Restaurants owners brace themselves for bleak winter

Restaurant owners are bracing themselves for a bleak winter, following the announcement of widespread public service job cuts.

Restaurants are already struggling with a drop-off in customers and increasing costs and it's feared more will have to shut up shop.

And the extra cost of holiday pay over Easter won't help.

Wellington restaurant owner Mike Egan has been pouring pints and serving meals in the capital for decades.

He said the past two years have been tough and the public sector job cuts will just give people another reason not to dine out.

"That'll have a significant effect just because they're a high-paid group of people that populate the inner city. Even with 10 percent of them gone, that's quite a number," he told Newshub.

Already people are opting to stop at the supermarket instead of eating out due to the rising cost of living. And when they do go out, they're spending less.

"People might buy one nice cocktail instead of two glasses of average wine. So people are drinking less but I want to drink something tasty and delicious, and the same with food," Egan said.

The hospitality industry has struggled with this since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many restaurants have had to close or are on the brink of closure.

"We look at COVID, those that have been impacted by the weather events last year. There's been a lot of things coming at our businesses," Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois said.

"I guess one of the things that is on our mind at the moment as well as we head into winter which is traditionally a quieter trading period for a lot of our businesses across the board - will we see more closures popping up?"

There are fears some of the country's top chefs could leave the industry.  

"New Zealand has some of the best chefs around but it's very difficult for them to take the time and play around with the produce to make the product really perform," Dale Bowie said.

"So a lot of them are getting into that situation where they are doing the same old thing over and over again."

Bowie, a former chef, started The Development Kitchen to help encourage creativity in a struggling industry and allow chefs to get the best out of New Zealand produce.

"If there's an opportunity for it, why would you not go and do something that would support you and your family," he said.

"Big concern for me is that those really awesome people that we have in the industry lose the will to be there."

The industry hopes cities and regions hold events over winter to encourage people to get out and about and spend money.

"Well it just adds so much vibrancy to the city," Egan said.

"Just the mindset of coming into the city rather than just staying at home over the weekend doing the gardening or watching Netflix. Let's go into the city because there's something there."

But first restaurants have to get through Easter and its public holidays.

"There is that extra cost to be open, we do see some businesses pass that on to customers through a surcharge so there are some businesses that try and recoup that cost that way," Bidois said.

Egan said many businesses, like his, choose to close on some of the public holidays.

"We'll open Easter Friday but not Easter Monday. We think Friday people still want to go out. No one makes money in restaurants and cafes over Easter because of the penal rates for the staff so hopefully we can break even or just mitigate our losses," he said.

A juggling act for survival they hope extends well past winter.