The Anger for No Shows is Palpable. So What is the Answer?

“Some pr@£k called Steve is getting a 2am call from me asking if he still wants his 7pm table” a tweet from a chef I follow reads. Just like that we’re back to it. We’re back once again discussing no shows in restaurants.

The anger for no shows is palpable. What was once highly damaging is now fatal to an industry already beaten down with reduced covers and increased scrutiny in a post COVID world. The estimated 20-25% of all bookings which are cancelled equate to around 16 million pounds of lost revenue. This comes at a time when restaurants have received largely no help for rent on properties sat dormant for the majority of the year. And these aren’t costs they can plan for with timetables. The tables are set by the front of house who are waiting for you, and those chefs have been prepping all morning waiting for your arrival. A cancellation might have eased the demand, but by not turning up you’re facing a wrath not seen by chefs since Delia Smith told people how to boil an egg.

I’ve paid close attention to it of late, hell I’ve even tweeted myself about what I consider poor form, but what difference can I make? My honest opinion is anyone who does follow me on Twitter (and you absolutely should) is unlikely to be the kind who makes multiple reservations and chooses the place on the night. I thought #nomorenoshows was a lovely idea for the part of the country who don’t think a hashtag is the reason they have to be indoors by 9pm. We need a universal solution, one that appeals to everyone, because it’s clear that the public don’t discriminate as to where they don’t show up.

No shows I asked Si Toft of The Dining Room in Abersoch for a quote on this. “How much can I swear?” he asked. It’s that kind of mood. Another restaurateur and I spoke about the need to change the attitude of the diner, how this is a culture which simply wouldn’t have existed in previous decades. It’s not as simple as taking card details because they’ll cancel the card, and while full payment via systems like TOCK are great, it only works for the kind of desirable restaurant which are often not the impulsive neighbourhood places we also want to see thrive. No reservations means no cancellations, but it also means queues and is simply not workable for some business types. I pose the question that perhaps deposits in line with a percentage of the expected bill could work but he bats it down. Not everybody has the budget to pay someone to sit on a phone all day taking payments.

So what is the answer? I have no idea. Someone on Twitter suggested rewarding dinners for turning up on future bookings, though to me that sounds too close to rewarding your puppy for not dumping on the rug. Maybe we just need to be better humans and understand that every time we don’t show for a restaurant we risk not having it as an option in the future. As Si Toft said so bluntly “until people care that they are ruining other people’s livelihoods for their own convenience, or through bad manners, we won’t be able to do anything about it”. Maybe we need to start phoning them at 2am in the morning to see if they still want that 7pm table. Maybe that’s the answer. 

Guest blog by Simon Carlo