How to have a successful bar career – Part 2

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



Alex: There is a simple difference, particularly when it comes to bartending between male and female skeletal structure. It’s not sexist, it’s just fucking science. When it comes to shaking, doing it above your head for the sake of showmanship, it’s not going to help you in the long term. If you’re going to make a career out of this you have to look after the muscles in your body. The bottom line is, for females, shake in front of you, shake forward and back in front of yourself. With men, shaking over your shoulders? There has got to be better ways. You have to look after yourself if you want to be in this industry long term. Find ways to keep your body in check and strengthen your muscles and to strengthen your core to make sure that you don’t fuck yourself up. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and you have to figure out a way to survive, otherwise you’re screwed.

Hayden: I’ve never been the picture of health so I’ll keep this simple. I’m pretty unhealthy right now but that comes down to a lot of time spent abusing my body. When anyone asks me if I drink, I don’t really drink too much because I’m on the verge of 40 and I’ve been doing this since I was 17. So by the time I was 24 I was pretty much at the peak of my ability to take as many drugs and drink as possible and then I settled down and decided to get married and have a family. Looking back now, I wish I had implemented different ways of dealing with the stress, the late nights, and the constant interactions with human beings. It’s a very one-way street in hospitality. We give a lot. Also, if you’re a young bartender, start at a big venue and work your way down to a small venue – I think Iain will agree that it’s been a long time since we’ve shaken any cocktails.

Jess: Everyone knows that I love a drink, but at the same time it is about knowing when you can have one and when you should stop. Everyone here has been in the situation where they are the youngest person in the room and then suddenly, they’re not. And when you realise that, you go “Fuck, I need to stop partying every single night”. It’s about making sure that you can still function. It’s about not being a dick. Don’t be a dick to other people, but also don’t be a dick to yourself.

Christian: It’s strange to be getting exercise advice from hospo professionals but exercise is important. I’ve found that having a lot less shots has definitely helped my general health and they do take a toll on you eventually. Yes, they’re fun but try not to do one with everyone and try to clear your head I guess so you can get up and exercise the next day. You are going to be old and ragged one day.

Gorge: Wear good footwear. There is nothing worse than going home and you can’t recover because your legs are sore and I’ve found that I was wearing fancy looking shoes, but I’d have a sore back the next day. So changing my footwear made a massive difference. We’re in an industry where it is very easy to create addictions. Whether it is alcohol or drugs or it can be ego. I have a massive ego. We sort of get to the stage where we think that we’re more important than what we actually are. We don’t cure cancer. We’re bartenders. Be humble.

Jenna: That’s probably the best advice you can get – keep your ego in check and remember what you do. Sometimes you can get caught up in the idea that everyone is in your bar to have a good time and I am providing that good time, therefore they must love me. But the next person will come in, and the next person… you have a shot with all those people every single day, it’s not great. I’m the youngest person on this panel, I’m just starting out in my career, and still finding it difficult to keep up. And if I’m feeling that at the beginning of my career, imagine how it’s going to be 10-20 years down the track. You need to take care of yourself. It is the most important thing. I work in a high volume bar where it is constant physical stress. So you have a couple of shots and you don’t feel it because of the stress, but the next day you’re going to feel the compound of the hangover, a back ache from bad shoes, if you’re not shanding correctly, your arms are hurting. The best
thing is to stay healthy – I’m not saying don’t drink but that is a part of our lives – but having a good relationship with medical people and being honest about your lifestyle and saying “I would like some pointers on how to stay as healthy as I can”. I want to be doing this in 20 years and see you across the bar and say “Hey let’s have a shot”.

Ian: At the end of the day we need to be accountable for the culture that we are bringing into our community. We talk about longevity and sustainability and yet there is that notion of bravado and how many hours did you work this week? How many shots did you do at the bar? How many shifts can you still pull? All those elements at the end of the day comes down to a bit of a dick swinging contest which forces our bodies into this constant competition with each other. If we want to have this longevity, it’s time for everybody to turn around and be more accountable for that. Be accountable within your own staffing culture and be accountable within this wider community. It’s not about who does all those things the biggest, the baddest, the hardest. If we do want to be bartenders in 15 years’ time, the more moderate of those things you do, that’s the way we’re going to have bartenders with 20 year careers.

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