Meet Cécile Schoen: From Bartender to FOH, it’s a treat to be served by Cécile at multi-award winning Alba Bar & Deli (especially if you like sherry!)

Story by Cara Devine. Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing youtube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at

Lead photo by Declan Roche @dextakesphotos

The hospitality industry has faced many… many challenges over the past few years, but one of the toughest has been the stemmed flow of international workers through our borders. Pre-pandemic, it was like clockwork – the rest of the world started getting chillier and the resumes flowed in. Some were backpackers living six to a two-bed apartment, working hard and partying harder before their next adventure. Some were students, performing the constant balancing act between capped working hours and daunting tuition fees. Some were hospitality professionals, drawn to our shores by a stellar international reputation for all things food and booze. Plenty started in one of the first two categories and were converted to the last. Either way, every last person contributed to weaving the tapestry of vibrant, welcoming hospitality that is one of Australia’s strongest suits – the global exchange of ideas and talent has had such an impact on most of our world-class venues.

Which brings us to Cécile Schoen.

She started working in restaurants at home in France, but got properly interested in the industry once she arrived in Melbourne in 2017. After travelling around for a while she landed in Brisbane, starting at Canvas in Woolloongabba where, in her own words, she picked up some “bartending tips and rules – if there are any!” before landing at Alba Bar & Deli in May 2021.


There, she has found the space to grow, as both a bartender and a leader. In December 2021 she took out the Gresham’s ‘Greenhorn Throwdown’ which was her first in person competition after taking part in a few online during lockdown times. “The experience is nerve-racking but so much fun. The feeling you get after presenting your drink is quite unique, the feeling that you’ve nailed your presentation is even better.” But, she does remind me that cocktail competitions aren’t too far removed from normal service. “It’s quite funny, because a comp is quite simply you ‘selling’ your drink to a bunch of people (hospo professionals in this case), which is kinda our job anyway. Think about it, we are making and selling drinks to the punters all the time, coming with recommendations etc.”.

Alba Bar & Deli, Brisbane

That said, when asked what her preferred role is, she doesn’t immediately settle on the bar. “I’m lucky enough, or the venue is small enough, that I get to mix it up! But my favourite service stays the Friday night one, and I’m usually on the floor. It’s the one where everyone is craving a drink after work, to celebrate the end of the working week and the start of the weekend. The venue is humming, and we are packed! The whole team is on, everyone has an assigned role, and on a good day it’s like we are dancing around the venue to the sound of the kitchen slinging tapas, tins being shaken, people chatting and of course some hip-hop.” It’s this feeling that hooks people to hospitality for life.

“I think working hospo made me a better person overall, more patient , better at communicating, more perfectionist, paying attention to details… The Brisbane hospo community is what makes me want to stay.”

With this enthusiasm it’s unsurprising that she has been elevated to a management role within the business, although, “I would never have imagined when I started at Alba that I would ‘run’ the venue, I could barely shake tins!” – especially as she never imagined herself staying long in this industry. It just goes to show the importance of recognising and supporting talent, which Schoen also stresses. “Our actual bartender never shook tins until 5 months ago. And now is killing it! Entering comps and going through busy Friday night service without a flinch. I think the team I’ve got on at the moment is probably not the most experienced (Alba used to be full of OG hospo, or as I used to call it, a bit of a retirement house hehe) and still quite green, and yet we are eager for more and better! Keen to learn together, make mistakes and celebrate victories.”

While Schoen maintains that her hospitality dream job would be one where she gets to play rugby, it is pretty obvious that she is enriching her venue and the Brisbane hospitality scene in general right where she is. As she says, “I think working hospo made me a better person overall, more patient, better at communicating, more perfectionist, paying attention to details… The Brisbane hospo community is what makes me want to stay. I think for me, who had no connections with Brisbane, the folks here change that drastically. I have lifetime friendships, and I know if I’ve got a question, whether it’s admin or about a drink, I can ask anyone. It’s pretty incredible.”

The Alba Team

The exodus of experience from our industry has been deplored, but borders are opening up, our bars are busy and we are rebuilding. Having leaders like Schoen, full of passion and ready to face things head-on, will be pivotal. I finish by asking if she has anything else she’d like to add. “Actually I was about to add something. A big learning curve of managing (I realised it because it happened to me last night) is making mistakes, because now it’s impacting people, or the venue. And it’s constantly happening with more or less impact, but learning I guess is making mistakes. So accept that sometimes you’ll make mistakes. I think it’s important to be kind to ourselves and remember that everyone makes mistakes… but it’s always easier when there is no consequence or little ones…haha”. Amen.