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Local leaders – Tracy Keeley (Bookplate, National Library of Australia)

By Amy Birchall - 18 March 2015 7

Tracy Keeley bookplate NLA

If you visited Canberra’s recent Night Noodle Markets and found yourself enjoying salt and pepper calamari at the National Library instead of doing battle with the crowds for meat on sticks, you’ll know that the Library’s Bookplate café is doing things a little differently than in the past.

Just weeks after Canberra hospitality veteran Tracy Keeley won the contract to run the café in late 2014, the business went into voluntary liquidation. Though Tracy was surprised by the news, she says it forced her to reconsider her business model and identify areas for innovation. Business as usual was not going to cut it.

“I had to think about what I had envisaged for Bookplate, and work out how to ensure staff were going to get paid and that customers had a lovely experience. That was the biggest challenge,” she says.

Tracy describes herself as the sort of person who finds change exciting, so it’s no surprise that after just three months in the new job she’s gone a long way to making Bookplate feel more like a restaurant than a cafeteria.

She has replaced the café’s cafeteria-style offerings with a contemporary menu, changed the opening hours to better cater to weekday breakfast meetings and those refuelling after Saturday morning boot camps, and has introduced fresh pressed juices and smoothies to appeal to a younger crowd. A new lunch menu and table service will also be rolled out in the coming months.

Tracy says that the changes have been well received by both customers and critics.

“The reviews have been really positive, and they’ve all said it’s so good that we’ve gone against the grain and introduced a restaurant-style café. In a lot of iconic buildings around here it’s that cafeteria style where you see the sandwiches and the bain-maries. It was nice that the reviewers could see a café like ours doing something different.”

Tracy is no stranger to working in hospitality. The former school teacher ran the Department of Environment café in Barton’s John Gorton Building for six years, and prior to that ran Café Momo in Bruce.

She says that while two decades of teaching experience may not appear to equip someone with the skills needed to run a café, teaching and hospitality aren’t as different as people might think.

“Hospitality and teaching are both focused on people. As a teacher you come to love your students because you’re with them for a whole year and you watch them grow and develop, and it’s the same with hospitality. You put everything you have into a café or restaurant and it’s rewarding to see the results of your hard work,” she says.

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7 Responses to
Local leaders – Tracy Keeley (Bookplate, National Library of Australia)
Amy Birchall 12:45 pm 19 Mar 15

GardeningGirl said :

Thanks for the added info. Not sure I understand, is the blackboard menu and printed menu a duplication during the transition stage or standard menu plus daily blackboard specials? I’ll be interested to see if the extra effort involved in things like fresh pressed juices and table service (ordering) is beneficial. Personally those feel not only unnecessary but maybe negative, taking away from the casualness of the venue, but others might feel differently.

Hey GardeningGirl, it’s a standard menu plus daily blackboard specials.

GardeningGirl 11:46 am 19 Mar 15

Amy Birchall said :

GardeningGirl said :

Loved the food at old version Bookplate! Only reason we didn’t go more often was because we knew if we didn’t time it right we wouldn’t get a table it was that busy. I’ve been meaning to check out how the new version is going, had a quick late look one afternoon a while back but since the drinks fridge was gone went elsewhere, haven’t yet seen the lunch menu (is it still on a board or restaurant style brought to your table?) but writing the previous menu off as “cafeteria-style offerings” makes me nervous.

Hey GardeningGirl, Bookplate plans to introduce table service in the next little while, though it has introduced a printed menu alongside the blackboard items in the meantime. Tracy’s plan with the menu is to introduce a few different things to attract new customers while still catering to those who loved the old Bookplate. Definitely not an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ scenario!

The term ‘cafeteria-style’ isn’t meant as a criticism (I don’t mind a good cafeteria meal myself!) as much as a way to describe ordering from the board, lots of grab and go options etc.

Thanks for the added info. Not sure I understand, is the blackboard menu and printed menu a duplication during the transition stage or standard menu plus daily blackboard specials? I’ll be interested to see if the extra effort involved in things like fresh pressed juices and table service (ordering) is beneficial. Personally those feel not only unnecessary but maybe negative, taking away from the casualness of the venue, but others might feel differently.

creative_canberran 11:39 pm 18 Mar 15

There was nothing cafeteria style about the old menu, head across to the NGA or up to Parliament House for that. The problem was it was expensive and lacked focus.

Wasn’t impressed during Enlighten, she had them serving a tiny range of beer and cocktails, no hot drinks. I joined the longer lines at OPH and Portrait Gallery who actually put in some effort and looks to have paid off. OPH had their coffee machine going non-stop and the line was out the door 3 nights I went in.

blackjacks87 7:10 pm 18 Mar 15

Apparently they take bookings now so you can secure a table for lunch

Amy Birchall 4:46 pm 18 Mar 15

GardeningGirl said :

Loved the food at old version Bookplate! Only reason we didn’t go more often was because we knew if we didn’t time it right we wouldn’t get a table it was that busy. I’ve been meaning to check out how the new version is going, had a quick late look one afternoon a while back but since the drinks fridge was gone went elsewhere, haven’t yet seen the lunch menu (is it still on a board or restaurant style brought to your table?) but writing the previous menu off as “cafeteria-style offerings” makes me nervous.

Hey GardeningGirl, Bookplate plans to introduce table service in the next little while, though it has introduced a printed menu alongside the blackboard items in the meantime. Tracy’s plan with the menu is to introduce a few different things to attract new customers while still catering to those who loved the old Bookplate. Definitely not an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ scenario!

The term ‘cafeteria-style’ isn’t meant as a criticism (I don’t mind a good cafeteria meal myself!) as much as a way to describe ordering from the board, lots of grab and go options etc.

GardeningGirl 4:14 pm 18 Mar 15

Loved the food at old version Bookplate! Only reason we didn’t go more often was because we knew if we didn’t time it right we wouldn’t get a table it was that busy. I’ve been meaning to check out how the new version is going, had a quick late look one afternoon a while back but since the drinks fridge was gone went elsewhere, haven’t yet seen the lunch menu (is it still on a board or restaurant style brought to your table?) but writing the previous menu off as “cafeteria-style offerings” makes me nervous.

MBird 2:09 pm 18 Mar 15

I’m very impressed what Tracy is doing with Bookplate. Absolutely loved the Library Bar at the Night Noodle Markets. Food was superb! The revamped menu looks great too.

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