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Elli’s excellent service earns a gold medal

TAFE Queensland student Elli McRae has beaten the best hospitality workers across Australia to win Gold in the Restaurant Service category at the 2023 WorldSkills Australia National Championships.

Initially wanting to be a flight attendant, her high school career counsellor suggested she study hospitality to learn high-level customer service skills.

"When she suggested TAFE Queensland, I came to the South Bank campus and saw how impressive it was. I can't sit in a classroom, so I wanted to study something using hands-on and practical training rather than sitting and staring at a teacher," said Elli.

Helping Elli to complete her Diploma of Hospitality Management (SIT50416) were her teachers, whom she describes as incredible.

"My teachers came from the industry and brought so much knowledge about the industry. From the management, financial and administration side of hospitality, as well as teaching me how to carry three plates, which I didn't know before I started." 

Elli thrived during the one-year course as she learned about the sheer size of the hospitality industry and the many areas she could specialise in.

"I enjoyed the variation of the course, but most of all, I enjoyed the customer-facing part of the role, allowing me to talk to people and hear so many stories."

"It fascinates me that five people can eat the same dish and all point out something different about it. I also like that the less it looks like I'm doing my job, the better I am at doing it, and that's the result of my skills," she said.

Elli's skills came to the fore at the 2023 WorldSkills Australia National Championships, where she showcased her hospitality knowledge and skills in a series of food service challenges for three days, to eventually be awarded the gold medal.

Held at the Melbourne Convention Centre over three days, she was challenged to showcase her front-of-house restaurant skills as she prepared for and delivered a variety of food and beverage service styles.

"For four hours each day, I made and served hot and cold beverages, made salads, carved meat, and set tables in a high-pressure formal environment. I was also assessed on napkin folding, table boxing, managing tables and taking multiple coffee orders – it was challenging, but I was prepared."

Elli described her eight-month preparation as intense, with her teacher, Deborah Smith, training her up to three days a week, six hours a day, doing everything she could to replicate the WorldSkills competition.

"I had so many wonderful people behind me, and I knew what I was walking into. I was quietly confident, knowing I'd put in the hard work, so I was prepared. I was so in the zone that I didn't notice people watching me. It was just me and my table, and I knew what I was doing."

Elli's quiet confidence followed her to the awards ceremony, where she was hopeful for a gold medal.

"I was a little bit nervous, and when they announced my name, I got up on the stage and pumped my arms in the air because it was a long time coming. It didn't quite hit me until three days later, and then I realised what I had achieved – it was a relief for all the work I put in," Elli explained.

The work Elli put in not only won her a gold medal but also allowed her the opportunity to earn a place in the National WorldSkills team and represent Australia in Lyon, France, in 2024.

Since her win, Elli has begun working with the Queensland Parliament, helping within functions and their restaurant while focusing on travelling the world one day.

"It's nice to work at a high level, among well-respected people, who respect hospitality as a trade because many people think it's easy, and it's not."

 "I want to explore hospitality and see what level I can get to because the industry has many different levels. I've heard Europe is the place to be for hospitality, so hopefully, I'll get there one day and see what they have to offer," she said.

Now a national champion working in the industry, Elli has some sage advice for anyone wanting to start a hospitality career.

"There are so many areas of hospitality, and you won't be good at all of them. For example, I'm not good at making coffee, and I actually run away from it! But the industry has so much to offer, so if you're not good at one thing, keep trying different things, find what you're good at, and go for it!" concluded Elli.