If you don’t book, forget it: Queenstown restaurants refuse “dozens of tables a night.”

About 15,000 people descended on central Queenstown last weekend for the fireworks and celebrations to welcome winter 2022.

Freeze Frame/Jackie Gay/Stuff

About 15,000 people descended on central Queenstown last weekend for the fireworks and celebrations to welcome winter 2022.

Queenstown restaurants are turning away dozens of families each night as they struggle to keep up with demand over the school holidays.

Bert Haines, general manager of Future Hospitality Group, said not everyone could get a table due to staff shortages and many restaurants in the city being closed.

The group owns several bars and the Mexican restaurant Margo’s in central Queenstown, where Haines used to help wash dishes and wait tables.

He urged anyone planning to dine out in Queenstown to book in advance.

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Future Hospitality Group general manager Bert Haines is urging people to make reservations if they want to eat at Margo's Mexican restaurant in Queenstown.

Debbie Jamieson/stuff

Future Hospitality Group general manager Bert Haines is urging people to make reservations if they want to eat at Margo’s Mexican restaurant in Queenstown.

“We turn down dozens of tables every night, a fair bit with kids, which feels awful, and I’m not sure where or how they end up eating.”

The parents looked dejected when told there were no tables available at the 80-seat restaurant, he said.

“I have kids and I know exactly what they’re going through,” he said.

“It was every single night. There’s nothing worse than telling people we’re sorry we don’t have capacity for you.”

The Kirk family of Mosgiel have bought their children McDonald's for lunch because many Queenstown restaurants are closed or already full.  From left: Addison, 11, Luke, 8, Regan, Tarsha and Milla, 5.

Debbie Jamieson/stuff

The Kirk family of Mosgiel have bought their children McDonald’s for lunch because many Queenstown restaurants are closed or already full. From left: Addison, 11, Luke, 8, Regan, Tarsha and Milla, 5.

The Kirk family, visiting from Mosgiel, witnessed the situation firsthand on Thursday.

They tried to go to three restaurants for lunch but they were all closed. Two others were full, with a 20 minute wait.

Instead, they took the kids to McDonald’s.

“Nobody’s mad about it…we’re all pretty aware of what’s going on,” Tarsha Kirk said.

Customers are turned away from the Yonder restaurant in Queenstown every day during the school holidays.

Debbie Jamieson/stuff

Customers are turned away from the Yonder restaurant in Queenstown every day during the school holidays.

Breakfast manager Clare Ramage said business had been “crazy” over the school holidays and people were being turned away all the time.

“We were busy most of the time – all day, every day.”

The restaurant was currently closed in the evenings due to a lack of cooks.

“People should just expect it to go crazy everywhere. Be patient and kind,” she said.

School holiday visitors at Queenstown Mall on Thursday.

Debbie Jamieson/stuff

School holiday visitors at Queenstown Mall on Thursday.

Karen Hattaway, owner of the Blue Canoe, was great to see Queenstown bustling with visitors again despite problems with unwell staff and turning away customers.

“People need to plan a bit more and if you can’t make a booking, give us a call.

“We just don’t have the capacity to please everyone,” she said.

She is positive about the future, she said.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to raise our heads in a couple of years.”

Fireworks mark the 2022 Welcome to Winter Festival in central Queenstown.

Undersoul Photography/Stuff

Fireworks mark the 2022 Welcome to Winter Festival in central Queenstown.

During the school holidays, staff shortages are so severe that tourism bosses roll up their sleeves to wash dishes, make beds, and rent skis to customers.

This week is the last week of the New South Wales school holidays and the first week of the New Zealand school holidays

Haines said that not only are the restaurants busy, but the company’s Minus Five Ice Bars are booked for the next few days, as are many other activities in the city.

Coronet Peak and Remarkables ski resorts told people they were also under staff shortages and couldn’t offer some rental and transportation services.

“Please be patient, we’re working hard to make your day a memorable one,” their websites read.

Debbie Jamieson/stuff

The queues for buses to skiing at Coronet Peak and the Remarkables in Queenstown on Monday went on and on…and on and on…

Haines said the arrival of Australian workers had been of great help.

“Anyone thinking of coming to Queenstown to work, now is the time.”

A Queenstown Airport spokesman said about 188,000 passengers were expected to travel via the airport during the four-week school holiday season in Australia and New Zealand, slightly down from the 202,000 in the same period before the Covid pandemic in 2019.

Queenstown hotels also reported record bookings in July, with many being capped at 80% due to staff shortages.

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