Bar and restaurant owners are being told they should pay better wages if they want to hire more New Zealanders.
Hospitality bosses say they are struggling to get locals to apply for jobs and need skilled migrants to stay in the country to keep the industry going.
The government has backed off proposals to make it harder for skilled migrants to stay in the country after employers complained the changes would be costly and impractical.
Chef Simon Gault told Morning Report yesterday it was difficult to find New Zealanders to work in his restaurants, and it was migrant workers who kept the industry running.
But locals who've worked in hospitality said it would be a different story if the wages were better.
Bella left hospitality because of the hard work and poor pay, she said. As a manager, with 15 years' experience in the industry, she was on $20 an hour.
She decided to head back to university, and took on a part-time corporate customer relations role instead.
"I'm getting paid $10 more to do a job that is significantly easier. I can work 30 hours and sustain myself through uni."
During her time in the industry, Bella found the attitudes to her career baffling.
Too many New Zealanders regarded a bar, cafe or restaurant job as low status, she said, and thought it was just "something do when you're young".
It wasn't until she owned her own business that people started to express respect for her work, she said.
Krishna Botica is front of house director for restaurant group Comensa, which runs Auckland eateries including Cafe Hanoi and Saan.
She said the industry would have to improve wages and conditions if it wanted to change the negative perception about what it was like to work in hospitality.
It was extremely difficult to attract New Zealanders, to kitchen jobs especially, and there were 15 different nationalities among her company's 85 staff.
Ms Botica said it made sense to hire migrant workers, who might also have specialised cooking skills.
Retaining staff was also important as it was expensive to train people.
"You employ someone on a visa on the understanding that it will be for a good amount of time. It's a win-win."
Ayesha Green, who worked in hospitality for 12 years, said employers liked migrant workers because they were cheap and compliant.
Ms Green said someone wanting to get residency would work for long hours on minimum wage.
"They're not wanting to rock the boat in any way," Ms Green said.
Migrant workers would climb the career ladder but employers wouldn't always give them more pay, she said.
The workers won't "speak up because they don't want their sponsorship visa to be revoked".
Ms Green said she didn't know what the answer was, but wished there was some way to improve employment conditions for hospitality workers.