Working As A Kitchen Hand

Do you enjoy cooking and spending time in the kitchen? You don’t mind getting your hands dirty and washing dishes does not feel like torture to you? Can you handle some stress from time to time and are you a great at multi tasking? If you can answer those questions with a resounding ‘yes’ then keep reading!

Hospitality jobs are among the most famous ones for backpackers on a work a work and travel visa in Australia. And among those hospitality jobs working as a kitchen hand is very common. This is something that I have done on more than one occasion while I was Down Under.

Kitchen hand - a stressful job at times
Working in a kitchen is a job that will keep you busy (source: flickr, author: Lou Stejskal)

This job can be a bit different depending on where you work. It can range from simple dish washing (with or without an industrial dish washer) for hours to help preparing simple dishes and even being almost a chef (without being called that).

It generally pays reasonably well (between 18$ and up to 25$ ph) and if you are lucky it can even earn you some decent money being paid good wages and penalty rates. You could find yourself working just a few times a week or in some places during the busy tourist season you might end up working long hours almost all week long.

The environment you are working in is usually fast paced, often hot, the work can be physically and mentally exhausting and it demands multi tasking skills. You will have to pay attention to not burn yourself, smash dishes and you most likely will get wet. Usually you are expected to wear black clothes.

Washing dishes at a homestead in the Bush

You will be asked to wash dishes (a lot) or help preparing simple meals and arranging them on plates. It is more of a repetitive job than a creative one. Hence, most of the time you don’t need a lot of prior experience for this job. Ideally, you already worked in a similar fast paced environment which demands a lot of multi tasking skills like waiting tables and the like.

How to look for a kitchen hand job

To find a kitchen hand job is relatively easy. It depends of course on where you are and at what time of the year you are there. In the big cities you can find a job all year round and you can use pretty much all different ways of job hunting (make it a link as soon as material is there).

In more rural areas it is possible to find such jobs all year round as well. However, in a lot of places (especially the tourist regions) there is a big demand for kitchen hands during the busy season. Here you can also go for a variety of ways how to look for employment.

On top of that notice boards (link) are going to be your friend. And once you found something, just give someone a call or go there in person. However, if you go to your potential employer to ask if they need someone follow the golden rule when looking for a hospitality job. Never go to a restaurant, cafe, etc. to ask people about employment while the place is busy and no one has time to talk to you. That is the best way to not get the job.

And then you will also find this job when you go completely remote. So we are talking Outback, Bush and roadhouse here. Although in such locations this might only be part of the job as in such places people are rather looking for an all rounder person. Therefore, your job might be more versatile and interesting. A guy at a roadhouse I was talking to became chef over night on top of his bar work, because the chef just left and… well, there was just no one else to do the job at the moment.

Also homesteads and cattle stations often look for an all rounder where you might do a mix of housekeeping and cooking. However, these jobs I wouldn’t consider as typical kitchen hand jobs. Here, I would definitely suggest to look on gumtree (link). Some job agencies (link) might be worth trying, especially the job shop (link). And of course you can always call in or send an email or even pop in if you already happen to be there. Though I would not recommend to go for a massive detour just for that.

The work environment

Working in a kitchen is definitely an experience. It is hot and you get wet if you are washing lots of dishes. You handle sharp knifes (really sharp and not like in most hostels) and your skin might not be used to carrying hot plates that are right out of the washer or you find yourself handling food that was in the oven just a moment ago.

It is a work environment where everyone is busy and overcommunicating is key. An alarm goes off and you will have to make sure the person you told that something is well done actually got that and acts upon that. After a while you might even notice how you are tempted to say ‘back’ or ‘behind’ to people you are passing in the supermarket who don’t know you are there. You will also hear the sentence ‘This one is very hot’ or something similar a lot. So you will have to pay attention.

Moreover, you have to do a fair bit of multi tasking. You need to look out if someone you are working with is running out of pans or some kind of ingredient and once you are done with the task you are doing at the moment be ready to restock or give them a hand. As mentioned before communication is key.

Always ask what you can do and don’t stand around looking helpless. Believe me, there is always something to do. There is even a famous phrase that you might hear which is ‘time to lean, time to clean’. If you are not sure what that means you are going to find out.

In a kitchen you have to work together as a team and it can get really busy during the day. So, be proactive and give your best to get along well with your colleagues. But it is not going to be crazy busy all day long. The day usually starts with prep work (lots of slicing and dicing). Putting stuffs into bottles and containers and so on. Then there is the busy time when everyone orders food and at the end there is cleaning to do which is again a bit more relaxed then the rush hour (or several hours).

Crumbing some croquettes
Rolling and crumbing some croquettes

Wages as a kitchen hand

As a kitchen hand you are usually going to earn reasonable money but you also won’t get rich. The scale of what you end up being paid will range from about 18$ ph to 25$ ph. It is going to depend on where you work and also the amount of hours per week is going to vary from a few shifts to working full time.

Additional information and remarks

A lot of kitchen hand jobs should rather be called dish washer, and yeah, I was doing that. And although the typical kitchen hand job (which you will most likely find) looks like that, it does not mean that your future job might be called ‘kitchen hand’, but actually is quite different. In fact, the last time I did this job it was like that and I really liked it.

I started off with lots of slicing and dicing. It’s also great if you have someone who is willing to teach you a little bit about how to hold a knife and how not to and so on. Lots of dish washing was included. But more and more I got to blend ingredients together into delicious sauces, keep track of stock and after a while I was responsible for the easier dishes on the menu. I ended up getting money (and decent money I might say) for being that hobby chef. So, it is possible if you are lucky.

Being a kitchen hand can range from being quite repetitive and dull to good fun and interesting. It really depends on where you work. From washing dishes to actual cooking anything is possible. However, most of the time you won’t find yourself turning your hobby chef skills into a way of making money. The payment also varies depending on where you work (18$ to 25$ ph as a rough guide). It is a fast paced environment and can be quite stressful at times. But the good thing is that time is flying by if you are busy.

Altogether, it is a job that I can recommend as you also get to see what is happening in a restaurant or cafe behind the scenes. And often there are quite some characters working in a kitchen. I am sure that the ones who did this job know what I am talking about.

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