The Cauldron in Bristol named and shamed people who did not show up for their booking and this created mixed reviews on Twitter.
The Morning Advertiser spoke to licensees about how this issue can be resolved as well as their thoughts on ‘naming and shaming’ customers who do not turn up.
Paul Berry, who runs the Swan in Bampton, Devon, with his wife Donna, had more than 30 no shows on Mother’s Day last year, costing the pub about £600. Therefore, this year, diners have been asked for a £10 deposit.
Chef-patron of the Longs Arms in South Wraxall, Bradford-upon-Avon, Wiltshire, Rob Allcock said: “It is painfully annoying but chefs taking to Twitter about it is cheap PR for them.
“We all know it happens, so if it is happening in your pub, do something about it. Charge a deposit or ring prior to booking to double check [with the customer], take their credit card details, or all do all three things.
“We are lucky as the opposite happens here. There are three Longs Arms [in the area] so customers either book here or one of the others and turn up at our pub.
“But, this is equally as annoying as no shows because we are full and can’t serve them. They always think it is our fault until they check which pub they have booked with.
“Also chefs ranting on Twitter about customers cancelling their booking, that’s OK surely. We should be lucky and thankful they want to eat with us.
“There’s far too much negativity around the industry at the moment. Everyone should just cheer up.”
Karen Errington, licensee of the Rat Inn, Anick, Northumberland, outlined how her pub had diners who did not turn up this year, but fortunately, there had been other large dining groups that softened the blow.
She said: “We had three tables of no shows on Valentine’s Day evening but unusually, I had a table for 12 and a table for six too so I didn’t feel too bad about the no shows.
“Normally, we would have had couples on these bigger tables so, on balance, I had more covers than normal. Swings and roundabouts in this business happen a lot of the time.”
Not a new phenomenon
She added that while no shows aren’t anything new, it can impact a business significantly, particularly in quieter times.
Errington said: “No shows are not a new phenomenon. If a table doesn’t turn up on a Monday or Tuesday evening at this time of year then it is annoying but as we aren’t at capacity, it is not costing us money.
“When a table doesn’t show up for a prime service when you are fully booked and turning custom away then it becomes costly for your business.
“In tough times, it is the prime services that you rely on and need to maximise fully in order to carry you through the rest of the week or year and ditto for Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, etc.
“For New Year’s Eve, we have always taken payment in full prior to the event as in the early days, we did have our hands bitten by a few no shows.
“People don’t seem to have a problem in accepting this as they realise it is in high demand. We seem to get a higher percentage of online bookings that don’t show than people who call personally to book.”
Pubs can put various difference procedures in place in a bid to avoid no shows but this could mean customers go elsewhere, Errington said.
She added: “There are procedures that you can put in place on the booking platform to discourage this such as requiring credit card details when booking.
“As a small business, we considered this and I am sure it would reduce no shows but we don’t have the luxury of being full across every service so we decided that the fewer barriers we put in front of people to discourage booking, the better.
“There is no way of knowing how many wouldn’t bother to complete the booking and instead go to a competitor if credit cards were required.
“I wouldn’t name and shame as I don’t think it achieves anything. I know respect is a two-way thing and there is no excuse for not picking up the telephone and cancelling an unwanted table, but to then go online and name people publicly, is confrontational and wouldn’t be the image I would want to foster to all the perfectly respectful diners that come to our pub and book tables.”
Errington added that revealing the names of no shows could lead to repercussions. She outlined how the pub deals with no shows.
“Naming and shaming isn’t going to resolve the problem. It could easily provoke further grief as vindictive diners can easily place a further booking under a pseudonym, many people don’t book under their own name anyway, especially those making multiple bookings,” she said.
“If we have a booking that doesn't show, our policy is always to phone and speak to them, usually on the premise of wanting to make sure that we hadn’t made the booking on the wrong date.
“As a good percentage don’t answer the call, we use a facility on our booking system to note and block these users. Those that do, we explain the impact of the table sitting empty, that we could have filled had they called and let us know.
“The majority of people have no idea about the workings of a restaurant and, of course, a good restaurant will make the whole process seem effortless, despite what is going on behind the scenes.
“Therefore, I have to believe that most no shows haven’t thought through or realised the repercussions of making multiple bookings.”
Education is the key, Errington highlighted the importance of informing customers the detrimental impact not turning up can have.
She said: “The way forward is to try and educate people responsibly while maintaining some sort of mutual respect if possible.
“Of course, every individual restaurant is unique and what is right for us, as a rural pub, may be completely different than to a small town centre restaurant with fewer seats that could potentially, be full most nights.”
While taking deposits isn’t the route the Rat goes down, this is something the Parkers Arms in Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire, does.
Chef-patron Stosie Madi said: “We take deposits and tell them in the week leading up to the event, this deposit is non-refundable, meaning they have a week to cancel.
“We call all our bookings and confirm with them. We also try and take the remaining balance of the booking for ‘special occasion’ days like Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.
“But this doesn’t take away from the issue. People will pay a deposit and still not show up, even though they know it is non-refundable.”
Madi outlined how she thinks the trade should tackle this problem. She said: “Businesses have to stand up and take calculated measures on how to survive.
“If that means taking full payments in advance on certain ‘special’ days, and having to have strict terms and conditions for those who don’t turn up, then so be it.
“It is high time restaurants stood together and developed a system that we all do so no one gets ostracised from it.
“If it becomes the norm, no one will think it is odd – and there is strength in numbers.”