I’ve been in Australia for a couple of years and am living in Sydney now. When I first landed in Australia I lived in Melbourne. And let me tell you I was dying to get a job. After three months travelling in South America I had limited funds and needed to get myself some form of income pretty quickly. Also as soon as I arrived in Melbourne I figured out how expensive it actually is! You really need a job as soon as possible so you don’t burn through all your savings (which is pretty much what happened to me). Read on to find out how I found a job and how it was like working in a bar in Australia …
I was living in Prahan at the time which is an awesome place with loads of bars and a great place to go out – that means also a great place to get a bar job naturally! I went to Chapel Street with another backpacker to go from bar to bar to hand them my CV trying to get a job.
Getting a bar job in Australia
It was really hard! So many places we went into just weren’t interested in taking our CV. I mean, they couldn’t even be bothered to lie to my face and say they’d consider it. Rejection is tough and safe to say job hunting (almost on par with jeans hunting) is one of the more soul-destroying activities you can do. What I was really surprised about was that there weren’t jobs growing on trees like everyone at home said there would be. I literally thought I’d walk into the first place and they’d instantly hire me on the spot. But there’s actually a lot more work than you need to put into job hunting than I thought.
We had almost made it through the street and with only about three CVs half-heartedly taken in – also they call them resumes here which I found weird – and we came to another bar. I really didn’t want to look inside as there are only so many CV rejections I can handle in one day but we trooped one in anyway. Inside there the first person I met was a lovely Scottish barman. It makes such a difference once we both realised we were from the same hemisphere, like meeting someone from home on the other side of the world – people always gravitate to what’s familiar. As soon as I heard the Scottish accent and he heard my Irish accent we were flying. I had worked in a bar in Edinburgh so straightaway we had loads to talk about as he was from Edinburgh. We were having a great chat and then… he asked if I could make cocktails. Now, I have made a few cocktails in the past in the bar in Edinburgh. But it happened about three times. And usually, someone else would make them seeing how helpless I was at it. Anyway, when I said yes I could, technically I wasn’t lying. And at home people don’t usually order cocktails at a normal bar so I thought it wouldn’t come up again. How wrong can you get? But more on that later. The moral is you should always say you can do whatever it is because once you have the job they are rarely bothered to look for someone else to hire. Plus most of the trials for hospitality are paid trials anyway so you’ll usually get some payment out of it.
Working in a bar in Australia
I got the text later that day asking if I could work on the following Monday and I was absolutely delighted. I arrived on time and ready to go on Monday. I was feeling a bit nervous but pretty good. However, as soon as I started working I realised that I had forgotten loads about working in a bar. The basics came back pretty quick like how to pour a pint, juggling eight orders and glasses at once, but other parts I had completely forgotten. The glasswasher they had been slightly different to one I had previously used and I looked like a total dope as I wandered about trying to figure out how to use it. (Note – it’s dead easy, you literally just load the glasses and press a button – oops!) Another thing I had forgotten was how every time I previously worked in a bar it was only for a relatively short period. I never really got my head around the difficult things to do – like changing a keg. Also this may sound sexist which it’s not meant to, but in all the other bars I worked in the guys would do the heavy work like that as those kegs weigh a tonne! Basically, my expertise behind the bar was limited.
Day one and I had already proven I didn’t know how to use the glasswasher, change a keg and then disaster struck: Someone ordered a cocktail. Not just any cocktail either but an Espresso Martini. For anyone living in Australia it’s a normal cocktail (and delicious too – highly recommended for coffee lovers) but we don’t have this drink at home and I had never heard of it before. I gave it a go though and took out the recipe and made what I thought was a good attempt at creating it all things considering but failed massively. The bar manager had to take over. I explained several times that we didn’t have this cocktail in Ireland but I’m not sure he took much notice of my excuses. All in all it wasn’t a great start but happily these errors were overlooked and I got a few days shifts every week.
And apart from that shaky start, I had a lot of fun working in a bar in Australia. The people I worked with were a lot of fun as bar staff usually are. It was pretty laid back and halfway through the shift we were given an ‘ABC’ shot. I didn’t know what this was but I soon found out – and it’s pretty vile. ‘A’ is for Absinthe, ‘B’ is for Bacardi and ‘C’ is for Chartreuse. It may taste poisonous but it definitely warms you up! Shifts, especially on the weekend, can be quite long and hard to get through as the patrons get ‘looser’ (Aussie term for drunk). Light and friendly banter at the beginning of the night turns into boring, slurry one-sided conversations at the end of it. Australia also has a strict responsible service of alcohol policy which is a great idea but leads to many awkward ‘I’m sorry but I can’t serve you, please have some of this delicious and refreshing water instead’ conversations.
Pros and Cons of working in a bar in Australia
Also, a good thing about the job especially when you’ve just arrived somewhere new is that it’s a great way to make friends in a new country. Apart from the bar staff, you meet a lot of other backpackers through serving them in the bar.
The biggest drawback to bar work is of course that you always have to work on Friday and Saturday. I lived in a hostel at the time and naturally, the weekends are the big nights out which I kept missing. So, in the end, I opted for a 9-5 reception temp job and had to say goodbye to the bar. But overall it was a great start to Melbourne and introduced me to some fun people but at the end of the day, my fear of missing out on the weekends was too great.
And I never did properly figure out how to make an Espresso Martini… turns out I’m better at sipping on them than making them!
Read the following article to find out more about hospitality jobs: Hospitality Jobs in Australia
Author: Zoë Bradley
Updated in 2019. Initially published in 2016.