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Natalie Ng explains how Door Knock has adapted to the demise of 5.30pm drinks

The list of things impacted by COVID-19 is obviously massive and spans many industries, but with office blocks now seeing occupation rates of 30-40 per cent or less, socialising and the after-work drink has changed dramatically this year.

For Sydney CBD bar Door Knock, this has had a major impact, but co-owner Natalie Ng and the team have adapted, as she told Bars and Clubs.

“We have seen a fair few people coming back into the city now, but people are finishing earlier now, at 3.30pm, so the old 5.30pm after-work drink has been completely eradicated. The after work drink is pretty much whenever I want it to be now.”

This has meant the bar has changed a few things in order to make sure it is making the most of the change in customer behaviour.

“We’re doing more bookings now than ever before, to help avoid disappointment and so that there is a bit of structure for the patrons as well,” Natalie said. “We’re on Open Table, and on Friday and Saturday we’re also doing two hour seatings for groups under six, and 2.5 hours for over. That way everyone knows what they are in for.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve tried to do a booking policy where if you don’t show up you get charged $50 or $100, but it doesn’t really work. Unfortunately things do happen at the last minute and it seems to be a trend for restaurants or bars like Door Knock that are close to restaurants that people are booking five or six places and then deciding at the last minute where to go.

“It’s such a shit move. But the problem is if someone doesn’t show up and you charge them $100 they just take to Google and give you a shit review, so you can’t win.

“What we’ve started doing is, if it’s a group of 10 people or more we take a non-refundable deposit and if you don’t show up we keep the deposit and just book them for another time, which seems fairer.”

What Natalie also said is that Door Knock is now doing things which are more what you would expect to do in a restaurant than in a bar.

“We’re confirming bookings every day and giving people the opportunity to say yes or no. It’s definitely a lot laborious that; the reason I don’t own a restaurant is because I don’t have to deal with that kind of reservation.

“I love it being, come in, have a drink and sit the fuck down.”

The fact is it’s not rude to say that anymore because people do have to sit down, and one good thing for Door Knock is the service it was offering pre-COVID still works.

“We have been pretty lucky because Door Knock has been the kind of bar that has offered table service the whole time. So our style of service hasn’t changed much. If anything now it’s because there’s a host to check people in, people have to wait for tables a little bit, but if you book you are more likely to get a table on time. It does suck having to turn people away especially if they are coming for the first time, but we generally have pretty solid bookings for two seatings.”

And while there’s no doubt it has been a difficult year, with many things changing Natalie said that weekdays are starting to pick up again, with the bar now opening Tuesday to Saturday. So now as consumer confidence returns and numbers start to pick up, Natalie said the bar is doing everything it can to help out the others around Door Knock, and hopes everyone is doing the same thing.

“We’re all in it together,” she told Bars and Clubs. “So being able to encourage each other and ensuring that customers in your bar will go out and check out everyone else that’s local to you.

“That’s incredibly important and we have been doing that because we have more time on the floor to chat to our customers and ask them ‘what you’re up to after this? Are you having dinner? If you have time, make sure you check out Burrow Bar, or Bistecca, or Employees, Uncle Mings, Stitch or PS40’.

“Giving them a list of suggestions of places they might want to check out next time and just really keeping that conversation open is I think, extremely important at the moment.”

Well said Natalie.

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