Mimi Gilmour Buckley has taken New Zealand and Australia hospitality by storm, working in top Sydney restaurants, becoming creative director of Taste New Zealand and opening District Dining Britomart. Burger Burger launched in Auckland 2014, with an aim to serve delicious burgers using ethical ingredients (whilst keeping the price low and music volume high) and has since served over one million burgers, across three sites.
The hospitality industry can be rough at times, but we love it and we think it’s a wonderfully rewarding and diverse place to work. How did you find yourself in this crazy industry? Did you always plan to build a career in hospo?
The world I was brought up in revolved around entertaining guests and making and serving good food - I was brought up in hospitality. My mother, Emerald Gilmour, had one of the top restaurants in Auckland in the 80s, and I set up my first hospitality business at 16, which cooked, styled and staffed private dinner parties. Hospitality is the way my family chooses to show love to the people in our lives. It’s my life’s passion.
The famous Danny Meyer (NYC hospo-hero) believes in turning business stakeholder hierarchy on its head, and putting customers second by prioritising employees; “If you are devoted to your staff and can promise them much more than a pay cheque, something to believe in,” he says, “you will then get the best service for customers, which will in the long run provide the best return to your investors.” What do you think our industry needs to do to ensure we are attracting great young people, and looking after them so they stick around?
I totally agree. By 2025, we want Burger Burger to be recognized as the most inspiring place for under 25-year-olds to work in New Zealand. To be fair, we want to be the most inspiring place to work for everyone in our team, however, we decided that if we could engage, challenge, inspire and ‘grow’ young Kiwis, then we would have an energised, happy and productive workforce. From here, our team will be ready to deliver consistent professional service to our customers every single day - whilst having a bit of fun!
Do you have any specific initiatives in your businesses to offer your staff something extra, and make them feel a part of something bigger?
We have introduced many initiatives, which I truly hope have enabled our teams to understand how much of an important part they are in the success of Burger Burger as a business, but also collectively as a team. We have a meal every day at 3pm cooked especially for our team. It’s an opportunity for them to share a meal together, and realise the importance of this small gesture in fostering the connection we have between each other. Once a year, we have a reasonably big shindig where we recognise exceptional humans, eat, drink and dance on tables! At management level, we decided to be very transparent about the financials of each restaurant so that the team could begin to recognise more than just sales, but how to understand and manage a business. It is important to us that we are contributing something to them beyond just a job; we are here to build better people and develop real connections through great hospitality.
Working in hospitality is perceived very differently around the world. Having operated in both Australia and New Zealand, have you experienced any major differences in attitudes towards the industry in the two countries? And does this affect recruitment and retention?
Apart from the top tier of New Zealand restaurants, working in hospitality is still very much considered a transitional role for the majority for our workforce. Unfortunately, that often means staff are not as engaged as they would be, if this wasn’t the case. Fortunately, this is not the case in Australia, so it has a much stronger, professional and passionately engaged workforce.
I truly believe that New Zealand could be a world leader in hospitality - I believe we need to review the education around it, make it more accessible and give people a reason to feel proud and respected to work in a service industry… THEN we will get the results.
The hospitality business is as old as time, but the casual dining sector in particular has seen a really positive transformation in the past decade. Are you witnessing changes in customer attitudes and behaviour as younger generations increase their spending power?
I think the increase in casual dining, through its value proposition, opened the doors of an all encompassing dining experience to many walks of life, both young and old - and I love that more than anything. One of our top three focuses when we opened Burger Burger was to provide table service at a price point that almost anyone could afford. I think that any occasion when we can be entertained and cooked for, whilst spending time with the people we love in our life, can only make our lives more positive!
You’ve already achieved a huge amount during your career – tell us about some of your favourite/biggest milestones?
There are too many! My favourite moments are when someone’s face lights up, and they share a story of an occasion at Burger Burger that has clearly meant something special to them… At the end of the day that’s what I work for and why I make sure I am surrounded by good people who are clever and just as passionate about delivering great hospitality experiences - no matter what.
Do you have a vision for the future of the hospitality industry? Or at least, for your part of the industry?
YES! My dream is that our industry becomes the #1 go-to for young Kiwis looking for a job, either as a short-term or long-term career, because they know it will provide them with invaluable life skills, enriching relationships and personal growth through the selfless act of service.