A popular Whangārei cafe has found a way of retaining unvaccinated staff while still enjoying the freedoms Covid-19 vaccine certificates provide most days of the week.
Earlier this month Milk and Honey in Kamo said in a Facebook post that due to vaccine mandates, it had chosen to operate the business under a new model.
On Sunday and Monday the cafe would operate as phone and collect with a front door service, it said.
Its unvaccinated staff would work on these days, keeping their employment active, it said.
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From Tuesday to Saturday, the cafe would operate with vaccine passes, with a phone and collect system still available, it said.
“The divide this creates is heartbreaking for us, we feel this is the best way we can cater for everyone the best we can until such times that restrictions will be lifted,” the post said.
Milk and Honey owner Kelly Ludlow said its decision to operate under a “hybrid model” was to celebrate unity.
“We just had that real call of unity from the community from both vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike,” Ludlow said.
“We made the decision that was the best way to cater for everyone at this time.”
As things changed the business would adapt, he said.
“So far it’s working really well.”
It employed 14 staff but had to hire two more to fill additional positions created within the business to operate the hybrid model.
“To start with we had quite a big split with vaccinated and unvaccinated.”
He said the business it generated over two non-vaccine pass days was the equivalent of one regular trading day.
“There is an impact to us financially.”
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said it had been seeking clarity from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) about what was allowed regarding businesses switching between vaccine passes and no vaccine pass.
“Because we do have such a severe skill shortage in hospitality a lot of our industry are looking at ways in which they can still hold onto some of their key staff,” Bidois said.
An email she received from MBIE on Tuesday confirmed there was nothing stopping a business from operating some days with vaccinated staff and some days without, she said.
The email said staff did not have to be vaccinated to undertake retail activity, which included takeaway, so if a cafe was doing takeaway for only two days a week, then unvaccinated staff working on those days could follow retail rules such as facemasks.
MBIE’s food and drink guidelines say customers cannot consume food on the premises of businesses operating without vaccine passes.
The email said contactless operation was not required and customers could enter the store and select goods.
For the days the store operated as a cafe, all staff must be vaccinated, and all customers entering the premises must have vaccine passes, the email said.
The store could also operate a contactless option for customers without my vaccine passes, so long as they did not enter the premises, it said.
The business would need to be cleaned between business models for example, high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, and have clear signage, so that people knew what the requirements were, it said.
Bidois said hospitality operators were entrepreneurs and would find creative ways to make a situation work for them, she said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see more of this as time goes on.”
Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said operating a “hybrid” model in the traffic light system was all about survival for some hospitality businesses.
Operating under the traffic light system came with the added cost of compliance, reduced demand, inflation and labour shortages, she said.
She noted that staff who did not want to get vaccinated were entitled to four weeks pay if their employer was a business operating with vaccine passes only.
Then there was also the cost of finding a replacement, if one could be found.
“All of these costs add up and impact especially on small operators’ ability to keep their doors open and stay afloat.”