“Coast fine dining customer service set for foreign flavour”

SUNSHINE Coast fine-dining restaurants may be about to undergo a cultural revolution.

Changes to the way foreign workers step into Australian fine-dining jobs could transform our hospitality industry by bringing a new cultural mix and attitude to the dining floor and kitchens.

The hospitality industry is looking to lure more foreign cooks, chefs and waitresses after striking a government deal to make it easier to bring in workers in the 457 skilled migration visa program.

However, under the Restaurant (Fine Dining) Industry Labour Agreement, businesses will need to meet criteria to access skilled migrants, including having an a la carte menu, having uniformed staff and a maitre d’ and industry recognition through award programs.

The agreement also outlines the skills, qualifications and English language requirements needed. While there may be a jobs shortage on the Sunshine Coast, those in the hospitality industry said it was often difficult to find committed and skilled staff.

Restaurant & Catering Australia said the agreement was “historic” because of chronic labour shortages “gripping the hospitality sector”, due to lowering the temporary skilled migration income threshold by 10%.

The peak body said the hospitality industry had a shortfall of 56,000 workers in Australia.

Sunshine Coast Real Food Festival director Julie Shelton believes international hospitality workers have special skills they could pass on to local workers.

“Good service at a high-end restaurant is about more than just skills: it’s about having the right cultural background and understanding of what service is all about,” Ms Shelton said.

“There’s no doubt we have plenty of work to do around our customer service on the Coast.

“We have a region where there is a strong growth in the hospitality sector and food tourism, with fantastic experiences and quality food, but despite all this wonderful growth, I’m hearing restaurants are just not finding staff to match the new paradigm. Our food industry is evolving but our labour force isn’t.”

The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly Estate executive chef Cameron Matthews said it was disappointing many hospitality workers treated their roles as “filler” jobs before they start their “real career” in something else.

“In this industry people are looking for a part-time job. Not many people see hospitality as a career: just a uni job before they find something else and customer service suffers because of it,” Mr Matthews said.

“In Europe, a wait person or maitre d’ is considered as a profession.”

In 2014-15, the Accommodation and Food Services industry was the largest user of the 457 Temporary Work (Skilled) visa program, with 4350 applications granted.

Jude Lawerence is one of those international worker success stories.

Lured by glorious weather, she moved to the Coast from Scotland two years ago to be the Tides Waterfront Restaurant manager.

Owner of the hatted restaurant, Michael Mulhearnsaid he would do it again in a heartbeat.

“I feel people who are coming here on a working visa are generally more committed, they really want to be here and are treating their job with enthusiasm,” Mr Mulhearn said.

“I’ve had Australian workers turn up to interviews with thongs and shorts on in a restaurant with tablecloths. We always stress to our staff that customer service is a big part of the job.

(c) Megan Mackander – sunshinecoastdaily.com.au



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