low consumer confidence, rising unemployment and reduced access to skilled labour. Support from the Government will be crucial for the industry’s survival and we will continue to strongly advocate for Government to provide the targeted assistance that is required for the industry’s sustainability and recovery.

We were pleased to see some targeted support come through via the partnership with MSD and the new Springboard training initiative, however, more assistance is needed. Throughout 2020 we were calling for several urgent actions, including rent relief and small business grants to assist those businesses most affected. There will continue to be serious economic challenges in 2021 and targeted industry assistance will be a real need, as much as it was in 2020.

While we seem free of COVID-19 currently, in 2021 another wave of COVID-19 in New Zealand is still a major concern for members, particularly as the majority of our hospitality industry is made up of small owner-operator businesses that cannot sustain ongoing closures and restrictions without confirmed Government support in wages, leases and other costs.

To front foot any potential returns to heightened alert levels, the Restaurant Association has presented a proposal to Government of alternate guidance and measures at each alert level, to enable businesses to operate whilst still maintaining the health and safety of customers, workers and visitors to the premises. In our proposal we make recommendations for fiscal support to be tied to each alert level to provide our businesses with the ability to plan, knowing what assistance will be available.

Ensuring those in positions of influence are hearing the voice of the industry

In 2021 we will also continue to lobby and advocate to ensure the voices of our industry are heard regarding key legislative policy and changes. Some of the most pressing issues for our industry include immigration reform, vocational education, minimum wage, fair pay, merchant servicing fees and more.

Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 in 2020, it remained challenging to recruit for skilled staff, particularly as businesses again needed to increase their teams for the busy Summer season. A recent Restaurant Association survey showed that 78 percent of hospitality businesses trying to recruit skilled workers are finding it difficult to do so. Our staffing shortages are one of the biggest stressors for operators as businesses cannot always operate to full capacity. Often there is a need to reduce operating hours, and in extreme cases, businesses have had to close due to the lack of staff.

Until this year around a third of the industry has been made up of a migrant workforce living and working in New Zealand on temporary work visas. Covid-19 has now made it necessary to reset the employee pathway as these workers are now largely inaccessible to us. The Association already has a number of recruitment and retention programmes underway, such as HospoStart and the new Springboard training programme, which will roll out in 2021.

We would like to see more employer-led training opportunities supported by the Government, with the Association expeditiously recalibrating work plans to include the building of long-term capability and improved resilience training across our industry.

The road ahead is going to be a bumpy one, but there are also opportunities

Operators identify New Zealanders supporting local businesses and building deeper relationships with customers and our communities as two of the most significant opportunities for their businesses over the next 12 months.

To help build connections with customers, the Association supports the work the Government is doing to rework New Zealand’s food story. The hospitality sector is an important part of this story and in 2021 the Association wants to continue to ensure that we are included in these conversations. We are seeing a rise in conscious consumerism: where customers are driven not by prices or flavours alone, but the origins of their food. Every rohe in Aotearoa has its own food identity. We see pride across the country in locally grown produce and food experiences with whakapapa interwoven back to the region.

We need to carve out intrinsically Kiwi dining experiences that speak to our culture, our whenua and our produce with an accompanying narrative of pride that we relentlessly repeat, through every channel available to us. Targeted investment into telling these community stories will broaden the tourist experience and support the unique nature of manaakitanga in Aotearoa.

The Restaurant Association aims to continue to be positioned to be part of the discussion on behalf of the industry to promote domestic and international tourism.

Creating an industry roadmap for the future

One area of key strategic focus for the Restaurant Association in 2021 is the implementation of the Association’s Hospitality Roadmap which we will work on collaboratively with different parts of our sector and the Government to create a concise pathway for rebuilding and repositioning the sector for the future.

The Roadmap sets out our action plan for the industry for the next three years which includes the following:

  •  Create workable solutions for legacy issues faced by the hospitality industry.
  • Continue to work on partnerships between industry and government.
  • Support the development of fit-for-purpose, adequately funded education and training options that produce ready to work, productive, career-focused workers.
  • Recreating our national narrative to improve perceptions around our industry as a career.

Now, the single most important issue for the hospitality industry is the sector’s recovery. In planning for the immediate future, operators will need to fiercely protect their cashflows, be ruthless with expenses, be imaginative marketers, and be hygiene experts, all whilst retaining the heart of New Zealand hospitality that the industry is renowned for.

It will be no easy job, but the Restaurant Association is laser-focused on assisting the industry to become stronger and more resilient. Our restaurants and cafés and bars are not only places to experience our incredible food and beverage products but also places to find the joy in human interaction and experience. Our operations offer an antidote to the turmoil going on around us - and this is exactly what the world needs right now.

By Marisa Bidois, CEO The Restaurant Association of New Zealand