Sydney's Otto Ristorante and three-hat Quay restaurant would make a "lot more money" if converted to fish and chip shops, general manager of both eateries John Fink said.
Speaking at the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, Mr Fink pulled no punches outlining the current state of the restaurant industry.
"We work in an industry where it would be better to sell the farm, take out the money and put it in the bank and I'd get a better return on my capital," he said.
"Quay is a very successful restaurant . . . we are booked out three to six months in advance. We have good, solid revenues but we are still struggling to pay bills. If one of Australia's most successful restaurants is having a hard time to pay bills, how is it going for people who run the local casual eatery?"
Wage costs represent 48 per cent of the company's operations, Mr Fink said, with Brisbane restaurateur Andrew Buchanan adding: "My managers work 50 to 60 hours a week and if you break that down, the unskilled dishwasher is probably making 25 to 30 per cent more an hour than the skilled personnel out the front. That's what you are up against."
Sally Galletto of Lucio's restaurant, Paddington, warned, "It's a real struggle to survive now."
But if restaurant owners were hoping for a promise of better things to come on penalty and weekend rates if the Coalition government wins office, shadow minister for tourism and regional development Bob Baldwin wasn't giving it.
"This will be a matter for the Fair Work Commission," he said.
He had something to say about the commission's make-up, however.
"It's also about having a range of balance in the commission . . . a blend of people from the union to those who have been in the industry. They can then work out what is fair and equitable."
If that wasn't a win, restaurateurs were happy to hear it will likely be easier to bring skilled restaurant workers, including chefs, into Australia if the Coalition wins power.
The restaurant and catering industry – led by the likes of Sydney chef Neil Perry – have cried long and hard over the tightening of visas for chefs and service staff.
"We thought it was bloody minded to take food people off the skilled migration visa," Mr Baldwin said.
"Restaurants can't survive and hotels can't survive unless they have the full array of food professionals, and you only have to take one chink out of the chain and it all falls apart.
"We need to fix the problem tomorrow and that doesn't mean next year or the one after. It will mean bringing people in on skilled migration to satisfy demand," he said.
"Those people would go through the same process, get paid the same wages and have same conditions as any other Australian worker. But they would fill a hole in a market where we cannot fill it in Australia."
He also spoke about training Australians as chefs and restaurant workers.
"We want to grow fine chefs in Australia but we have to make sure they know it's not a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five job.
"We have identified severe skill shortages in the food industry in this country.
"And we have worked closely with the restaurant and catering industry to develop policies we will announce closer to the election."