Employees Only Review: I Tried Sydney’s Most ‘On Trend’ Date Spot & It Was A Disaster

Love in the time of coronavirus.

Employees Only Review: I Tried Sydney’s Most ‘On Trend’ Date Spot & It Was A Disaster

Image: foodietrip.com (Employees Only, NYC)

2020 is a particularly bad year to be single.

With social distancing de rigeur across most of the world right now, the only kiss the majority of people are getting is The Bat Kiss. If you’re coupled up, at least you can be locked up with your partner – hell, lockdown might actually be helping your relationship.

But if you’re single like me, dating this year has been a nightmare. It’s been a real challenge to even go out for most of this year gone past, what with venues being shut down, and essential travel restrictions preventing any ~casual encounters~. In Sydney at least some restrictions have lifted so you can go out again – yet most date spots still aren’t open, even if you can get a date in the first place.

If by some miracle you find someone keen (or crazy) enough to contemplate going on a date with you, finding a gap in everyone’s calendars is a bloody nightmare. The spontaneity of romance is dead, people: the necessity to book ahead at a venue and the insane schedules required of us by the economic hellscape The Pandemic’s levied on the world means that most of us simply can’t be bothered with dating, particularly considering the risk of contracting the dreaded virus.

Imagine my deflation, then, when I’d finally lined up a dinner date – at Employees Only, popular Sydney cocktail bar/restaurant and one of the city’s top ‘casual romantic’ locales – after weeks of planning and trepidation, only for my date to cancel on me last minute because work called her in late and she couldn’t make the reservation.

It’s not her fault: work’s work and with rampant unemployment, you need to keep a hold on your job! At least she didn’t just straight-up cancel the night before (because I’ve had that happen to me).

So what should I do? I don’t want to let this dinner go to waste. When’s the next time I’ll be able to get a table anywhere? I did what any self-respecting, considerate young gentleman would do in this circumstance:

I desperately messaged half my friends list on social media, gave up, and took my mum as my date.

One advantage of taking your mum on a date is that mums usually don’t care that they’re your second choice because they love you and all that. In fact, Mum was actually quite pleased that I was treating her to a night out on the town, and it’s lowkey a lot less stress trying to charm your mum than it is trying to charm a cutie. So that’s a win, I suppose.


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Arriving at Employees Only, it was painfully apparent that my mum was the oldest person there. That’s not to say that she’s old; it’s more a testament to Employees Only’s usual clientele: young professionals, foodies, and couples going on dates.

Looking around I’d say conservatively 30% of guests that night were on a date… And I reckon maybe 90% of people thought that my mum and I were on a date, too.

“Do I look like a cougar?” my mum asked.

I didn’t know what to say: there is no good answer to that question.

Luckily, the food and drinks were so delightful we were distracted from feeling self-conscious about the potentially weird optics of our dinner date.

I had the whole butterflied BBQ spatchcock with Israeli couscous, homemade hot sauce, cranberries & parsley, and mum had crispy skin barramundi fillet w/ cherry heirloom tomato, asparagus, capers & lemon beurre blanc. For drinks, I ordered a ‘Foreigners Tonic’ (Beefeater 24 Gin served tall with sparking herbal tea + homemade grapefruit & bitter gourd bitters) and mum got a ‘Stay Clean’ (a clarified cocktail with Martell, a dark + white rum blend, spices & pineapple, served over a coconut coated ice block).

The drinks were delicious and fancy. Normally I wouldn’t get something so difficult to eat like spatchcock while on a date – all the tiny bones are so fiddly and there’s no cool or graceful way to eat it. But my mum’s not going to judge me, so why not? So that was a plus.

We both wanted the chocolate tart with salted caramel ice cream & condensed milk for dessert. I was incredibly full but insisted we order separate tarts: I didn’t want to go halves and make it look like some weird romantic (or mummy’s boy) thing. Our stomachs bulging, we waddled out of the bar. The only kiss goodnight I got was on the cheek. Great.


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Thankfully we left the restaurant before Employees Only’s biggest claim to fame started: as part of their winter overhaul, they’ve launched a “dinner and show” format where they run two shows a night – burlesque, with jazz DJs in between shows.

For most date nights, this would be a spectacular piece of entertainment that might help you get in the mood for some more intimacy later in the evening. But I draw the line at watching stripping with my mum. Sorry. That’s a step too far.

I’m still not sure if my night out was a success, or if my well-laid date night plan spectacularly backfired on me. Objectively I enjoyed myself, but I can’t help feeling a little bit sorry about the whole ordeal.

It’s a shame because Employees Only is the perfect place to take someone for a date in Sydney. It’s classy but not stuffy, has a fantastic menu, friendly staff, and a unique entertainment option that’s hard to find anywhere else in the city. It would be perfect to set the mood for a little romance.

Or perfect for when you need to impress your mum, I guess.

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