Is This Really Endemic? Restaurant No-Shows

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.

6 responses to “Is This Really Endemic? Restaurant No-Shows”

  1. I read this article too! I don’t see it being endemic, but a lot of the restaurants they list in the article are pretty high end. Coi in SF is at the very least $200+/person. So even just a couple no-shows can make a dent. Also because they probably know that reservation could easily have been filled if you had canceled. Anyway, these were my thoughts – which have definitely been influenced by SF’s restaurants.

    No reservations – this seems almost standard for small, super awesome restaurants mostly because they can. You might not go, but any place like this in SF will have a line out the door and 1 hr wait all the time. It’s inconvenient for me, but it makes a lot of sense for their business.

    Overbooking – this only happened to me once. We made a reservation the night of for 9:30pm, then waited at least another 30 min. But the restaurant was small enough that I could literally see every table and I couldn’t expect the restaurant to do anything more.

    Credit Cards and Tracking – definitely on board with as long as any potential charges are listed up front. I get charging within 24 hrs of the reservation because the restaurants probably already bought my food and staffed appropriately. I’ve only seen this done for restaurants where it’s going to be well over $100 and there are already horror stories out there about most of them if you read enough reviews on Yelp.

    Prepaid tickets – this basically seems like a weird version of credit cards. And their comment about having lots of options in a big city makes paying up front a big barrier.

    Public Shaming – waste of time. How many restaurants do you follow on Twitter or Facebook? I would probably never know if I was publicly shamed by restaurants I go to.

    Also – all of this would’ve seemed weird back when I was in WI. So it’s probably very dependent on where you live and how easy it is to get into the best restaurants.

    • Good point about it being city-dependent. Generally speaking, I’m ok with the 24 hours thing. I mean, it’s the same with Doctors. I just would like at least one strike allowed because stuff genuinely happens. I think it’d deter the people they want to deter without pissing off the regulars.

  2. No Reservations – In a way, this is kind of what I prefer if my choices are this or paying a fee to hold a table. It’s equitable, at least. How much do you want to eat at a place? If it’s not enough to wait in line then it’s not enough.

    Overbooking – This would frustrate me too, but it would only reinforce the need to make a reservation. If I can’t even get a pre-booked seat! Service issues like this don’t really deter me if the food is good enough.

    Credit Cards and Tracking – Um…no thanks. We’ve now entered into some kind of pact that I’m not comfortable with. I have no interest in being held accountable to my arrival time with money. I’m already punctual enough, thank you, and I don’t need the stress of a cost for missing a dinner for whatever reason.

    Prepaid Tickets – See above.

    Public Shaming – I can think of no way for a restaurant to do this with enough class or grace for it not to backfire and look terrible.

    • Definitely true in the if you’re willing to go you’re willing to wait thing, but up to a point. Time is money and also time is the one thing you can’t get more of in your life. I already don’t have time for my hobbies, work, and family. I don’t want to waste more of it just standing around when I could be doing fun things.