The best way to travel in a country as expensive as Australia is to work in a sector like hospitality (hospo)—an industry that will forever need backpackers.
Hospitality covers everything from bartending, cooking, reception-work, hotels, restaurants, bars, and of course waitressing.
When I worked as a waitress in several of Melbourne’s restaurants, I was immersed in the Aussie way of life through meeting locals—both customers and colleagues—and became a part of Melbourne culture. Not only that, but I also made lifelong friends from all over the world..
Working in hospo in Australia is a welcoming community, and they’ll make your working holiday seem like you’re not working at all!
Here’s everything you need to know about how to become a traveling waitress in Australia (or waiter, or any hospo job, really).
What is the Australia working holiday visa?
Australia offers the 417 working holiday visa for citizens of qualifying countries that meet certain criteria. This enables you to live and work in Australia for one year. Criteria includes things like being 18-30 years old, having no dependants or criminal records, etc. (See their website for full criteria).
Getting a working holiday visa opens up some of the best travel job opportunities for those wanting to earn money while exploring Australia.
Important notes about the visa:
● You have to pay for the visa, which in 2019 cost around 485 AUD including the service fee.
● Some applications come back within 24 hours, some take weeks. You may have to provide further evidence such as police checks or undertake a health examination.
● There are rules once your visa is granted, and once you enter Australia, you must adhere to them.
To learn everything there is to know about applying for an Australian Working Holiday Visa, check out this ultimate guide.
What does a day in the life of a traveling waitress look like?
Let me paint you a picture…
It’s a Friday morning. You’ve got the night shift ahead of you, so you start your morning the right way, meeting friends for brunch.
After your eggs benedict with smashed avocado, you hit the beach for a swim and tanning session with your night shift colleagues.
Your shift starts at 5pm, and you’ve memorized precisely when you need to head home to have time to freshen up and catch the tram to work.
It’s a Friday, and the restaurant is packed. All your friends are working with you, so you gossip and make weekend plans in between running food, serving customers, and cleaning tables.
After closing, it’s “staff time”. That means staff-priced drinks with the chefs, ownership over the music, and finally being able to sink your teeth into that pizza you’ve saved for after hours.
From there, everyone piles into the bar downstairs. You know all of the staff here too and enjoy some more loyalty-priced drinks while you wait for all your other hospo pals to finish and join you.
The night is well underway now. Once everyone has finished working, your group heads out to the bar that opens the latest (usually an Irish pub) before ending the night at the best ramen spot in town for that early hour bowl of broth in the city.
You do this on what most people class as the “weekend”. But really, when you work as a traveling waitress in Australia, your weekends are technically Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday. That’s when everyone in hospo are out around the city enjoying perks like hospo discounts—special weeknight discounts for those who don’t see past dirty plates and spilled drinks on a Saturday night.
This fun routine repeats itself until you get glorious time off for a day trip to explore the surrounding areas.
My life as a traveling waitress was truly my favorite time of my travels.
How is the work/life/travel balance?
The balance is what you make of it.
You can choose to work 70 hours a week for a few months so you can later take the next few months off to travel. Or you can work an average 30-35 hour week, have relaxing downtime in your city, and take a little longer to save for bigger side-trips.
I chose the later, but it all depends on your travel goals.
While working 30-35 hour weeks, you usually get 2 days where you can explore locally, travel to places within a few hours, do a few overnight trips, or enjoy life outside of work in the place you live.
Plus, when you find a great job like the waitressing job I had in Melbourne (like I described above), it never truly feels like work—especially when you’re with friends and make good use of the time after work hours.
How to become a traveling waitress on an Australia working holiday visa
Experience is always going to get you far when applying for Aussie waiter and waitress jobs.
If you have any customer service or hospitality experience, it will help you snag these jobs on your Australian working holiday visa.
Personality is also key. This is true if you have experience or not. You’ll be working with fellow travelers while serving either locals or more fellow travelers—so having a good sense of humor, adapting to the laid-back Aussie lifestyle, and having fun will go a long way.
That said, you must be a hard worker. Nobody wants to hire (or work with) another lazy backpacker doing the bare minimum just to afford the hostel’s happy hour party.
Don’t be that person!
In terms of training, you cannot get a job in a venue that serves alcohol without getting a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate. This requires a one-day training course which costs about $60. The state of Victoria (where I was) has its own specific training you must attend, but for the rest of Australia, the RSA is all you need.
Logistics-wise, when you arrive in Australia, you’ll want to get:
- An Australian SIM card so the restaurant can contact you for a trial run (that you’re going to ace!).
- A Tax File Number, which is like a National Insurance number in UK or Social Security number in the U.S.
- An Australian bank account where you’ll receive your hard-earned dollars (make sure to ask your bank to set you up with a superannuation account, see more about this below).
How to find waiter and waitress jobs in Australia
Here are the exact steps you need to take to find a restaurant job in Australia:
#1.) Have a CV/Resume adapted for a working holiday hospitality job. Include your name, nationality, Aussie contact number, experience in hospitality/customer service, your visa type, when your visa expires, and your top skills including your RSA certificate (see point 2).
#2.) Get an RSA certificate as soon as possible and make copies of it.
#3.) Print out your CVs, lace up your tennis shoes, and prepare for a day of walking around the city (don’t forget your umbrella if you’re in Melbourne!).
#4.) Go into bars and restaurants at suitable times*, ask for the manager, smile, and ask if they have any jobs available. Hand them your CV make a good first impression. Suitable times: Morning or lunch is good because they might ask you to come back that evening. Never go at peak serving hours like 5pm, a Saturday night, or a public holiday.
#5.) Repeat this at as many places as possible and keep your phone on loud to answer calls.
#6.) If you get a call to come back for a trial, prove to them why you’d be good to work there (see below for more trial tips).
#7.) If they’re interesting and ask if you’re available to work that day and free on weekends, always say yes (of course you are!), and ALWAYS follow through. There are loads of flaky backpackers out there. Prove you aren’t one of them.
After I’d been in my job a few months, the bar manager—the first person I met when I walked in to ask for a job—told me that they get a vibe when certain people ask for jobs. Apparently he liked my vibe and told the restaurant manager to bring me in for a trial. If you get anything from this guide, just remember—first impressions count for everything.
If you get a trial, you’re halfway to getting the job. Make sure you are dressed appropriately, arrive on time, and show as much initiative as possible. Other staff members will likely offer you some help. Always take their advice, be friendly, and show a willingness to work hard.
My number one tip for landing the job during your trial is this:
Do not stand around doing nothing.
Keep yourself busy. And if you’re not sure of what to do, ask. (Or at least try to look busy!)
How easy is it to get a job in Australia on a working holiday visa?
I’ve heard stories of people stepping off the plane and strolling right into a dream job.
I’ve also heard stories of people taking an entire month before finding work (or not finding work at all and going home).
So, it’s different for everyone. But if you follow my recommendations above, have backup savings for the first few weeks, and let your personality capture the hearts of hiring managers—you will be okay.
In the worst case scenario, you may just have to settle for a low-paid, no-benefits job (until you can find something better) or moving on to another place in Australia.
How much do waiters and waitresses earn in Australia?
I worked in the same restaurant in Melbourne for 6 months (I would’ve stayed longer, but there is a maximum time limit – see more below).
When I first started, I was paid $25 AUD per hour Mon-Fri and $30 per hour Sat-Sun.
This later was bumped up to $26 per hour Mon-Fri and $31 Sat-Sun after a few months.
In addition to this wage, employers have to pay into a superannuation account for staff every payslip.
On public holidays (which are common in Melbourne—there’s like 8), I got paid double time. The restaurant isn’t open as long on these days and staff is at a minimum, but seriously—$50/hour for waitressing? Ka-Ching! It was beautiful.
Some important things to note about pay:
- I was on this wage because I was a “casual” employee. This meant my hours changed every week, and some weeks you could have zero hours. I learned that if you work hard, arrive on time, don’t call in sick all the time, and show willingness—you tend to get hours every week.
- If you want guaranteed hours, then ensure you choose a different contract (but this will be less pay).
- You will be taxed on every pay.
- Superannuation is the pension for Aussies. But for backpackers, it is a lovely bonus you can claim when you leave Australia. Don’t forget to do this! I know so many people who never claim their super back and it’s just floating around Oz in this big untouched, limbo fund. Your employer pays this every week and when I claimed mine back I had almost $700 (they tax you 65%, but still).
- Wages are usually paid weekly (perfect for working while traveling).
The limit to working as a waiter on an Australian working holiday visa is 6 months maximum per employer. After that, you need to find another job.
The minimum wage in Melbourne is around $25 AUD but a realistic wage range in Melbourne is between $18 and $25.
A lot of places pay $18—which is less than minimum wage—but it’ll all be off the books. You likely won’t ever get double time on holidays or extra pay on weekends, but you also get paid in cash under-the-table, which may have some tax benefits (wink, wink). Plus, since you’re off the books, you can stay longer than 6 months if you want.
What’s your favorite part working in a restaurant in Australia?
I’ve worked as a waitress in 5 restaurants and 1 cafe (2 of which were on Working Holiday Visas). The benefits that come with working Australia hospo are second to none for travelers.
My favorite part of working in a restaurant in Australia was the people I worked with.
We were a crew from all over the world: Australia, Wales, France, Belgium, Spain, England, Scotland, New Zealand, Germany, Poland, Canada, Israel.
And we had a blast.
Learning something new about other countries (including Oz), getting the inside scoop of hospo in the city, hospo discount and queue-jumps, late nights, staying after work, never-ending “weekends”, becoming a “regular” at all the neighboring bars…
My favorite thing about becoming a traveling waitress in Australia is by far the lifestyle.
What do you wish you would’ve known when you first started?
When I rocked up at the very first bar (not the one I loved and stayed at for 6 months) and asked if they had any jobs available, I wish I would’ve known to ask the right questions right then and there.
I also wish I would’ve kept looking around and applying to as many jobs as possible (instead of waiting on my first trial for that first bar, which ended up sucking and wasted a bunch of my time).
Lastly, I wished I would’ve known to steer clear of bars with micromanagers (yes, they exist in Australia too!)
During my very first shift in that first bar, the manager told me to “pick up the pace”. In that moment, I should’ve known to walk away. It was my first day, for goodness sake…I was learning!
But it’s not in my nature to walk away when there’s a job to do. I don’t like letting people down.
So, I rode it out. But I want you to know—and I wish someone had told me—there are hundreds of jobs in the big city waiting to be taken. Do not settle straightaway.
After two shifts in that awful dive, I found my beloved restaurant where I practically lived for 6 months.
What other advice do you have for someone who wants to do a working holiday visa in Australia?
Arrive in Australia with money behind you. If you roll up completely broke and don’t find a job in the first few weeks, you’ll end up calling home for a loan before you’ve even adjusted to the time zone.
This same fateful end will happen if you arrive in Australia and blow your money on partying, lazing around your hostel 24/7 without putting in effort to find a job. There will be plenty of time to party after you get hired somewhere.
When you come across somewhere that wants to hire you, don’t rush into it too quickly, and don’t settle unless you’re desperate.
Lastly, my main advice is to grab your working holiday visa in Australia with both hands and enjoy every second because you never know if it might be cut short. When you find that sweet gig, it will be the most memorable and fun times of your life.
I’m Shireen from Wales, and I run the travel blog The Happy Days Travels focusing on learning and staying local while traveling. My favorite things to do while traveling are tasting local food, meeting new people, and absorbing a novel in a scenic spot.