News & views | Why it matters if you don’t show up for a restaurant you’ve booked

News & views

Why it matters if you don’t show up for a restaurant you’ve booked

Every week my local restaurants in Bristol tweet that a table has become available that evening. You might say they’re the lucky ones - at least the customer has let them know though that’s scant consolation if the table is for more than two. Others simply fail to show up.

No shows have become the bane of restaurants’ lives, cutting already slender margins to the bone. Expensive ingredients go to waste. Regulars you’d like to fit in may be denied a table. One restaurant told me this morning that only a third of the people who had booked a table one evening turned up.

Since when did we become so careless of people’s livelihoods or frankly so selfish? People seem to feel they have the right to book a number of places then see what they feel like on the day. Without bothering to let the other restaurants know. Would they do that to a family member or a friend? To a work colleague they’d arranged to meet? Almost certainly not yet how long does it take to make a phone call? Seconds.

What can restaurants do about no shows?

What on earth can restaurants do? Charge beforehand like a theatre, cinema or sporting venue? Most hotels will charge you for a night’s accommodation if you cancel in 24 hours. Only a very small minority of highly regarded restaurants like The Clove Club in London and Casamia in Bristol do.

Even asking for a deposit appears to deter customers. One chef who tried it said his trade fell right off. Customers simply decided to eat elsewhere. What about collaborating with other local restaurants I asked him? “A few of us agreed to do it but I was the only one who gave it a try. Business was disastrous. I had to give it up after a couple of weeks”

Name and shame as The Cauldron in Bristol did yesterday? It might well be effective but restaurants still hesitate to do it in case the cancellation is genuine - and for fear of what damage sites like Tripadvisor can do if the disgruntled customer complains. Yes, everyone has to rush to hospital with a sick child at some point but at least get someone to call to say you can’t make it.

It’s up to all of us who value our local restaurants to try and help with this problem otherwise they’ll simply go out of business. And it’s the rest of us who end up paying in terms of higher meal costs that have to be factored in

So If you have to cancel give as much notice as possible, preferably a couple of days.

Don’t double or treble-book

If someone else has made the booking for you and you can’t make it, make sure they let the restaurant know. If they brag about having booked several restaurants make them aware just how damaging that is to a restaurateur's livelihood

Local restaurants band together to make people aware of the cost of not turning up and share a blacklist of repeat offenders. (I personally think you should name and shame but can understand why you hesitate.)

Local media, don’t automatically assume the customer is right - check the complaint is genuine. (Good to see the Bath Chronicle highlighting the problem today.) Tripadvisor (if anyone bothers to monitor Tripadvisor) why not be a little more careful about blatantly spiteful posts?

Local councils and business organisations - support your local restaurant sector by highlighting this problem

Booking sites could also do more to support restaurants like OpenTable's #bookresponsibly campaign. They also have a detailed No Show policy.

Let’s say #notonoshows

In the hour or so since I posted it there have been reports that no shows were a particular problem this Valentine's night. Top Bath restaurateur Gordon Jones said he had 47 people on his waiting list who he was unable to accommodate then had 4 customers fail to show up. Bar 44 in Cardiff had a worse experience still - it had 16 tables who didn't turn up

If you’re a restaurant have you had experience of no-shows and what have they cost you? Any thoughts about what the industry can do about it? One interesting idea that's come from the exchange of views on Twitter might be that customers who paid a deposit or, better still, the full cost up front (a possibly solution to V day no shows) might get a discount. Worth thinking about ...

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Comments: 9 (Add)

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Teresa on February 26 2018 at 17:00

I have been thinking about this a lot recently and don’t really why a cc guarantee is so offputing to potential customers. And what is so hard about calling or emailing to cancel if you need to?

(Even at a charity fundraiser I held recently there were a number of no-shows. Although they had paid in advance so costs were covered we really make money on wine sales/ raffle tickets etc. it was a sold out event so even with just a few hours notice we could have resold their tickets.. It baffles me. )

J on February 26 2018 at 14:23

Do most restaurants actually need a formal booking system when many say they're regularly turning away passing foot traffic to accommodate their pre-booked customers? Surely the best option would be to advise customers that you're suspending your booking system for, say, a month and re-introduce it if you need to with a non-refundable, realistic booking fee for the restaurant that's offset against the final bill if the customer turns up. I don't have a restaurant but that's what I'll do when I do.

Ronnie Somerville on February 23 2018 at 16:28

Yes heard Mark on the radio this morning!

Fiona Beckett on February 22 2018 at 21:23

Thank you all for taking the trouble to comment. You're totally right @Ronnie Somerville - we expect to pay up front in every other case - why are restaurants an exception?

Here is what one restaurant in Edinburgh, Mark Greenaway, has been driven to as recently posted on Facebook which he asked others to share"

"450 cancellations or no shows in one month, this is simply unsustainable for our small restaurant"

To whom it may, or may not concern

As of March, the 1st we will be taking debit or credit card details for all bookings, and a fee of £30 for lunch or respectfully £50 for dinner will be deducted per person for any tables that don't turn up or no show on the day.

Now this is something we have toiled with, believe me and not something we want to do but as an independent restaurant we feel the time has come that we can't simply ignore what is going on in the industry, so we feel we now need to act to put an end to this lunacy of customers booking tables and simply just not turning up.
We already have a confirmation policy in place and confirm all tables of all sizes every day, however this changes nothing it would seem.
To give just one month as an example in December alone we had 450 cancellations or no shows, this is simply unsustainable for our restaurant, there is nothing more frustrating than spending the whole week refusing custom, due to the fact we believe we are full on a given night only for at times 3 or 4 tables simply don't show up, these are confirmed tables that we have staffed and prepared food for.
The worst example I can give is last September 22 customers in one night whom were all confirmed just not turn up or call to cancel, now when you consider we are a small independent restaurant only seating 42, and on the weekend feed 70 customers maximum, this makes a huge difference to the business and is the difference between making money and losing money.

What we are doing is not outside the norm in the industry, I personally know of several restaurants in Edinburgh and across the country that already do this, however for us it's a huge step in securing the livelihood of the business and its staff

Hopefully this will discourage the glut of customers that seem to book 2 or 3 restaurants at a time and make a decision on the evening of where they are going to eat, this attitude must stop, and it must stop quickly. We will be using stripe, which is a secure online platform for storing your very sensitive information.
If you book a football match, or a concert, or a comedy show and don't show up you forfeit your ticket, why should eating at a restaurant be any different?

And please understand we are doing this to safeguard the future of the restaurant not simply to be difficult.

Ronnie Somerville on February 21 2018 at 09:07

I book a flight, I don't turn up, I pay.
I book a pop concert, don't turn up, I pay.
I book a train ticket, I don't turn up, I pay.
I book a holiday, I don't turn up, I pay.
I book a car hire, I don't turn up, I pay.
I book a hotel, I don't turn up, I pay.

Why are restaurants different? Why do consumers have this fundamental lack of respect for restaurants? There is a "bullet that needs to be bitten". Restaurants need to show solidarity and introduce deposits for at the very least their "prime times". Ben's Cornish Kitchen shows that it CAN be done. There are plenty of examples of situations where engrained modes of behaviour can be turned around, for example the smoking ban and drink driving. Let's make #NoToNoShows a success!

Ronnie Somerville, ceo

Punter on February 19 2018 at 11:14

PS . I would never go to a restaurant that asked for a deposit, But it doesn't e=seem unreasonable on Valentine's Day or Mothers day etc.

Punter on February 19 2018 at 11:09

I go to restaurants all the time. I am the ideal punter. I am loyal, I eat lots and I buy nice wine I don't think I have ever stood up a reservation. Most restaurants call me the morning of my booking and leave a voice message asking me to call back and confirm. I do take the trouble to reply – most of the time. But it is always a bother calling restaurants - with PRESS ONE if you want X etc. Confirmation by text would be much easier. In most cases it is at a restaurant where I am a regular and they know I’m going to come and I think it would be more helpful to remind me - but not ask me to call back. A couple of months ago I booked, in writing by email, a table for lunch at a new restaurant in Covent Garden. They rang and left a message on the day asking me to confirm. I didn’t have the chance to call back because I was busy that morning. When I got to the restaurant at 1pm they said that because I hadn’t called back they had cancelled the table and I could probably sit at the bar. I said ”You rang to confirm. Not to cancel. I want the table I booked in writing.”. They very grudgingly found me a table but I won’t be returning.

I think restaurateurs need to understand better how difficult it can be to get through to them. Then they might have fewer no shows and more happy regular diners - like me!

Laura Sheffield on February 19 2018 at 10:10

I think Resdiary / opentable / Collins and the like should band together with their restaurants and charge £5 per cover for late cancellations or no shows. With the proceeds donated to charity. Let’s wirk together and do good whilst slowing no shows and boosting our businesses.

Joff Day on February 17 2018 at 15:31

At Ben's Cornish Kitchen in Marazion, we started taking deposits using the SImpleERB booking system. No shows virtually vanished overnight. We've had no complaints and no wasted seats. We're very happy!

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