Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown runs the Green Man in Eversholt, just outside Milton Keynes in Bedfordshire, and Paul Ainsworth runs a stream of venues in Cornwall including the Mariners pub in Rock.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain yesterday (Monday 20 July), both operators explained their disappointment with diners booking and then not showing up during a debate with TV chef Allegra Benitah.
Ainsworth, who is considering charging a £50 deposit after seeing more than 20 no-shows one night last week, said: “We just couldn’t believe it, especially with all the awareness Tom Kerridge had raised on the weekend and I just wasn’t expecting it.
“It had been a really positive start. Lockdown had been extremely tough with the amount of money we had borrowed to keep the company alive, to keep everybody in their jobs, we have made no redundancies.
“To then have 27 no shows in one day was unbelievable.”
Ainsworth likened no-shows to panic buying in supermarkets when lockdown was first introduced in March.
He added: “It was like the beginning lockdown when we saw those scenes of panic buying, when people knew they were going to be able to come out of lockdown on 4 July and go out to restaurants, it was probably a case of just booking loads and loads of tables and making sure they had something for when they went out.”
Candice Brown already takes a deposit of £10 at lunchtime service and £20 for evening service.
She said: “We had to. We are in a tiny little village, it’s a tiny little village pub ad we have had to take out half our tables so at capacity we could probably do about 40 covers, we are now down to 20.
“If we didn’t have 27 people turn up, we would have no business. My brother and I fought hard during lockdown, to keep our business running.
“We charge a deposit at lunch time it’s £10 pp in an evening it is £20. It comes off their bill. Most people have been ok. A couple have fought against it and we just explain the situation but at the moment it is about survival.
“I don’t understand this whole situation and thought process of if you book a table, not having the common courtesy or decency just to make a phone call or send an email or if you’re anxious or nervous, get someone else to make that phone call and just say ‘look, we can’t come’.”
Trying to survive
Since introducing customer deposits, Brown said it hasn’t eliminated no-shows altogether but the majority of customers had been understanding.
She added: “We have had a couple of no-shows. We’ve also had people ask, because of circumstances, can they swap their booking.
“We are not animals, we are not horrible, of course, just swap it to the next week or to another day when you can do things. Or if there is an extreme circumstance, of course we give their money back. We are not awful human beings but the hospitality industry is just trying to survive at the moment.
“We are on our knees. We have been on our knees through the whole thing [lockdown], like a lot of businesses and we are having to do what we can to ensure we survive. 27 no shows is unacceptable, it’s not ok, it’s rude and it is costing lives and money and businesses.”
Former tax lawyer turned TV chef Allegra Benitah suggested people weren’t showing up to reservations due to a nervousness of eating out amid lockdown restrictions easing.
She said: “I have real sympathy for people in the restaurant business and chefs but dining out in a carefree way, as we did before Covid-19 started, the general attitude is a thing of the past.
“People are scared and frightened to go out again. People don’t know what it’s going to be like when they get there and people are really feeling the pinch.
“People don’t have money just to throw away or to spend in a carefree way like they used to before Covid-19 happened.”
She outlined the impact a deposit could have on diners who are already worried about going out to eat.
Benitah added: “Booking a table is the first step to being able to confidently eat again in a restaurant. People don’t know what it will be like when they get there.
“What will the table be like? Will they be distant? Will they be able to dine outside? What will the weather be like? Will they be hungry? What would like to order when they get there?
“These are a whole stream of conversations and questions people are going through in their mind as they build up their confidence to eat out again like they did before.
“Imposing a deposit, while I understand why you would want to, is just one restriction too many on already very highly restricted diners.”
Ainsworth agreed with Benitah and said charging a deposit wasn’t something he wanted to do at his venues.
He added: “I agree with what Allegra is saying. We have had credit card details now for eight years. We take the credit card details, phone number, email address, all of that.
“Now what’s happening is people are cancelling their card. So the reason I’m thinking about deposits is that is the next step.
“I agree with some restaurants like ticketing systems, it works for them. I’m in Cornwall, I want it to be free and easy, I don’t want to have to charge a deposit because I agree some people haven’t got the money when they book a table.
“Some people are saving up for that experience and to be able to take money from straight away is something I’ve never wanted to do but we are going to get backed into a corner if this is a continuing thing.
“By highlighting it on my social media, so many chefs have been getting in contact saying they had this many booked and this many tables didn’t show up.
“It’s not just my industry. There’s a really great guy in Padstow who runs a boat that goes up and down the estuary, the same with his business and he was telling me the other day, loads of no shows, people not turning up for the boat ride. It is damaging, especially now in these very difficult circumstances when people are just trying to survive and get through this.”
After posting his upset on the 27 no-shows on his social media, Ainsworth added he had received support from both inside and outside of the industry.
He said: “The majority of people on social media say ‘yeah we would pay a deposit, how can people not turn up?’
“I might be being very optimistic here but I do believe this is still a minority but if we’re not careful, it will end up ruining it for everybody.
“A deposit is something that I don’t want to do but it might be the only option, solution.”