Already saddled with rising rents and soaring food prices, Hong Kong's catering industry says it is facing a new problem: a lack of staff. The number of jobs unfilled in the 200,000-strong sector has reached 20,000, or 10 per cent, the highest vacancy rate since 1997. Trade representatives say many workers are opting for easier jobs with higher pay after the implementation of the minimum wage law. Many have left the grind of the catering industry to become security guards, which means less hardship, longer hours and therefore more money. Anthony Lock Kwok-on, chairman of Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said the industry had had a tough time hiring or retaining talent since May. 'We expect more problems to emerge in the following months as a result of the minimum wage law, as well as soaring inflation,' Lock said. Leung Chun-wah, owner of Chinese diner chain Lucky Dragon Boat Restaurant, said he had lost 8 to 10 per cent of staff each month since the introduction of the law. Surging costs - up 5 per cent for wages and 40 per cent for ingredients - have made the situation worse. 'The cost of rent, food materials and wages are so high that I might need to close one of my branches in Tsuen Wan,' he said. Tim Wong, owner of tea restaurant chain May Wong, said his labour loss rate had reached 15 to 20 per cent. 'The surge in all sorts of expenses makes it difficult to raise the HK$28 hourly rate for our workers. They leave us for better offers in other industries,' he said. The Catering and Hotels Industries Employees' General Union said the average salary of a waiter was now HK$8,000 to HK$9,000 a month, but a security guard could earn more than HK$10,000. In March, the most recent month for which figures are available, the government was notified of 6,746 vacancies for food and beverage staff. The Employees Retraining Board will start courses this month in the wake of the minimum wage's introduction. 'Employers who pay more money because of the minimum wage law want to have better skilled workers,' said Ng Tat-lun, chairman of the ERB. The catering industry is one of its main targets. Forty-five courses in skills such as dim sum making and basic food heath and safety will be offered - with 30 per cent of the course fee paid by employers and the rest subsidised by the board. Another target is the security and property management industry.