At this year’s Australian Drinks Festival we gathered a panel of some of the most experienced bartenders, managers and owners on the Melbourne scene and asked them how to build a successful bar career.
Iain Griffiths, Mr Lyan Ltd
Jenna Hemsworth, Black Pearl
Gorge Camorra, Camorra Liqueurs
Christian McCabe, Embla
Jess Ho, Smalls
Hayden Lambert, Above Board
Alex Ross, House of Correction Group
CHOOSE YOUR MOVES WISELY
Ian: Integrity is the single most important thing you have. You are only as good as your last shift, and when you leave a business with a certain reputation, wherever you move onto next, that reputation comes with you. It’s not to say that if you put yourself in a bad place you can’t fix that reputation, but every single move within my own career – and I’ve made some massive cockups along the way – it’s always been about fixing what has been done wrong then looking for what I want to achieve next. And going about that knowing that I’m the sole person accountable for that.
Jenna: I’ve been, in the last couple of years, guilty of leaving a lot of jobs and moving around quite a bit. Which can be seen as unreliable in the industry. Job satisfaction is such an important thing. If you’re not being treated the way you feel you should be treated – if you’re not learning, if you’re not fulfilled, remember that you’re going to be at your job more than you’re not going to be at your job. It’s taken me a long time to find something that I’m really satisfied with, but every single job I’ve taken has been strategic – what am I going to gain from this? What am I going to learn? How can I add another facet to my skills? Even if they haven’t been longstanding jobs, the skills that I have learned at each one has worked for me. Be confident in yourself and what you need for your career.
Gorge: As you get a bit older and a bit more well-known in the industry, there are a lot more people who want to work with you and collaborate, so for me it’s a bit more about learning to say no. You can’t do everything. So pick things that you are passionate about and that you love, and work hard at that. At the start of your career, well not everyone wants to be a bartender all their life, so the natural progression is being a rep or a brand ambassador and so forth. Pick things that you’re passionate about and be strategic. There is nothing wrong with making money by being strategic.
Christian: It’s very important to constantly evolve and make sure that whatever you do is relevant to what you want to do in the end, because it’s easy for it all to fade away. Working on your weaknesses is the best thing you can do. So when you become good at something, pick something else to work on. I haven’t worked for somebody else for 15 years now, but I still learn stuff off my staff every single day. Everyone is better than you at something and I think it’s an important skill to find out what that is and how you can absorb all that information and use it to your advantage. It’s a dynamic industry that we’re in and it keeps everyone on their toes, but it means that everyone who thinks they can become better at one thing and do that for the rest of their life is going to get left behind.
Jess: It doesn’t matter where you work you need to be able to work with people who are younger than you, older than you, that come from a different situation to you. Don’t close yourself off to it. It’s about being tolerant and letting people say what they need to say – if they have an amazing idea then work with them. Work out what needs to be done, break it down into x/y/z and cost it out. And focus on the guest. They’re not our customers – they’re our guests. We treat them like you’re welcoming them to a dinner party in your home. It’s a huge part of the industry and sometimes our egos get out of control and you need to remind yourself that you work in the hospitality industry.
Hayden: I think because I fell into it any kind of structure is a foreign idea. I slept with a lot of people to get where I am – so that has been my strategic move from day one. It was really tough when there are so many knockbacks. But really, if I had to go back and speak to the young bartender that I was a long time ago, I would say be cautious with your decisions, find really good mentors, don’t believe in the hype and don’t believe everything you read about competitions around making you the best bartender on the planet.
It feeds into something that doesn’t exist. As a young bartender look toward mentors who have had long, good careers and look at your trajectory in the same way as a young chef looks at getting into the top restaurants. Don’t take any shit. There are plenty of owners out there that will tell you that you have to work an extra fifty hours without pay because that’s what passion is about. That is the biggest load of balls. Bankers are passionate people and they get paid. I’m a passionate person and I deserve to get paid. If you want to succeed you will progress naturally. Your ambition and drive and tenacity will bring you that success – people will seek you out. There are people here, we will go to their bars just because we know of them, that’s a success in its own right.
Alex: I want to touch on how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you as your own brand. Now, social media is a lot of fun and working in bars is a lot of fun and you can get messed up and you can talk about all these people that you’re messing around with, but what a lot of people don’t understand is that shit sticks. If you’re going to start putting yourself out there on social media and building yourself up, regardless of whether you know it or not, your social media accounts are part of your brand.
Us as individuals are each a brand and this is where the integrity that Iain mentioned comes in – there are a lot of people mucking around, but do you want this shit to come and hit you five, 10 or 15 years later? Do you want this to be out there when you are starting to represent a brand or owning a bar? Think about what you’re doing and be strategic about how you’re representing yourself. This is something I didn’t realise I was doing for many, many years, and then halfway through I realised that I was being cautious deliberately. Not because of my mum and my dad – fuck that, they know what I’m like – but because of what I wanted to achieve and because I knew that this was out for everyone to see. How do other people perceive you? What have they seen? We don’t know what the big picture is, because social media has only been around for about 10 years. We don’t know who is watching.