The desperate need for staff amid the latest coronavirus crisis could force one of Warrnambool's key tourist hospitality drawcards to close two days a week.
Pavilion Cafe and Bar owner Jon Watson said the mass shortage had meant his staff were getting burnt-out.
"I'm so desperate that we will probably end up being here only five days a week," Mr Watson said.
"All my main staff are working seven days a week.
"It's worse than I've ever seen before.
"We are so desperate for chefs, cooks, apprentices.
"I don't know where they've all gone. It's not just us. It's every business I talk to.
"There seems to be a mass shortage of staff. Not just my industry, it seems to be everyone's industry."
Mr Watson said that while he was OK at the moment for wait staff, it was those other key areas that he was struggling to fill.
"When all the university kids go back we will be in trouble from really the start of March," Mr Watson said.
He said there also seemed to be no gap-year students this year with fears many were taking a non-working break after two years of lockdown study stress.
The Pavilion Cafe is one of the city's key hospitality tourist spots, and Mr Watson said the summer had got off to a bumper start.
"It was our busiest start to summer. Way above what we've ever had," he said.
But he said they had copped a lot of flak when they shut the doors on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
It's worse than I've ever seen before.- Business owner Jon Watson
"My staff are so burnt out already. As businesses owners we needed a couple of days off as well," Mr Watson said.
But just as the tourist season hit a peak, COVID swept though the town with hundreds of cases shutting down businesses all over Warrnambool including theirs.
The Pavilion was hard hit with 18 staff forced into isolation as close contacts or they were symptomatic.
"We shut our doors. It's the community responsible thing to do," Mr Watson said.
He said that by the time it was able to reopen, most of the tourists had left town.
But Mr Watson said he still needed staff to cater for those that were still here, and he hoped that offering above ward wages, flexible hours and very little night work would be enough to attract new employees.
Warrnambool is not alone in the worker drought.
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