We’re guessing this has something to do with no shows…
Have a gold star, Sherlock. This is specifically about a campaign that launches today designed to make people aware of the huge damage to business of people not turning up for a table reservation.
So, some people don’t show up, is it that serious?
The individual customer might not think that them not turning up makes that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but they are wrong. Figures suggest that no shows cost the sector a whopping £16bn a year, with around 25% of online bookings simply not turning up.
Cripes! That’s a lot. But no shows aren’t new - why are we talking about them?
No shows have been the thorn in the side of the restaurant sector for a long time, but post lockdown conditions, where customer numbers have to be significantly reduced to comply with Government distancing guidelines, have exacerbated the problem.
In what way?
In a number of ways. First, restaurants are almost totally reliant on bookings under the new rules, meaning that if a table fails to show they can’t simply fill it with walk-ins from the street. Second, restaurants that have typically overbooked to counter no shows - like the way airlines do – are finding this is also no longer an option because there is no overflow space (such as a bar) to hold people in if tables aren’t quite ready. And then there’s the issue of covers. With restaurants already struggling to make ends meet with a reduced number of covers, every bum on seat really matters – if a dining room is running at 25% capacity and then another 25% of people don’t show that could spell the end of the restaurant’s very existence.
That sounds a bit extreme
These are extreme times. Already frustrated with the challenges they have faced throughout lockdown, for many chefs people not showing up to bookings is the last straw. Tom Kerridge has been a firebrand of this latest backlash against them, taking to social media to call out the 27 customers who no showed at his London restaurant Kerridge’s Bar & Grill on Saturday [11 July], describing them as “disgraceful” and “short sighted”. If there was any doubt as to how Kerridge felt, the accompanying image of Leonidas I, a warrior king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, mid battle-cry from the film 300 speaks a thousand words.
No showers aren’t coming out of this well…
No, the current rhetoric from the industry seems to be that people who don’t show are despicable human beings. While restaurants can’t fathom why people wouldn’t show after restaurants have been closed for three months, many diners are likely hedging their bets and making numerous bookings to ensure they grab a seat at the places they want (and thoughtlessly jettisoning the less preferred options). It is also more nuanced than that – there are other reasons beyond being selfish or unthinking for a customer not showing, such as people being too embarrassed (or is it cowardice?) to cancel, and this is where the campaign comes in in trying to appeal to a diner’s better nature.
Got you. Tell us about more about it then
Launching today (16 July) by hospitality recruitment consultancy Sixty Eight People with Antonia Lallement from restaurant group Gusto Italian, the campaign is focused on the Greater Manchester area and is an attempt to spread awareness of the damage of no shows among consumers. As of 10am today chefs and restaurateurs have been posting a #NOMORENOSHOWS tile on Instagram, calling on their followers to think about their restaurant bookings. Its plea is that if a customer’s plans change then they let the restaurant know, rebook if possible, and encourage friends and family to do the same.
Appealing to a customer’s good nature is cute – but why not just have a booking fee?
This is the question that many restaurateurs have long grappled with. On the face of it, taking credit card booking and charging a no-show fee makes sense – and many restaurants successfully use this practice – but many businesses are rightly concerned that this could put people off making a reservation in the first place. It’s also not fool proof. Paul Ainsworth, another chef who recently took to Instagram to air his own grievances at the number of no shows at his Cornish pub The Mariners, says that he does this but that you’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) about the number of times the card gets cancelled before any money can be taken off it.
What about people paying fully in advance like they do for the theatre?
This is another long-held argument, and restaurants including The Man Behind The Curtain, Midsummer House, The Clove Club and Vanderlyle do this using pre-pay reservation systems such as Tock. This practice is still very much a minority play in the grand scheme of things yet, in this post lockdown world, the calls for this practice to become more mainstream are getting louder. Many restaurateurs are now arguing that – in a similar way that some restaurants are taking a stance on service charge - now is the time to create a new normal.
So, will this campaign kill off the no show?
It’s a start, but it won’t be able to do it alone. While its aims are laudable and raising the profile of the damage no shows cause the industry among customers is a good start, it is incumbent on the sector at large to bring about change. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. While some restaurants could realistically introduce a pay in advance model, for others this simply won’t work. Callbacks before the booking and even actively giving customers the chance to cancel – which might sound counterintuitive, but which at least lets restaurants know where they stand – have all been suggested to help reduce them. What is certain is that in this current climate eliminating no shows could be the difference between survival and going under.
To receive the #NOMORENOSHOWS tile and message email email@example.com