‘Vibrant, busy’: Why 2022 is a ‘unicorn year’ for restaurants

Kiwis are returning to restaurants in droves despite the looming threat of recession, with restaurant numbers returning to pre-pandemic levels.

It’s a welcome change for restaurateurs after a tough start to the year, with Wellington’s Field & Green’s Raechal Ferguson saying there has been a noticeable uptick.

“The first six months of the year were really tough, because even though people could get out, they didn’t want to get out,” Ferguson said.

“But certainly this second half of the year, it definitely feels a lot more vibrant and busy.”

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Data from the Restaurant Association’s Consumer Dining Insights report, which surveyed 2,000 people, showed that 90% of Kiwis now dine out at least once every few weeks.

Among these diners, 40% ate at the restaurant 1 to 2 times a month (compared to 37.5% before the pandemic), 46% ate at the restaurant 1 to 3 times a week (48.5% before the pandemic) and 3.5 % ate at restaurants more than four times a week (6% before the pandemic).

Diners spent an average of $78 per week eating out and said they were motivated by good food (92%) and special occasions (74%) and because they enjoyed socializing (65%).

Field & Green staff prepare in the kitchen during the Covid Alert Level 2. LR: Head Chef Tak Tanaka, Executive Chef Laura Greenfield, Sous Chef Sam Stott.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

Field & Green staff prepare in the kitchen during the Covid Alert Level 2. LR: Head Chef Tak Tanaka, Executive Chef Laura Greenfield, Sous Chef Sam Stott.

Convenience was much less important, with only 21% of diners saying their restaurant meal was driven by a lack of time.

The Covid takeaway trend is now reversing, with the average takeaway frequency decreasing by 25% since 2021. This decline is expected to continue, with 29% of diners saying they intend to buy less takeaway food at course of the next six months.

Lisa Levy of the Christchurch Inati says foreign visitors are also helping to boost the numbers.

“There has been an increase, especially this month, in the number of people going out and dining. It’s good. Tourism is coming back and we are starting to see people from overseas.

Lisa Levy is co-owner of Inati Restaurant at 48 Hereford Street, Christchurch.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Lisa Levy is co-owner of Inati Restaurant at 48 Hereford Street, Christchurch.

“We’ve also had cruise ships docking at Lyttelton Harbor but only bringing people in for the day. It would be pretty nice if they could stay a night so we could have a few in town for the evening.

Levy says a particular issue this year has been the number of table reservations being canceled at the last minute, prompting Inati to introduce a $50 credit card pre-authorization on weekends.

“If someone doesn’t show up, we charge for that, and that seems to have reduced the number of people not showing up,” she says.

Ferguson says no-shows have also been a problem for Field & Green, which also now takes pre-authorization credit card details.

“We only have two tables that can seat six people, and we had one night where both canceled at the last minute, and we didn’t get a chance to fill them. It is therefore effectively a third of the restaurant that is not used.

Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois says the industry faces a set of challenges.

“Customer hesitation has always been a factor at different times of the year and the industry has faced new impacts such as staff shortages, increased costs and cost of living increases affecting capacity. consumers to spend,” explains Bidois.

Marisa Bidois is the general manager of the Restaurant Association.

PROVIDED

Marisa Bidois is the general manager of the Restaurant Association.

“However, it is clear that confidence is returning and that this is accompanied by a desire to rediscover the pleasures of catering.

Bidois’ cautious approach is echoed by Krishna Botica of Auckland’s Cafe Hanoi, who says that while restaurants are welcoming returning diners, it’s not all smooth sailing.

“Many of us are recovering, but the rate at which we do is being crippled by the fact that we have to stay on top of the cost of goods, staffing levels, hours of operation – there are all sorts of things that people have had to scale back in order to stay open. For example, menu development,” says Botica.

“There aren’t many restaurants around Auckland that are going to make big changes to menus any time soon, as everyone is working in the business, not on it.”

Krishna Botica says that while it is good for diners to return, restaurants still face significant challenges.

David White / Stuff

Krishna Botica says that while it is good for diners to return, restaurants still face significant challenges.

Levy says recent changes in credentialing requirements have made it difficult to attract potential workers from overseas.

“We don’t necessarily see people applying overseas who want sponsorship, and we don’t see the return of working holiday visas at this point,” Levy says.

“The cost of travel is very expensive, and due to inflation, the cost of living in New Zealand is very expensive, so we’re not as desirable as we used to be.”

Botica says a unique mix of factors means 2022 is shaping up to be a “year of the unicorn” for the restaurant scene.

“Any other year, you might see restaurant numbers drop with the threat of a recession and falling house prices. But we don’t see that, we see the opposite reaction.

“People are just relieved to have some sense of normalcy.”

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