It’s Generation Green: Max Allison on how to manage the new breed of hospo staff

By Max Allison, owner of Good Measure, Melbourne. You can reach him at

On Friday, September 30th 2022, the PM announced that mandatory isolation for COVID-19 would be ending on October 14th and while Coronavirus is still present in Australia (with many immunocompromised people still fearful for their health and well-being) for many people this announcement signalled an end (of sorts) to the pandemic.

And now with December in the rearview and the silly season over with, many hospitality businesses have just scraped by with teams greener than they have had in years.

The staffing shortage (much like coronavirus) is still omnipresent. Some are luckier than others, bars with prestige typically have no shortage of applications and smaller bars – like mine – can be capably staffed by owner-operators. However as the days roll by the various online bartending platforms (e.g. MBE) are flooded with requests for staff, signs written in Sharpie are posted in windows and agencies send out almost daily text messages to see if someone, ANYONE is willing to work.

So like Seinfeld would say – what is the deal? Well, when the pandemic hit and hospitality was forced to fight tooth and nail for its survival, large swaths of the industry were put out of work and were suddenly on an unusually generous amount of dole (thanks Scomo). With nowhere to work, the bills paid and the bars fucking closed, a lot of people found themselves returning to study or pursuing long-lost hobbies.


Then as time rolled by and we started to reopen, faced with the option of returning to hospitality, many people opted out, leaving behind a large gap which would go on to be inadequately filled by fresh-faced youngsters who came of age during the pandemic.

But why leave in the first place? Why would someone spurn a profession that they may have spent years building the skills and resume to be successful in? Well – to be blunt – sometimes the hospitality industry just plain sucks. From the long hours to the meagre paychecks, the late nights/early mornings and the deluge of harassment (from peers and guests alike) I don’t think anyone can honestly say they haven’t thought about hanging up the ol’ hand towel.

Now if you’ve made it this far into the article you might be thinking I’m a bit of a dickhead and that if I think hospitality sucks I should make like those other folks and go work in retail or whatever. Well, you’re half-right. I am a bit of a dickhead but I don’t think hospitality sucks.

I think it sucks sometimes. Most things do. Hell, I own my own bar with my best friends and hospitality still sucks sometimes. But it is also often wonderful. I love creating, I love getting to make people happy, and I love the video game-like element of making money and upgrading my bar. There are many valuable things in hospitality. But that brings me to the main thing I want to talk about. For the new generation of staff who are entering the industry, how can we change the harmful elements of hospitality?

Let’s take a look at some of the issues I brought up before, starting with everyone’s favourite – wages. In 2021 the state of Victoria made wage theft a criminal offence (hot off the back of a few high-profile examples – if you don’t know what I’m talking about just Google “Calombaris” or “Chin-Chin” in conjunction with “wage theft”).

One major effect this has had on the industry is that now, most job advertisements will go out of their way to specify that they pay award wages. This is another way of saying that they pay the legally required minimum amount – or to put it another way minimum wage – which isn’t much of a brag.

“If you can afford to pay your staff more I believe you have an obligation to do so – especially those who have worked for you a significant amount of time or have gone through the necessary training to become a skilled lynchpin on your team.”

Now to be fair, Australia has a pretty high standard minimum wage for hospitality in comparison to other places around the world and I’ll also acknowledge that wages can often be one of the highest operating costs – sometimes accounting for up to 40%. However, if you can afford to pay your staff more I believe you have an obligation to do so – especially those who have worked for you a significant amount of time or have gone through the necessary training to become a skilled lynchpin on your team.

Long hours and late nights are sort of part and parcel of the bartending industry – you gotta be there before everyone else to set up the party and then when they’ve all gone home you get to clean up. But, did you know that a paper published in 2009 showed that people working more than 55 hours a week tended to perform lower across the board on a variety of cognitive tests? By working your staff (and yourself) into the ground – you may be hurting yourself in the long run.

Whilst you’re working too much and getting paid too little you might also find yourself working side by side with someone who decides that they like you too much or not enough. Harassment can come in the form of an overzealous teammate, deriding your skills or a manager making sexually suggestive comments.

I’m not immune to criticism on the first point – I’ve played favourites and been outright cruel to people who (at the time) I thought were beneath me. It wasn’t okay then and it’s not okay now. I’ve also reported someone I worked with for sexual harassment, the complaints were acknowledged by upper management but the person remained employed in the same position and their behaviour continued.

This is not a radical statement, employees have a right to feel safe at work and management must take complaints seriously. If you’re reading this and thinking that what I’ve outlaid is wishful thinking or impossible – then I implore you to seriously consider why you’re thinking that. If you believe that the hospitality industry can’t survive by paying people more, working them less and providing a safe environment – then you’re saying that it can’t survive without exploiting people.