Geraldton hospitality industry hiring anyone who walks in the door as staff shortage impact service standards

Michael RobertsGeraldton Guardian
Ever-busy Geraldton brekky spot Cafe Fleur.
Camera IconEver-busy Geraldton brekky spot Cafe Fleur. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian, Lisa Favazzo

A two-hour job trial is a tried and true hospitality tradition in WA.

Hospo managers use them as a way to test a candidate’s suitability for the role and whether they can handle the pressure of a fast-paced industry where one mistake can ruin a business’ reputation.

But employers are having to bin these old methods of finding skilled staff as the sector continues to struggle through a chronic labour shortage that is disproportionately affecting regional areas such as Geraldton.

The Guardian hit the streets of the Geraldton CBD last week to see how some of our favourite haunts were getting on — and the reviews were mixed.

Bustling seaside restaurant Skeetas seemed to be one of the establishments struggling the most for staff.

Skeetas Restaurant manager Haley Morris.
Camera IconSkeetas Restaurant manager Haley Morris. Credit: Reuben Carder/Geraldton Guardian

General manager Haley Morris said she was basically taking on anyone who wanted a job.

“I hire everyone that walks in the door but they aren’t walking in,” she said.

Ms Morris said she was spending up to $800 to advertise for chefs on Seek, and had posted on almost every job page on Facebook, but wasn’t getting much of a response.

“The old methods don’t work anymore,” she said. “I’ve advertised from Broome to Margaret River for staff.”

A looming December 31 deadline for all hospitality staff to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is also causing headaches.

Ms Morris said three of her staff had recently quit because of the vaccine mandates, leaving her in a difficult position ahead of the busy summer months.

“There’s no shortage of people coming in but guests don’t understand why they are waiting longer for food or coffee,” she said.

“When we are trying to serve the customers to a high standard but you just can’t physically do it, it just breaks your heart.”

The industry is having to become more agile and creative than ever before to attract reliable bartenders, baristas, chefs and waiters.

The Gerald Hotel assistant general manager Gemma Clark.
Camera IconThe Gerald Hotel assistant general manager Gemma Clark. Credit: Michael Roberts

Over at The Gerald Hotel, assistant general manager Gemma Clark is finalising a plan whereby current staff will be offered incentives to find new employees.

“We haven’t worked out whether it’s a gift or cash yet,” she said.

“Geraldton is all about who you know. We are a little bit better off than some, but there are still shortages. We have posi-tions open across the whole team.”

The hotel has had to cast its net far and wide, hiring one of its managers from South Australia and another from South Africa through a recruitment agency.

“We weren’t going to find anything here,” Ms Clark said.

“Getting people to stay and commit is tough. The biggest struggle is accommodation. There a bunch of people the duty managers know who would come to Geraldton to work during the busy season but we’ve got nowhere to put them.”

It isn’t doom and gloom for all hospitality businesses, however.

The Provincial’s Hayden Bickley, Ciaran Scully, Edward Njenga and Paige Smith.
Camera IconThe Provincial’s Hayden Bickley, Ciaran Scully, Edward Njenga and Paige Smith. Credit: Pictures: Michael Roberts

While some operators have had to limit their operating hours, Marine Terrace bar The Provincial has recently extended its trad-ing hours to open during the day.

General manager Ciaran Scully said he had invested a lot of time into training inexperienced staff he might not have hired before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you get staff, they are gold, so you have to look after them,” he said. “We have to make hay while the sun is shining.

“Survival is the name of the game.” Mr Scully said some of his staff had held concerns about the vaccine mandates, but he was advised by the WA branch of the Australian Hotels Association asking a staff member about their vaccination status was not legal yet.

AHA WA said the industry was in a holding pattern until details on the mandate were finalised.

“A very small percentage of hospitality workers hold concerns about vaccinations, and businesses are reporting to us that 95-100 per cent of staff support vaccination,” chief executive Bradley Woods said.

“Labour shortages are placing enormous pressure on workers and business owners, particularly as we head into the busy summer season, so the sooner WA reaches a Statewide second vaccination rate of 90 per cent, the sooner we can open the borders to more workers.”

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