Welcome to the second instalment of The Shout’s Industry Women Spotlight Series. In this series, we share the stories of women from across the industry, raising awareness for the challenges they face and passing on their advice for the next generation.
Through one profile each week, we aim to hero the visibility and inspiration that is common on International Women’s Day, supporting the voices of women in different sectors of the liquor and hospitality industry. It’s important these conversations happen more frequently than just once a year.
This week we’re celebrating the story of Alissa Gabriel, Bars Manager at Hinchcliff House in Sydney, who has achieved incredible things throughout her career so far.
Gabriel got her start in the industry in far north Queensland while she was still in high school and was looking to apply to the military. But instead of enlisting, she said she “fell in love with hospitality, the art of creating a drink and curating an experience.”
There wasn’t much of a thriving cocktail environment where she was though, so Gabriel moved to Brisbane and developed her skills at some of the city’s best bars for the next couple of years.
It was during this time Gabriel won her first cocktail competition, Bacardi Legacy, being national winner of the Australian competition in 2015. That was the year that the international final was held in Sydney, and when she took the trip there to compete, it opened her eyes to the amazing bars and bartenders of the city.
A few job offers later and Gabriel had moved to Sydney to start the next stage of her career, in which she spent around five years with Speakeasy Group, including running Mjolner and being Head Bartender at Eau De Vie. But today, Gabriel works for Hinchcliff House, a venue with four levels of dining, drinking and events.
“I’ve jumped over to this amazing new company, and have had the privilege to open the four bars within the building itself,” Gabriel explained.
Creating an experience
As Bars Manager at Hinchcliff House, Gabriel controls the drinks and cocktail lists for the whole building – a massive undertaking, but one she loves.
“I like the guest experience. I like seeing being able to create that moment for them from the second they walk in the door, and then see them walk out and talk about your venue to other people. That word of mouth really inspires me and keeps me going,” Gabriel explained.
Although there have been good years and bad years in Gabriel’s career journey, as with anyone, curating these experiences from scratch has been a highlight for her overall, especially for newly opened venues.
“With a new venue, you have so much opportunity to create something out of nothing… I’ve helped open about seven venues now and being part of venue opens have definitely been highlights [in my career] – those first couple of weeks where you’re racing to get everything done, and you finally stand back and get to see what you’ve create, it’s just a really happy moment,” Gabriel said.
This is set to continue to be a highlight in the year ahead, with Gabriel excited about the company growing and changing with more venues to open soon.
How to overcome challenges
At just 27 years old, Gabriel said she has excelled “pretty fast” through the industry thanks to her strong work ethic, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges along the way. In her roles she has recognised the common challenges that women face in the industry in general, with the biggest one surrounding the need to fight against people underestimating you.
“It is a male dominated industry and you always have that guest that wants to talk to the male bartender next to me because he wants to ask about whisky, not knowing that I taught that bartender everything he knows about whisky,” Gabriel said.
“Situations like that where we’re constantly being underestimated when we actually might be the most qualified person in the room.”
Gabriel did point out that a lot of the time this isn’t coming from within the industry, but from the customer side of the equation. In those situations, she said the best response is to wait for the opportunity to step in and prove yourself against the person who has underestimated you, without getting angry, as this is the best way to teach someone to recognise their unconscious bias.
Another challenge that Gabriel has recognised for women in the industry is imposter syndrome, which, simply put, is the experience of doubting your own abilities and being afraid of people finally discovering you are a ‘fraud’ or don’t belong in a certain role. This is where Gabriel thinks there is a gap between men and women – she’s noticed that more women seem to underestimate themselves in the industry.
“I think there’s a gap with that imposter syndrome, where we maybe don’t know what our worth is. A male would maybe have asked for more money because they have the confidence to just go and ask, whereas we constantly underestimate ourselves. There’s that gut feeling of ‘maybe I’m not worth that’, or ‘maybe I’m not good enough’,” she said.
Gabriel’s advice for women experiencing this was to: “Just work hard to prove yourself and know your worth. I think everybody is capable of doing the same job and being paid the same… I think it just starts with having the confidence in yourself and knowing you can do it.”
Moving forward as an industry
One of the good things that Gabriel spoke about when it comes to the challenges women face in the industry, is that she believes we are moving in the right direction as a collective, for the most part.
“I think all of the right conversations are happening. I think we’re doing everything we can and it will be a fight to the end,” she said.
Oftentimes the issue arises when it comes to the unconscious bias of guests, as discussed above, and to dismantle this mindset it was important for everyone to be working together.
“It’s about putting women at the forefront and making it more of a statement,” Gabriel said.
“It’s part of that general conversation that is constantly evolving – it will develop over time and people’s ignorance will get better.”