16 Mar, 2019 7:30am – By Aimee Shaw
The Interview: Marisa Bidois – the woman fronting New Zealand’s $11b hospitality industry
New Zealand’s hospitality industry reflects the diverse ethnic makeup of society, says Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association.
Different cultures are fundamental to the food offered by the country’s 17,000 or so restaurants and food outlets, she says. “The diversity of our cities opens us to a world of flavours – literally.”
New Zealand’s food offering is world class, she maintains – and Bidois has had her fair share of dining out.
As chief executive of the Restaurant Association, a membership-based organisation, the Auckland-based Bidois is in constant contact with restaurant owners, helping them with everything from professional development through to their legal obligations.
Part of her job is seeing to employment disputes and advising owners but her passion is working on legislative reforms which affect the sector.
New Zealand’s hospitality industry is worth more than $11 billion, employs 130,000 people and Bidois is often seen as its face – advocating for change and better conditions for those in the business.
Right now, she is working on submissions for multiple Government reforms.
Two are taking up a lot of her time: getting restaurant and cafe managers back on Immigration NZ’s skill shortage list; and a Government proposal which would require employers to be accredited in order to hire overseas workers.
The association has already sent off its submission on restaurant and cafe managers and expects to hear back at the end of the month.
The Government is also proposing to change the measure that assesses whether there is a skill shortage, from taking a national view, to one that looks at various regions.
Bidois says the Government has taken inspiration from Scotland’s system and how it approaches hiring overseas workers.
Asked if the reforms would have any negative implications, she says the ability to hire enough staff would probably worsen if businesses faced further restrictions.
“The areas we are opposed to are basically the costs for employers to be a part of the accreditation programme. These costs are now, instead of the applicant paying for the visa cost, it will sit with the employer.”
She says there is already a lot of pressure on the industry, but she hopes any changes will eradicate exploitation.
Bidois met Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway early last year to discuss challenges in the sector, including not having enough people to fill vacant roles.
Finding staff – skilled and unskilled – is the single biggest problem for the industry, Bidois says, with some employers advertising for months at a time to fill managerial or leadership roles.
“There’s not enough people to hire or interested in joining our sector, sadly.”
Bidois was born in New Zealand and moved to the United States when she was two. Her father is Māori and mother an American.
The oldest of five siblings, she grew up in Denver, Colorado, before making the move back to New Zealand at age nine. The family relocated to the Waihi Beach area and she did her schooling at Waihi Primary, Waihi College and Katikati College.
At 15, Bidois returned to America with her mother, staying there until she was 18. She later came back to New Zealand for university, where she did a double major in anthropology and organisational behaviour.
Like many people, Bidois began working in hospitality while she was studying.
“My first job in the industry was working in a little cafe in Kingsland. I was a waiter and tried to learn the ropes and then as I was studying I progressed into other businesses,” she says.
During that time she also worked in the senior common room at Auckland University, at Paramount Restaurant, considered one of Auckland’s best restaurants at the time, and then O’Connell Street Bistro.
She later took a job at Hammerheads restaurant where she worked her way up into the position of maitre d’ and later assistant manager.
Marisa Bidois, with her grandfather (left) and siblings in Waihi.