Staffing is a major challenge for small businesses. Earlier this year, 12 per cent of owners said it was their number one concern*, and the holiday period increases staffing needs in the retail and hospitality sectors especially. In those industries, hiring staff during the holiday period is of particular importance, as owners seek part-time and casual workers.

Despite these challenges, small business owners continue to prove their ability to thrive in a tough market environment. They’re laying plans for and achieving growth via both innovative approaches and tried-and-true techniques to hiring.

As Kiwi businesses gear up for the Christmas and New Year period once more, we caught up again with Shafeeq Ismail, owner of Story restaurant on iconic New Regent Street in Christchurch, about what approach he’s taking to hiring for the holidays.

How Shafeeq hires for the holidays

Earlier this year, Shafeeq shared how Story was adapting to COVID-related staff shortages and blows to revenue, including:

  • Staying positive with sustainable business decisions
  • Reducing open hours
  • Retaining a smaller team that loves the job
  • Using local suppliers

But how has consumer sentiment changed in the months since – and does he see the restaurant faring across the summer?

“We’re seeing a lot of tourists coming in,” he says. “There are cruise ships coming down to New Zealand again, which will be great. Things are looking positive, but in hospitality it’s still hard to find the right staff.”

To ensure his restaurant has enough chefs and wait staff to keep up with demand, Shafeeq turns his attention to the part-time workforce.

This year, he will look to hire three new employees to complement the four full-time staff currently working at the restaurant.

“We hire people who work full-time or part-time,” he explains. “People who are working here for a year on a working holiday visa, for example, usually fill those roles – the young crowd, the travellers. That’s the flow every year.”

The opening of international borders has also brought in a fresh influx of staff to bolster the restaurant’s kitchens, which would be good news to any small business owner concerned about the prospect of bringing on talent from overseas.

Story Restaurant NZ

How Story attracts new hires

When it comes to attracting talent, Shafeeq promotes roles on recruitment sites and social media, particularly Instagram, where Story has an active presence.

He also points to the pay rate as another way the business attracts new hires.

“It’s as simple as paying a little bit more,” he says. “On average, I add another eight per cent onto the wage bill. We try to look after them.”

Shafeeq says this flows back into worker loyalty – making his job easier because he can avoid needing to hire as often.

It also helps, he says, to take on those you can trust to do the job well.

“You need experienced staff,” he explains. “Even if we pay a little more than the market [rate] to get those experienced staff, it makes our life easier. You don’t need to waste your time training, because they bring that experience with them.

“It all adds up. I’d rather pay more for experienced staff than for average staff – where I end up spending a lot of time training.”

With much of his profit going back into covering increased operating expenses, Shafeeq says it remains to be seen how the restaurant fares overall in 2022 – but he is hopeful for a positive outcome.

And there are growth plans currently in the works – he aims to expand the restaurant over the coming months, and will require another three workers to fill the gap in staffing.

“Now is the right time, I think, with COVID ending,” he says. “The start [of the holiday season] has been quite promising, so it looks like it will be a nice summer.”

*RFI Global New Zealand SME Banking Council, May 2022