My First Hospitality Experience in Melbourne

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When I first arrived in Melbourne, I had no idea where I wanted to work, but I knew that it would be something in hospitality because that’s the kind of background I had. I printed out my resume at a nearby internet cafe, realized it wasn’t in Australian format, facepalmed, went back to my hostel to fix it, walked back to the internet cafe and printed out my resume one more time. Following Kate’s example, I wandered the streets, resume in hand, looking for where the major food spots were. Restaurants were everywhere, but there was one particular area that I was drawn to after exploring the city: Flinders Lane.

I walked into a few places and asked if they were hiring. At the end of a couple of hours, I felt like no real headway was made. A lot of the places I went to weren’t hiring, and I needed to figure out a way to find the ones that were. That’s when I figured I had to go about this in an entirely different way.

The beauty of the internet is that you can send out a ton of applications to many different places that are actually hiring. The downside is that so can a bunch of other people. Because it isn’t a face-to-face interaction, it’s a lot easier for potential employers to toss your application aside because at most, you’re a name with credentials, not yet a person.

Mostly, I used Gumtree. My housemate also suggested using the ‘Melbourne Hospitality and Dining’ Facebook page so I started using that too. I sent out applications, wrote cover letters, the whole nine yards. After a couple hours of that I felt pretty darn good about myself and settled down to wait.

Days passed and after checking my e-mail about 8 times a day, I started feeling pretty down about myself and began to question my worth, thinking, “Why doesn’t anybody want me?”

But then a couple days later I got a response from a place that I applied to via the Melbourne Hospitality Jobs Facebook. It was named the Garden State Hotel and it was the newest (and biggest) venue being created by Sand Hill Road. They were attempting to man a massive four-story pub on Flinders Lanethe managing team was looking to hire around 100 new crew membersand I was one of the people they called to participate in the group interview. 

At this point, there are a couple things that make the American and Australian hiring process a bit different. Here’s a breakdown of what I experienced:

Usually the way that it works in Australia is that if an employer likes your application, they’ll call you in for an interview. If they like you during the interview, then they’ll call you back for a trial shift where you’ll work for an hour or two and show them what you’re capable of. Sometimes these trial shifts are paid, sometimes they’re not. Also be aware that the trial shift can happen on the same day as the interview, or the trial shift can even be the interview itself. If either of those are the case, they’ll probably tell you to wear all black or something similar to their uniform, so you’ll most likely have some idea.

In this case, the interview and the trial shift happened on the same day and there were about 30 people participating. They split the group into two parts, people who were most likely going to become bar staff and people who were most likely going to become waitstaff. I was put into the waitstaff group based on my experience and the “trial” comprised of giving table service to two of the managers, which was completely based off of our own personal intro and dialogue. Then we were to go through the motions of pouring drinks, serving ‘dishes’ (empty plates), clearing the table, and offering dessert. Things that they looked for were how comfortable you were holding dishes (3 ideally), how comfortable you were taking the order and conversing, and generally how you carried yourself (composed, professional, happy).

The thing that they emphasized most about the interview was that they wanted people who were happy and willing to just go for it even if they weren’t 100 percent sure of what they were doing. Skills can be taught, but an eagerness to learn and engaging personality are inherent traits that an individual already has or doesn’t have, and Sand Hill Road understood that.

It was easy enough feeling confident and comfortable (four years in the industry will do that to you), and a couple days later I got a call inviting me to their induction (Yay employment!).

What’s different about the pay system in Australia (besides the ridiculously high minimum wage) is that they pay different rates according to age and experience. There is also a difference in pay based on the time of the week that you work (you get paid more during nights and weekends). The older you are and the more experience you have, the higher your wage (can be). You’re not guaranteed a higher wage, but if you find the right job, there’s the potential to be paid a lot more. Of all the places I worked in Melbourne, Sand Hill Road had the best pay rates by far. For my age and experience I was receiving around $23 (AUD) hourly, $28 on Saturdays, and $33 Sundays. On public holidays, pay was time and a half so if a public holiday landed on a Sunday, you were paid a whopping $50 an hour. Crazy, right?

This was not including the tip money that we received on a weekly basis as well. I know that the assumption is that tipping in Australia is as common as finding a magical unicorn, but let me help clear up that misconception. It’s really not uncommon. Of course it’s nothing compared to the tipping system in the United States and it’s definitely not expected (some places will flat out refuse to let you tip them or just don’t have a system in place to accept tips), but I feel like it’s very slowly becoming more widely accepted. Tipping functions are being added to more of their payment systems, although very few of them. You’ll still get the people who spend $2,000 and leave $10 and you’ll also get the occasional $100 in-hand and very sincere gratitude for the wonderful service, but honestly the whole situation is a hit-or-miss. It exists though.

One more thing that differentiates Australia from America is their superannuation system, which is a long-term savings plan. For Australian citizens, it’s their version of a retirement plan, but working holiday workers benefit from it too (yay). Basically, if you’re working, your employer contributes at least 9.5% of your salary to a separate superannuation account. You can contribute money to your super as well and you’ll earn investment returns on the money, but you won’t be able to collect that money until your visa expires and you permanently leave the country. Once you do leave the country, you can apply for your Departing Australia superannuation payment (DASP) online, but make sure you do it before you’ve left for six months, otherwise your super will be transferred to the Australian government.