No shows have long been the bane of the restaurant industry but are we on the crest of change? The issue has taken centre stage recently thanks to a number of outspoken restaurateurs.
The #StopNoShows campaign has been trending on Twitter, picking up pace thanks to articles in national press highlighting the struggles of those working in the industry. Both the Daily Mail and the Guardian have featured the stories of top restaurants in London and Edinburgh who have suffered from a plague of customers failing to turn up to their bookings.
But what of small and independent restaurants? How does the issue affect them and what can they do about it?
Prime @ The Edith Cavell is a popular family run steakhouse in Norwich where customers delight in cooking steak to their preference on a volcanic hotrock served at the table. The restaurant, which was set up in 2011, is lucky to have a cohort of loyal customers but they to are frequent victims of the dreaded no-show.
“It’s particularly painful at the weekend,” owner, Tom, explains. “Because we’re such a small restaurant only seating 30 covers, we’re often booked up 6 weeks in advance on Friday and Saturday nights.”
“I understand something might come up and you have to cancel. Of course, it’s not great for us but that’s life. We really appreciate it when customers have the courtesy to call. At least then we can try and resell the table. To simply not show up is frustrating to say the least. Not only have we lost money, but diners are looking around at the empty tables wondering why they had to book so far in advance.”
“It does cost us a lot and it’s a constant source of worry. Recently a party of 10 didn’t turn up. That’s a third of the restaurant empty during peak hours. No shows are a huge threat to our profitability.”
“Even if it’s apparent we’re going to have a bad night I can’t immediately send those additional staff home. It’s not fair to them. With the lost custom and additional staffing costs, we looked at the numbers and estimated that no-shows cost us between 8-10% of our turnover last year.”
“No shows really leave us at the mercy of walk-ins and even then there are no guarantees. It’s frustrating to know you’ve been turning down additional bookings all week because you’re full, only for them to not show up on the night. We do two seatings each service so if we get multiple no-shows throughout the night it can be really disheartening.”
“Restaurants seem to have it worse than other sectors. If you have a meeting booked with someone who works in an office it’s common courtesy to show up like you’d agreed. This doesn’t seem to be the case in our industry.”
“It’s increasingly common practice for London restaurants to take deposits on booking but there’s a bit of a stigma attached. Customers seem less prepared to pay a deposit for a table in a restaurant where they’d not think twice if they were going to a hotel or booking theatre tickets.”
A glance at the #StopNoShows hashtag on Twitter shows an avalanche of support from those in and outside of the industry. Many pointed out genuine customers wouldn’t be put off by the prospect of a deposit if they were planning to honour the booking, so could this the way to go?
Tom remains cautiously optimistic about the prospect of reducing the threat of no-shows in his restaurant;
“It’s tough for all small businesses at the moment so anything we can do to limit the damage is definitely welcome. I’d like to think most people do care about independents and would understand the reasoning behind a deposit system if that’s the path we chose in the future.”
Of course, the people who are the problem won’t be putting their hands up in support. It’s often those with little empathy or experience of the pressures felt by those in the restaurant industry that fail to show up and cost independents so dearly. This is why if #StopNoShows continues to pick up momentum, it could adjust customer attitudes and expectations to be a catalyst for real change.