When renowned pub chef Tom Kerridge tweeted in July last year that 27 diners who failed to turn up at his London restaurant had not had the courtesy to cancel their reservations, it reignited the ‘no shows’ debate amongst hospitality businesses. Customers failing to arrive for their booking has long been an issue in restaurants, however with the added pressure of limited seating due to Covid-19 this quickly became a much more pressing problem.
But why does it matter?
Since the reopening after lockdown in mid April 2021, I’ve already seen posts from or been contacted directly to dozens of businesses who’ve experienced no-shows. And it’s not just restaurants and bars. It’s hairdressers, beauty therapists, cake makers… People who are putting time and money into creating something for a customer who doesn’t even have the courtesy to cancel.
In the same way that it’s almost impossible for a restaurant to resell a table with no notice, it’s also rather difficult to fill a hairdressing appointment, or to resell a “Happy 68th Birthday” cake the same day. If a customer fails to show, the business is left carrying the burden of that cost.
And it’s a big issue, especially in hospitality. Pre-covid the figure for no shows was around 1 in every 5 bookings, which directly impacted the restaurant industry to the tune of £16bn a year. Add to this the fact that restaurants are already operating at limited capacity due to social distancing, and it’s easy to see how every no-show has a direct impact on the bottom line.
With a busy summer just around the corner, many businesses are once again opening their reservation diaries and looking forward to welcoming customers. So, as we enter yet another phase of the new normal, we’re on a mission to normalise deposits.
We’ve launched the #SaveMySeat campaign to help customers understand that when a local indie asks you for a small deposit on booking it’s simply their way of safeguarding their business and protecting their future.
After all, we want our favourite places to be around for us to enjoy for many years to come!
#SaveMySeat – Update 29.4.21
We’ve been working hard over the past few weeks to get our message out there, you may even have heard us talking on Radio Merseyside and Capital FM about why we want to normalise the idea of paying deposits when you book a table at your favourite restaurant.
Over the past few weeks it’s become apparent that this is not just an issue in the hospitality industry. Within the first few days of launching our #SaveMySeat campaign, I’d heard from beauticians, massage therapists and home cake bakers – all experiencing the same issues with no-shows, and all shouldering the cost of customers failing to cancel.
So why do people fail to show for their bookings? A recent survey by the team at Carbon Free Dining listed the following reasons given by customers for not cancelling a booking they had made:
- 45% don’t cancel because it’s not easy to find cancellation information.
- 27% don’t cancel because they can’t be bothered.
- 18% don’t cancel because the restaurant doesn’t send reminders and they forgot they had a booking.
- 9% don’t cancel because they book several restaurants and decide which they’ll attend nearer to the time.
A recent twitter poll by @gordomanchester asked customers whether they would be prepared to help solve the no-show problem by paying a deposit when booking a restaurant. Over 2,000 guests responded with 95% of people being in favour of the idea.
So, if most customers are in favour, and restaurants are still suffering the effects of no-shows then surely implementing a booking and deposit system goes some way to solving the problem… Yet many independents are still hesitant to ask their customers to put their money where their mouth is.
Speaking to Carbon Free Dining, Martin Wilks, Hospitality Consultant and Stock Auditor, explains why he always takes a deposit for restaurant bookings:
“No restaurateur ever wants to alienate existing or potential customers, but it is fair to say that when a customer makes a table booking, he is entering into an agreement to purchase those goods as the sole beneficiary and is, therefore, excluding other customers from that opportunity. If the customer fails to complete their booking, it should not be the restaurant or other displaced customers that suffer.”
And this is how we see it. Customers who don’t want to pay a deposit are not invested in their visit to your venue, or the future success of your business. And those customers who fail to show for bookings are not only letting you down, but they’re also disappointing your loyal customers who can’t make a reservation when you’re fully booked.
#SaveMySeat – Update 29.4.21
We need to talk more about deposits…
Since we launched our #SaveMySeat campaign back in April, we’ve been hearing stories from across the country about the continuing impact of no-shows on hospitality.
Speaking to The Chefs’ Forum, chef Patron of The Salty Monk in Devon Andy Witheridge recently said that lockdown had given him an opportunity to re-evaluate. One of his prime concerns since reopening has been to look at the whole issue of no show and what to do about it.
“I’m charging a £10 non-refundable booking fee on all bookings. I’m doing this because I am sick of the no-shows. Also, I’m no longer frightened to kick out rude tables in the middle of their evening if they are rude to my staff. It’s a no-nonsense approach because a small amount of people are ruining it for everyone else. Someone has to make a stand.”
Watson and Walpole in Framlingham has also been plagued by no-shows. Owned by Ruth Watson – former star of Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector – the business has been open for just five of the last 16 months. Ruth recently told the BBC that they have now started to take card details for all bookings and a deposit of £25 for all Friday and Saturday dinner reservations as well as Sunday lunch.
“I don’t know why people don’t take it seriously. If you booked theatre tickets or an airline ticket, you’d get charged. I think maybe people are not back in to understanding how things work, but we’ve lost staff and are struggling anyway and then, in the first few two weeks of being open, people were coming in a lot fewer numbers than they had booked. We had to do something.”
General Manager of the Anchor Inn in Suffolk, Becky King, told the BBC that around 100 people failed to turn up for their tables last weekend. Becky is now considering taking deposits, although she stresses that this is a last resort. She says that taking this step would not only help keep the business going but ensure staff are looked after and getting their income.
“We are turning people away and disappointing other customers because we think we are fully booked and then people are not turning up. We are casual dining, and we don’t want to put that in place, but to protect ourselves and the business, that’s something we may have to do”.
If you’re an independent who’s been rethinking your approach to deposits over the past few weeks, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop an email to email@example.com and we’ll be in touch for a chat!