Since the inception of the Best Bites program in 2011, hundreds of businesses have benefited from being in the program. To tease out what some of those benefits are we caught up with three previous Best Bites award winning businesses and spoke to Tracy Fleming of Blue Mini Eatery Emporium Events and the newly opened Elements Eatery (Rosebud), Sam Keck of Commonfolk Coffee Traders (Mornington) and Tom Portet from Nordie Café and Red Hill Wine Collective (Red Hill).

We asked them to reflect on their Best Bites journey and how it has made a difference to their business. Read on for some great insights.

1. Accessibility – what small changes have had the biggest impact on your business?

TRACEY: Simple things like spacing out the seating has not only given better access for those with mobility needs, it also assists our customers with prams, and helps our staff to get around to each table easily. We deliberately created designated quieter areas for those that have hearing issues or sensory overload, and made sure that they can be specified in on our booking system. Our digital menu means that customers can increase the font size if they need and by including pictures of each dish those with low literacy are able to see what they are ordering.

SAM: Training our staff around accessibility has been a major focus. Educating them to understand the potential needs of someone with accessibility issues and how to be of assistance has proven to be invaluable. For many young casual hospitality workers this is the first time they've ever had to navigate accessibility, and consider about how it impacts other people. 

TOM: It’s important to consider parking – it can be one of our biggest bottle necks. But while it’s great to have more spaces, it’s equally important to make sure wheelchair access remains safe and adequate. We have a ramp from Nordie to our disabled toilet that travels across a carapace, so now have signage to ensure wheelchair access is always available.

2. Alcohol and tobacco – how do you approach staff education for these areas?

TRACEY: All of our team do RSA training – including our kitchen staff, and we sell mini bottle options for wine so customers don’t have to order a regular 750ml bottle. Our business has signed up to the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula Smoke Free Charter and this is proudly displayed at the entrance.

SAM: Doing group RSA training has proven to be a great starting point to have conversations around alcohol service. The entire team are on the same page and understand our businesses unique requirements that extend above and beyond the base training you receive. 

TOM: We don’t serve tobacco and follow the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula Smoke Free Charter with signage and staff training on the Charter. We are very much in the ‘responsible’ camp on alcohol. Being in a wine region, we have amazing access to winemakers and are really appreciative of how they educate our staff about wine - it’s about food pairing, relaxing surroundings, and never over-consumption. It’s amazing what free advice is available from them for staff and customers.

3. Sustainability – waste, energy, water – what sort of things do you think have made the most difference?

TRACEY: We use local suppliers like Hawkes Farm for our ingredients to reduce our carbon miles and get the freshest produce we can. Using a local eco friendly laundry service that can wash things like our cleaning cloths to a food safe standard is great. We also recently converted to 100% green electricity and gas suppliers. Other little things like composting our coffee grounds and sharing them with keen gardeners mean our landfill is reduced. It all adds up.

SAM: Our business wants to be a leader in this field and we have targets set around energy and waste. We have invested in solar energy to mitigate our carbon footprint. We also offer bespoke recycling services for our packaging to ensure that our customers never have to put our products in the bin. We also run a compost bin, produce swap, and give our coffee sacks to local charities. We've found that relying on the ingenuity of our staff and simply asking "Is there any way we can do this more sustainably?" is a great starting point to improve.

TOM: This year we installed solar power at Nordie and that has been, both economically and environmentally, a great decision. I love decisions that tick both those boxes - they make you feel good about your business and your contribution to the community.  We’ve looked into all of our machinery and how much power they use. We’ve gone and replaced those that draw more energy than is really acceptable - and replaced them with energy efficient devices (ie. Fridges). The investment is worth it - you save on running costs, you can get some cash back on the old stuff, and again you feel good with the upgrades.

4. Nutrition / Allergens – what have you learnt from the Best Bites program?

TRACEY: The allergen matrix suggested by Best Bites is great. Its so easy for staff and customers to understand. More recently we have taught ourselves to use the FoodCheecker website which was a big investment in time but helped us to provide a balanced and healthy menu for our customers.

SAM: The Mornington Peninsula Shire is industry-leading on this front. We have absolutely improved our allergens focus and have a detailed matrix the entire team understands. We now have clear communication channels to explain this to customers, and extensive policies in place to ensure our procedures are practically applied.

TOM: Great signage is helpful for everyone and can help your customers understand what happens in your kitchen. Of course it can’t be perfect for everyone - no menu is - but you can do your best to meet expectations through great signage and then back it up with staff communication. It’s all about keeping it all aligned - we all want the same thing, a safe and happy workplace or venue.

5. Which area(s) of Best Bites has your business excelled in and why?

TRACEY: We love how it all comes together under Best Bites. It gives our team a framework to work to and our customers reap the rewards. Being in the Best Bites Guide is great, and winning the Best Bites 2021 Peoples Choice Award was the icing on the cake.

SAM: I think we try to use broad strokes to our business in all of the Best Bites areas. Small steps each year to become better and better. I think we do particularly well when it comes to sustainability as it is a huge focus for our business.

TOM: Best Bites is really a total business roadmap to a more sustainable and friendly cafe. Why should we work somewhere that we are not comfortable with the ethics? By following the Best Bites program we can be confident we are meeting a community benchmark, while at the same time as running a successful business. This helps the bottom line by returning customers who align to the Best Bites ethos - and that’s a majority.

6. What does your business gain from being in the Best Bites program?

TRACEY: Best bites gives validity to all the work we do behind the scenes to make our café great. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate excellence, but also to keep on getting better. It makes us accountable but also gives us a chance to stop and reflect on the good things that we do.

SAM: It is a fantastic way to be introspective and ask yourself whether there's things you should be (and could be) improving.

TOM: We ultimately want exposure as a Best Bites winner - because consumers know that Best Bites has benchmarks we have had to meet in order to be honoured as a great place to visit. So it’s all round success - from staff safety, customer happiness, and a sustainable business. So actually it’s more than just the recognition, its a feel good way of doing business.

 * Images courtesy of Blue Mini, Commonfolk and Nordie Cafe

Food businesses that are making a difference in the way they improve accessibility, delivery healthy food options and work on being more sustainable are well on the way to being eligible for inclusion in the Best Bites Food Guide, and to being able to nominate for the Best Bites Food Awards. Find out more about the Best Bites program.

Food and health business are welcome to contact the Shire's Environmental Health Team to ask any questions they may have. Phone them on 5950 1050 or contact the team online.

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Meet our Best Bites business owners sharing the knowledge and expertise:

Tracey Fleming
Tracey Fleming Blue Mini Eatery Emporium and Events, Rosebud
Tracey Fleming is the owner of Blue Mini Eatery Emporium and Events, and the newly opened Elements Eatery at YAWA Aquatic Centre. With more than 20 years’ experience running hospitality venues she is passionate about trying to capture the essence of everything local to create a place for people to catch up, connect and be part of a community.
Sam Keck
Sam KeckCommonfolk Coffee Traders, Mornington
Sam Keck is the general manager and one of the co-founders of the Commonfolk Group. With more than a decade of experience running hospitality venues, and importing and wholesaling specialty coffee, Sam has a passion for quality local produce, ethical business and, of course, delicious coffee.
Tom Portet
Tom Portet Nordie Café, Red Hill
Tom Portet has a long and distinguished heritage of wine making and is the owner (along with his wife Rina) of Nordie Café (along with the Red Hill Wine Collective next door) in Red Hill. Their locally sourced philosophy is paired with ‘down to earth’ warm hospitality and Scandinavian influenced simplicity.