South West worker summit reveals Vasse Felix and other top restaurants at half capacity due to staff shortages

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Ben O'SheaThe West Australian
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Some restaurants are having to run at half capacity due to staff shortages.
Camera IconSome restaurants are having to run at half capacity due to staff shortages. Credit: Gareth McKnight/Sound Telegraph

Some of the best food in the State is being plated in the South West, yet the region’s top restaurants are being forced to trade at 50 per cent capacity and shell out thousands of dollars on job ads due to a worsening labour crisis.

The full extent of the crisis was laid bare yesterday, when head chefs and business owners from the wine region’s most acclaimed restaurants gathered at Vasse Felix at an emergency summit staged by the WA Good Food Guide.

The event revealed one business that typically received more than 60 job applications a week before the pandemic had not received a single one in the past two months.

At least eight venues reported paying more than $1000 a week on job ads on Seek and Facebook, in a desperate attempt to lure qualified workers to the South West.

Vasse Felix head chef Brendan Pratt said their award-wining dining room could currently only run at 50 per cent capacity because they simply did not have the staff to serve any more tables and maintain the high standard required.

Chef Brendan Pratt.
Camera IconChef Brendan Pratt. Credit: unknown/supplied

Mr Pratt said the problem wasn’t just attracting workers, it was also where you house them when you do find them.

Accommodation in the South West is now in such short supply — a combination of landlords selling rentals to capitalise on a hot market and an influx of people wanting to live there — prices are far beyond what your average hospo worker can afford.

This has resulted in some restaurants offering staff more hours a week than the business is actually open, and replacing cleaning contractors with wait staff to ensure the wait staff get enough income to afford a place to live.

Mr Pratt said many venues were now in a Catch-22 situation, where decreased capacity left them unable to afford hiring more staff, which, in turn, meant it was impossible to increase capacity.

Listen to the full interview with Brendan Pratt to hear how the industry plans to fight back.

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