The Heron Inn at Malpas in Cornwall experienced a “nightmare” of 80 no-shows over two days, Nick Hemming told The Morning Advertiser.
This came following the venue hitting national news after pulling out of the Government’s discount meals Eat Out to Help Out scheme due to safety concerns over numbers and abuse hurled at staff.
Hemming said: “A little bit of bad weather and people are not even ringing to let us know they are not coming. This has been consistent since we opened. We have never experienced it before.”
“The common courtesy on the whole of the people visiting Cornwall has gone completely out of the window,” he added. “It’s too late for me to sell that table, especially on an evening.”
Other high profile gastropub chefs including Tom Kerridge and Paul Ainsworth have spoken out about no-shows in the weeks since pubs were allowed to reopen on 4 July.
What's more, one in six people have failed to turn up to bookings for dinner or drinks after lockdown was eased,
“It's not just a one off, this is a national problem,” Hemming said.
He is hesitant to introduce a deposit system and described it as an inconvenience for other customers and his staff.
“I would then annoy all my other customers and it's one of those things that is really difficult to manage.
Deposits not feasible
“A deposit system is not right for us because we are turning tables here, five times a day, it's a lot of deposits to hold, it's a lot of admin to process on the till system. It's not actually feasible to do that, and we would probably receive a backlash from it.”
The chef added: “If people could just be a bit more thoughtful, if you can’t make a booking just pick up the phone.”
The inn chose to stop participating in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offers diners a 50% discount on food and soft drinks consumed in a premises, after experiencing high numbers of walk-in customers.
“We just couldn't control the amount of people that were coming up into our riverside area. It just wasn't safe,” the operator explained. “There's a good 50 covers available for walk-ins but when you have 200 or so people trying to get to you, you have to draw the line under safety.”
More than 64m meals have been claimed through the discount meals scheme, the Treasury said ahead of the scheme ending on Monday 31 August.
Staff at the Heron Inn have been subjected to abuse from customers in response to dropping out of the initiative and its Covid-secure measures such as ordering on an app.
Hemming said: “I have had staff be shouted at, sworn at. I have never experienced something like this before, in 35 years of hospitality. I know I'm not on my own.
“Hospitality [staff] work hard for the public. At no point do they deserve to get shouted at or be given abuse. Everything we do here is by the book, everything is ordered on app.”
Despite the tricky situations arising from ‘the new normal’, the Heron Inn has enjoyed record-breaking summer trade, fuelled by domestic visitors taking coastal holidays instead of going abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic.