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Bartending Down Under: What I’ve Learned

Before moving to Australia, I had worked in hospitality before, but never in bars, since I just reached the legal drinking age two years ago. It’s totally different over here than in the United States, but most of these things that I’ve learned could apply to any bar, anywhere in the world. I don’t want to say that working in a bar has made me more cynical or made me enjoy going to bars less, but I do make sure to be more aware of how much I’m tipping and trying not to be an annoying customer. If you’re thinking about becoming a bartender or coming to Australia or have worked in hospitality before, please leave me a comment below with your experiences. It’s always fun to share stories.

  • Order the specials. It’s less likely they’ve been sitting in the freezer for days.
  • Pub food in this country is actually not bad and relatively cheap. Schnitzel, steaks, soups, salads and sandwiches are always safe bets.
  • This isn’t Coyote Ugly. You can’t spray water on customers when they’re being rude.
  • Beer smells like vomit when it comes out of the taps. And you have to get rid of all the excess beer in slop buckets at the end of the night. YUMM.
  • In Australia, they have strict rules surrounding alcohol. You can’t free-pour at all, but instead pour exactly one shot per mixed drink. This is why cocktails are so expensive. You also have to take a class and get a certificate before working in all bars and most restaurants and cafes called an RSA.
  • Belligerence is not limited to the young, backpacker crowd. I’ve seen grown men, high-ranking bankers, become so drunk they fall over. Which is another thing. If you’re drunk, you get kicked out of the bar, which seems counterproductive in America.
  • People are rude and annoying. I could tell you lots of stories of being talked down to and yelled at for no apparent reason, but that’s the tale of hospitality.
  • People are nice and generous. In a country where there’s no tipping culture, I still have regular customers (Australians, mind you) who tip on every drink. I know them by name because they are so nice.
  • People are needy. They say “I want, give me, I need,” not “may I please have” and “thank you.” I actually had someone say that she doesn’t say please because no one ever says thank you back to her. Even though we’re the ones providing her with a service. Nice.
  • Alcohol is expensive in Australia. Sure, you can find cheap backpacker bars or buy your own at the liquor store and take it home, but if you go to any bar in Australia, be prepared to spend between $5-10 on any given drink. For example, at my bar most beers range between $7-9 AUD until you get to the fancy imports, which can get up to $17. House liquors are all $7.50 and top shelf goes up from there to about $16 for a shot of thirty-year-old aged rum. Wines are the cheapest alcohol by far, at $7-12 per glass.
  • Accept the fact that you’re going to smell like alcohol all night. Beer will drip on your sleeves, you will spill liquor on your shoes and you will just have to deal.
  • Keep your fingernails short. There’s nothing more disgusting than having to clean ashtrays and getting the grime stuck under your nails.
  • You have the opposite schedule of everyone else with “normal jobs.” I never see my flatmates because they wake up early to go to school and work and come home after I’ve already left for work. When I get home they’re already asleep. It’s hard to have friendships and relationships when you’re always working when other people want to go out, which is why you become closer with your coworkers.
  • Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes you will hate it, but there’s never a dull moment.

And to make you feel better about all those annoying customers, watch The Bartender Hates You.

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7 Responses to Bartending Down Under: What I’ve Learned

  1. Scott September 12, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Great post! I have bartended and waited tables most of my “adult” life, and of course can relate to all of these stories. The one I really get bothered by is the “I need”! It drives me crazy. Another line at my work I hear often is “we more bread!”. I have even had guests say when I greet them “can we get OUR bread?” as if they are owed it or something? Overall though, I do love the industry and it is more fun than stress. I am hoping to find bartending work on my RTW next year, we will see!

  2. Heather September 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    I can’t believe your time at work has come and gone so quickly!!! I remember the first night we met so clearly. What are your plans after Uluru?

  3. Hemant January 22, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Really great post from an american coming to australia and working in bars…i have bartended in australia for about 8 years and its a mixed bag of what to think about the profession…sure enough you can make decent money doing this job but i would really wonder what my skillset could get me in the states in terms of money.

    The industry here is quite regulated with RSA and so many rules….no free pouring (which is bullshit because i have free poured in lots of bars here) The main reason behind free pouring is because alcohol is so expensive here and bosses don’t want you wasting stock….its a stupid rule but he we live with it….and then also RSA is another joke becuase everyone still gets smashed and causes trouble so why have it anyway? Just another way for the government to make money.

    The tipping culture in australia has been pretty much the same for the last 8 years in my experience….some places you can make great tips 300 per week….other places you will make 50$ a week…I would like to experience american bars to see what the difference in money would be per week..The other problem linked to tipping is that in sydney great service going for and beyond the customers needs will not even get you 5% but then you can be rude and obnixous to some cashed up asshole and for a 32 $ round of drinks he will leave the 18$ change….happens quite often….very weird.

    Anyuways just a few comments…hope you had a great time :)

  4. Jade March 29, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    This sounds just like working in England. Except where I work there are no tips and the customers are mostly old drunk idiots. So it will be a nice change to work behind bars in Australia :)

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