According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in cities like New York it’s not unusual to find 20% of diners not showing for reservations any given night. OpenTable reports that 10% of restaurants around the country require credit cards for reservations (15% in New York City), with many charging no-show fees. (These numbers, OpenTable says, have been trending down.) Even Walt Disney World now requires credit cards for reservations in many of its restaurants, charging $10 to $25 per person for reservations not canceled at least 24 hours in advance. OpenTable tracks no-shows and closes accounts of those who have more than four no-shows in a 12-month period.
“We’re a small restaurant and our objective is to have a full dining room every night, not to be punitive,” says Greg Dunmore, chef, Nojo, San Francisco, CA. “We take reservations for parties of six or more and we have a $25 no-show fee per person.” He says the fact that three times during the online reservation process users are notified that there will be a charge for not showing encourages people to cancel. “On the one occasion we charged someone we sent her a gift certificate for the amount of the no-show fee which she happily used,” says Greg. Both Wylie Dufresne, chef/owner, wd-50, New York, NY, and Ron Eyester, chef, Rosebud, Atlanta, GA, refuse to take reservations from people who their databases show have a history of not showing. “No-shows are reprehensible – it’s completely unethical not to call to cancel a reservation,” says Wylie. “After all, we’re dealing with perishable goods.” Wylie and Ron say a big problem is parties that decrease in size without letting the restaurant know. To curtail this, Rosebud requires a credit card for parties of ten or more. If, for example, only seven out of a party of ten show, the credit card is charged the average per person check of those who dined, multiplied by the number who did not show. “Since we instituted this policy – explaining it in detail at the time of the reservation call – we haven’t had a problem,” says Ron. Wd-50 requires a confirmation by 5pm the day before the reservation; if not the table is released. No-shows are charged $75 per person.
Wylie ponders, ”Spa, airlines, and some dentists and doctors charge their full fee when those with appointments don’t show, why not restaurants?” In fact, a few restaurants are having success offering prepaid, non-refundable prix fixe (Chefs Table at Brooklyn Fare, Brooklyn, NY) or selling non-refundable “tickets” Next and Alinea, Chicago, IL). Nick Kokonas, partner, Next and Alinea, says using a ticketing system has eliminated no-shows – customers can sell, give away, or trade tickets – and, as a result, they are able to price the dinner “tickets” lower than if they had to pay extra reservationists to man phones every minute of the day.