12 March 2023

Women in Hospitality Spotlight: Olivia Kelly, bartender at Bar Rochford

| Lucy Ridge
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young woman in bar

Olivia Kelly didn’t set out for a career in hospitality, but fell in love with the industry. Photo: Supplied.

Meet Olivia Kelly: bartender extraordinaire at Bar Rochford.

Olivia says bartending wasn’t really what she set out to do for work. But her first jobs in the hospitality industry led her to love the pace of working behind a bar, serving customers, and learning more about making drinks.

“It wasn’t my initial plan, but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” she tells Region.

Olivia considers herself fortunate to have mainly worked for independent owner-operators who strongly emphasise workplace opportunity and caring for staff.

“I have felt like my opportunities for growth and needs in the workplace have been cared for and provided fairly.”

bar staff group

The team at Bar Rochford. Photo: Bar Rochford.

It has occasionally been the customers who were more likely to make gendered assumptions about Olivia and her colleagues. There are plenty of stereotypes about what women and men prefer to drink – men like to drink beer while women prefer to order sweet cocktails – and customers will sometimes carry those preconceptions into how they treat the staff behind the bar.

“There have been moments where customers have underestimated knowledge that myself and female colleagues may possess about traditionally ‘male-dominated’ spheres, whiskey being a good example,” she explains.

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But overwhelmingly, she’s had good experiences and notes the privilege she holds as a white, cisgender woman. Women of colour and trans women in the hospitality industry often face added challenges and discrimination in the workplace.

Olivia says that more diversity in the industry is important, but it needs to go further than that.

“… empowering [a more diverse range of] people to hold management positions and create their own spaces/venues is the only way for true diversity.”

Woman holding wine bottle

Caitlin Baker founded Venus Vinifera, a community of women in wine. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A local role model for Olivia, and many others in the wine and hospitality industries, is Caitlin Baker, front-of-house manager at the newly opened Such and Such, and the founder of Venus Vinifera: a community for women in wine.

“Caitlin … is not only one of the best in her field at what she does, but is a creator of community,” Olivia says.

“To provide a space for people to learn and thrive on top of her job is noble and so important, I could only hope to be looked up to like I and so many of us in the industry look up to Caitlin.”

READ ALSO Venus Vinifera: a community of women in wine

There’s been an increased awareness of issues around drug and alcohol dependence of hospitality workers, as well as the high attrition rates of workers ”burning out” and finding other work.

Olivia’s advice for her younger self is to remember to put physical and mental health first.

“In such a substance-heavy industry, it is very easy to be swept up in the beautiful chaos of it all, but striving for peace and health should be a constant goal.”

Bar interior

Olivia works at Bar Rochford. Photo: Lean Timms.

Olivia also took time for a shoutout to her colleagues at Bar Rochford: “The coolest, most dedicated and creative people out there.”

Read about more women working in hospitality in Canberra, such as Stephanie from Stephanie’s Donuts, or Praewpitcha ‘‘Peach’’ Chinsamai, who roasts her own coffee blend for her bagel shop Fav Cafe. Or Jasmine Choi, the manager of Mu Restaurant and Cicada Bar.

You can find Olivia serving drinks at Bar Rochford, on the first floor of 65 London Circuit, Canberra.

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