Employer of Choice – Bent On Food

Who are you, and what is your business? My name is Donna Carrier, I’m the owner of Bent On Food and Bent On Life – a café, catering, events, and retail store located in Wingham. I have owned the store for 18 years and we have 21 employees.

Describe your core business: Bent On Food is a high end café – community focused, local produce, special meals, events, and hamper range. Bent on Life is a retail store specialising in kitchenware and dining ware – DIY upcycled furniture, Annie Sloane chalk paint and workshops. We are community focused, with an emphasis on sustainability.

How would you define an excellent employer?

An excellent employer communicates to their team what their requirements are and gives them the skills to succeed. They set boundaries and make things clear upfront from the start.

In your organisation, what are some of the things you do that make you an employer of choice? I make sure they know exactly what their roles are, with good training and correct onboarding. I provide a detailed sequence of service, including checklists and what to do in downtime. I have found the more procedures and checklists the better everything works. I also use digital apps such as Restoke and Mr Yum which streamlines their jobs. 

Why is it important to you that you are an excellent employer? Often it’s the first job for people who come in – we want them to go away with good skills and a good experience. We try to make sure that everyone enjoys their work, and that there is no bullying. Because we have a reputation of being an excellent employer, we can attract the best people.

What have you learned along your journey to becoming an employer of choice? If an employee is not going to work out, sort it out quickly, for them and for your business. I’ve also learned that systems and procedures are my best friend. Employees really need to know what’s expected of them. Employees need to provide the tools for their employee to succeed. You have to be fair but you can’t be everyone’s friend. It’s a very social industry, but at the end of the day you need to be the boss.

Do you employ young people (under 25)? Do you consider you do that effectively? Why/Why not? I’ve employed lot of young people, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m good at it now. Young people have their challenges. Getting them to buddy up with a senior person closer to their own age is beneficial. Young ones are the best to help with technology, but there is a corresponding loss of focus because of their immersion in technology. Lifestyle has become more important for more people – they want to have flexible work, they don’t want to work fulltime, they want to work 3-4 days. This goes for everyone, but especially young people. We used to boast about doing 60 hour weeks at work while studying and having a social life. People don’t want to do that anymore – they want to have fun and relax as well as work.

What is your advice to organisations in your industry that want to improve as an employer? Find some like-minded people in your industry that you can learn from, trust, and who have the right systems. Embrace your financials and numbers – know your margins, food costs, wages, sales. People underestimate the business skills it takes to run a hospitality business. People in this industry often say they can’t have staff meetings because they work irregular hours, but it’s so important – closing for one day for a team building exercise is worth it. Taking time out is important – sometimes being less available to your customers (closing for a couple of days a week instead of opening 7 days a week) can help them to appreciate you more! Train your staff properly, and create a sequence of service.

What key trends do you see impacting your business in the next 5-10 years? 

  • I’ve just started using chatGPT – I think it’s amazing and exciting. 
  • We need to be using data to provide more personalised experiences and relationships with customers.  
  • Sustainability is really important – climate change affects the way we eat, what we eat and our resources. 
  • New technology is happening all the time and we need to be utilising it. Technology is streamlining the process – for example online orders frees up the time of staff to have more personal interaction with the customers.  
  • The trend is to show the more human side of business – being real, being authentic, what hurdles, what made you successful. People don’t want to see the polished version, they want and need a more authentic sharing.  
  • Cafes are going to thrive even in an economic downturn – everyone still needs a reward, but while going out to a restaurant is a big investment, going out for a $15 coffee and cake is affordable.



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