On 30 April of this year I came across an article on Eater about how restaurants can deal with No-Shows. I didn’t even know this was a big enough thing that restaurants have multiple strategies to deal with it. Every time I’ve made a reservation to a restaurant, I’ve gone. I set reservations because I (or I and my wife and whoever else is involved) have decided to go out to eat and want to be sure we’ll not have to wait too long to be seated. Or, in the of exclusive restaurants, ensure we’ll actually get a table. I could understand people not showing up because of a life event – someone gets sick or dies. But I don’t understand the mindset of making a reservation without an intention to attend. Additionally, the biggest reason I make reservations is, as stated above, to ensure I get a table in a reasonable amount of time. Nearly every place I’ve ever made reservations at has a line out the door and even with a reservation I sometimes have to wait 15-30 minutes for my table. That said, they wouldn’t write this whole article if there weren’t a bunch of people skipping out on reservations so I wanted to answer their suggestions.
The first one is to not take reservations. You know what this gets you? It means I don’t go to your restaurant. I value my time and I appreciate restaurants that value my time. The lobby area is usually not amenable to socializing or eating. So if I’m out with friends I want to get to our table so we can talk and have fun. If I’m with my family, I want to eat and GTFO so I can get back to having fun. And the larger my party is, the more I NEED a restaurant that takes reservations because we require more empty tables to make up our eating area. So on the times that would have been most lucrative for the restaurant – parties of 10-15 people – I avoided them due to a lack of reservations. And the workers REALLY missed out because usually if it’s that many of us, it’s my in-laws. And they usually insist on paying. And they tend to tip 20-25%. (They really value good service)
Overbooking is somewhat dangerous. My wife and I are fiercely loyal. We’re also fiercely shunning. There are restaurants we have completely sworn off because of a bad to horrible experience there. And one of our peeves is not being seated within a reasonable time with reservations. Now, we’re intelligent folks. We understand that managing restaurant flow is an art. You have no idea how long your customers are going to take. My mother, when out with only adults, might be at the table for 2-3 hours. My wife and I have closed two restaurants when eating out with her friends. My father-in-law insists on leaving the second the check is completed. And he’s asking for the check the second he’s done eating. So if I have a reservation for 2000, a busy time, I can tolerate being seated at 2015 or even 2020. But after 2030, I start wondering and commenting aloud on what the purpose of reservations are if I’m not seated at that time. After all, when I go out to eat I like to enjoy my food, so I often make sure not to eat any snacks. I want my stomach ready to receive as much food from your restaurant as possible. So I’m usually hungry as I stand there.
Requiring credit cards is OK. As I said, I always make my reservations with the intention of fulfilling them. But you better have a rational way for me to cancel without penalty. If I get the flu a few days ahead and call you, I better be able to get all my money back. And, ideally, you’d combine this with the next suggestion of tracking cancelers. Because I believe everyone should get one freebie. If I get sick on that day or get in a car crash or my mom dies or something and you charge me for not showing up like some kind of jerk – you can be your food I will never show up at your restaurant again. And I may be a lowly blogger, but for something like that, I’d do my best to make sure it gets out there – because that’s a jerk move. And by tracking, you’d be able to know that it’s not like I’m on my third mother dying, if you catch my drift.
The pre-paid ticket system COULD be weird. I’m not completely against it, unless it ends up becoming something where the tickets are sold on the second-hand market at a premium. Like if one guy can buy most of the tickets and then sell them for more – I don’t care how awesome your food is supposed to be. It could literally be orgasm-inducing and I wouldn’t go. I know damn-well that my wife wouldn’t let me spend more for food than the food actually costs – which is what the ticket system would represent – buying a ticket to a fixed price menu.
Public shaming would only work together with tracking. Again, don’t be a jerk if you don’t know all the details. If I’m already depressed because my mom died, I’m not going to feel a whole lot better because some jerk called me out on twitter or Facebook. That’s the kind of stuff that could lead to the mentally unbalanced taking revenge. Don’t do it. It’s tacky.
Again, I’m not in the restaurant business so maybe this is a HUGE problem. I’ve never seen any evidence of that in any of the restaurants I’ve been to that range from medium class to high class. They always seem to be packed and have tons of people trying to get in. But if you do feel that you need to take these steps – beware. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there you might be shunning from your restaurant. And, really, your goal as a businessman (or woman) is to make as much money as possible so you shouldn’t be turning people away.