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Dining out back on the menu in Auckland as businesses remain cautious

A leading Auckland restaurateur has seen an encouraging surge in bookings in recent months - but the industry still faces challenges as it rebuilds from the pandemic.

 

Auckland Restaurant Association President Krishna Botica says some areas of the inner city – including Britomart, Ponsonby and K-Road – are seeing a big lift in reservations.

 

“People are coming out for dinner in the city to celebrate special occasions,” she says.

 

“We are seeing more large groups, they’re more organised and they are booking early.”

 

Botica says inner city restaurants - include the three she owns and operates - have also seen a recent wave of lunch bookings by corporates.

 

“It’s great to see them using their budgets to encourage teams to come back into the city and spend time together.”

 

How Café Hanoi survived a pandemic - 2021

 

Many suburban eateries are also seeing strong continuing trade, Botica says, with diners choosing to support local and catch up with friends close to home.

 

Figures from earlier this month from Stats NZ appear to support her view.

 

They show retail card spending on hospitality (restaurants and hotels) was up 78.2 per cent (to $505 million) in August 2022 compared with 2021, when adjusted for seasonal effects.

 

It’s a welcome relief for an industry hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic - but the recovery is patchy, and there is still a lot of uncertainty.

 

“The hospitality industry is still in flux - it's still being reshaped by the pandemic,” Botica says, “and we won’t know what it will end up looking like until the masks come off and tourists are back”.

“I learned that making decisions quickly and confidently can often be the difference between life and death, for a business.”

Krishna Botica, President, Auckland Restaurant Association.

 

 

LESSONS

 

The pandemic was brutal for many in the industry, Botica says, and the effects of it will be long-lasting.

 

“We had to make some really tough decisions, and walk away from businesses that we had put a lot of time and energy into,” she says.

 

“Thankfully we are in a better position now.

 

“I learned that making decisions quickly and confidently can often be the difference between life and death, for a business.”

 

She says, in her case, the challenge of making the right decisions was helped by having a strong relationship with her bank, ANZ.

 

“We really needed the bank to get their head around our business in a far more intimate way than they ever, ever had,” Krishna says.

 

“They were patient, they let us talk a lot, and they could see we were prepared to make sacrifices, personally, in order to keep going.”

ANZ Relationship Manager Oliver Mellsop works as a kitchen hand for a day in Cafe Hanoi to raise money for the Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day appeal.

 

That relationship continues to develop, with ANZ Relationship Manager Oliver Mellsop this month working as a kitchen hand for a day in one of Krishna’s restaurants to raise money for the Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day appeal.

 

“There’s no doubt it’s been a rough few years for Krishna and her team,” Mellsop says, “but it’s great to see them back on track - in many ways stronger than before.

 

“I’m really pleased we were able to support an amazing and resilient business.”

 

WELLBEING

 

With the loosening of Covid restrictions, Krishna expects the surge in bookings to continue - but she is concerned about the effect the pandemic has had on those working in hospitality.

 

“The biggest thing for me, that is still ongoing, is concern over our mental wellbeing,” Botica says.

 

“It’s been relentless for two years, and people are still stressed, even traumatised, by some of the things that have happened.”

 

She says some workers are long overdue on taking annual leave, and in many cases want to spend time with their families abroad after not seeing them for years.

 

In addition, Botica says the flu and cold season, combined with ongoing Covid cases, has forced many restaurants to operate with reduced hours.

 

“If everyone was on board we wouldn't have a staffing shortage, but they're not,” Botica says.

 

“We're forced to play catch up - so we just need to be patient and put our people first.

 

“We're very proud of our team and, through the pandemic, we've all become a lot closer.”

 

“It's very much ‘we're all in this together’, and we need to appreciate that everybody's story is a little bit different - but that everybody's got something going on.”

 

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