If, as café customers, we’ve learnt one thing post Covid, it’s patience. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by a pandemic of staff shortages. Most have signs on their doors advertising for baristas, chefs or wait persons. The government-imposed hoops to jump made acquiring permanent staff from overseas arduous and time consuming.
Many of Excelso’s coffee clients share the frustrations of keeping their businesses afloat and their customers’ needs met with grace and efficiency. Tom Ward, Excelso’s manager, sat down with Mike and Amy from Central Deli to highlight a journey many in the industry will relate to.
Falling Like Dominos
If taking over a café in February and having a first child in May was not enough to deal with, the second wave of Covid in 2021 was the real struggle for Central Deli. “One staff member would phone in with Covid, then several others would fall, like dominos,” recalls Mike. “Then, just as they prepared to return to work another family member contracting the virus would keep them home another seven days.” Mike laughs that he thought he had bought a café to manage it, not to cook breakfasts.
Central Deli was lucky in that they were able to retain a full complement of staff throughout the pandemic, but absences and departures required a different approach to management. “When one chef left, we quickly pivoted and trained current staff for the kitchen, working to their strengths and interests,” says Mike. “One of our front-of-house staff expressed a love of baking, so we capitalised on that and extended her job description! Putting a focus on upskilling staff has been a win-win for our business.”
The pandemic also highlighted the importance of creating a team dynamic. “We could not have coped without staff members willing to pitch in when others were away.”
These young owners/managers feel the pandemic has empowered staff to realise their importance in the industry. “People looking for jobs knew they could ask for more because the market was in their favour,” says Mike. “As this was a common occurrence, we showed appreciation for the loyalty of our current staff with significant pay rises for which they were grateful.”
As Mike points out, “To employ someone from overseas you have to sponsor them and guarantee a minimum wage for a set period of time, a big risk for a small business.”
Tom from Excelso identifies with this. After working in the financial industry in London he flew to Australia on his OE, spent all his money, and turned to hospitality to earn more. It made him realise the opportunities in the industry. Yet after moving to New Zealand, it was eight years of relying on visas before the rules suddenly changed in 2021, a result of pandemic employment shortages. Anyone who had lived and worked here three consecutive years was suddenly granted residency. “My relief was tinged with a little bitterness,” he admits. “I am now thrilled to be in a management role in hospitality and will never return to white-collar work.”
The “All Blacks” of Coffee
New Zealand (and we might grudgingly include Australia too) is internationally regarded for the quality of its coffee, the flat white now a global phenomenon. Kiwi trained baristas are the “All Blacks” of coffee, not only in demand in their own country but sought after overseas. An experienced barista will find the world their oyster.
Mike says he appreciates the input from Excelso in training baristas, in highlighting coffee culture and hospitality in general as a career choice and improving overall standards. Tom adds, “Our barista courses attract young people looking at their future, including high school students. We also encourage those with home machines to perfect the art of making a good coffee.”
Maybe, after reading this conversation, those of us who enjoy a good café coffee regularly should take a moment to appreciate the bravery and tenacity of those who cater to our daily pleasure.
Coffee Lane, 112 Third Ave West, Tauranga.
Words Liz French images Brydie Thompson