It is estimated that between five and 20 per cent of all bookings do not show up, costing the restaurant industry an estimated £16bn a year.
How restaurants deal with no-shows can be the difference between success and failure – between profit and loss. There are many solutions to the problem, but which is the best?
From tickets to a deposit scheme, every restaurant is different. For example, Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants charge £30 per head for no-shows.
A deposit scheme is something that Theatre Street Bar and Grill (3rd best restaurant in Preston according to TripAdvisor) Owner and Head Chef Chris Maughan has implemented:
“It doesn’t happen here anymore [no-shows] because we take deposits, so if you want to come here with a party of 12 on a Saturday night it’s a £5 deposit per person.”
However, the General Manager at Angelo’s, which is also in Preston, Carlo Bragagnini, does not agree with a deposit scheme for his restaurant: “I think it would be detrimental. You could take a deposit, but then the admin side is difficult.
“If you’re going out with your friends for a birthday, do you want to start asking your friends for £10 each?
“I think it’s too complicated. If you’ve got a decent business, where you’re offering good food and good service people will want to come and will turn up.”
Maughan doesn’t think that charging customers up front is a viable option for smaller restaurants: “We wouldn’t do that here because we are a small restaurant, we do a seafood and a steak, we have a lot of regulars, we don’t want to rush people.”
Angelo’s prefers to focus on limiting no-shows by confirming booking beforehand: “During the week it’s not such a big deal because it’s such a big restaurant, if a two doesn’t turn up it’s not so bad because we’ve got room anyway.
“But if it’s a Saturday night and a table of ten or 20 doesn’t turn up when you could’ve sold those seats three or four times over, that’s when it’s an issue for us. “
Bragagnini has also applied a policy whereby the restaurant takes the number of the guest booking, and he believes this is one of the reasons his restaurant only has one no-show every couple of weeks on average.
“I think to start off with, if you take someone’s phone number, provided they’ve given you the correct phone number, then they think if I don’t turn up I’m going to get a phone call from them; so it’s at least right to ring up and let the restaurant know we’re not coming.
“If you don’t take someone’s phone number they probably won’t bother ringing you, because they know you’re not going to follow it up. But also, we can call any table with six or more [guests] to confirm on a Friday and Saturday.”
Although there are many ways of dealing with the problem there are no perfect solutions, and both owners agree that this is a problem that the restaurant industry will never beat.
Bragagnini said: “It’s always going to be an issue. Particularly on nights like Valentine’s, you really do see a high number of no-shows on Valentine’s Day. Say you’ve got 200 people booked in; you’ll find that five to ten per cent don’t turn up. “
Consistency and complacency are the two keys to success according to the two restaurateurs.
For Maughan it’s all about being efficient: “Don’t get complacent. Watch what everyone else is doing. The minute you think you’ve got everything right do not take your eye off the ball.
“Keep all the staff on a tightrope all the time, look after them well, and treat them as one – all equals.”
However, Bragagnini believes that a degree of steadiness is pivotal: “I think consistency is the most important thing in any restaurant, and not necessarily setting your goal at the very top end of the spectrum where it’s very difficult to maintain.
Every restaurateur or manager has their own approach to dealing with no-shows, but it is fair to say that the industry is far from finding a successful solution to the problem.
It is probable that the restaurant industry will never beat the problem; it is all about how you deal with it.