Story by Martin Lange. This story featured in the September issue of Bartender magazine, which is out now.
What the, and I can’t emphasize this enough, actual F#$CK, 2020?! Remember when in 2016 all those celebrities died and we thought that that year was “like, the worst ever, I can’t even”, well damn, there goes 2020 hindsight for you!
Here is a little recap. In January Australia was on fire and America almost started a Third World War. In February China ate a raw bat and created a deadly virus. In March the whole world went into quarantine and lockdown, except for America, because ‘Murica Yeah! And somehow there was a toilet paper shortage. April saw a major spike in environmental disasters, killing as many people as coronavirus combined in March. In May riots, riots everywhere. June seemed to be a nice little break, but it was a fake jab to make you feel comfortable enough to open your face to that right hook to knock you back to the ground again in July. Second lockdown baby!!!
Now that we are up to date, I wanted to write about the nightmare that it was to transform Cobbler, Death & Taxes and Savile Row from walk-ins-only bar, to bookings-only bars during the relaxations on the lockdown at the beginning of June. A quick background info here. I have been in the industry for almost 20 years, and worked in restaurants, hotels and bars. I have worked in only bookings restaurants and I know my way around bookings, and exactly because of that, none of my venues take bookings. I personally hate them. They are a LOT of work.
So, after the first week Queensland allowed bars to sit 20 people as long as they served a snack. The only real way to control people coming in and out was to take bookings only. The first week, rookie mistake, we were taking bookings as they came. But we soon realised that to be able to keep the maximum people allowed at any given time proved to be almost impossible, so we established a time slot allocation. We allowed people to only sit for 1.5 hours. Then this evolved to offering 3 hours slots, but with a minimum spend of $30/hour, because humans can be dicks sometimes, and people were asking for 3 hours and taking that space drinking a LLB for the duration of it. And don’t get me started on no-shows!. People were booking for 14 people on the 9pm time slot on a Saturday and not even having the decency to let us know. I also loved people turning up 1 hour late to their booking and complaining that we gave away their spot. Or the people telling us that they wanted to move their booking for an hour later 10 minutes before they arrived. There were hundreds of ways to stitch us up, when we were already struggling to keep up with the daily regulation changes and compliance, keeping the staff safe, maintaining social distancing and educating customers about all of this.
Regardless of the few speed bumps, we got a lot of support from the community and we saw a massive change in customer attitude towards going out. People were drinking better, dressing better and acting better. We saw greater appreciation of our craft and how hard it is to provide the service we take pride in. If this devastating virus leaves something good behind, I think it will be the customer realisation that the experiences we provide in each bar and restaurant come with a lot of effort and shouldn’t be taken for granted. That’s my rant for today, everyone stay safe and hopefully we’ll see you soon!