For restaurants that employ a system of making reservations in advance, absent diners are a frustrating and problematic issue. For one, the fact that other guests are turned away due to unavailability of seats because they were booked stings managers, while on the other hand they also have to deal with food prepped in advance being wasted since the people that were supposed to eat them never showed up.
There’s also the worrying trend of people making multiple reservations for the same night and choosing to honor only one at the eleventh hour, without having the decency to inform the other establishments. Using a well rounded reservation system such as eat, could definitely solve this problem. But there are also many other ways to tackle it head on.
Tell them it’s a problem
Most customers are unaware of the trouble they cause by being no-shows. This lack of awareness is exactly what drove Damian Wawrzyniak, a restaurant owner from Peterborough, England, to start a campaign on Twitter to curtail this issue: the #StopNoShow campaign.
Many other restaurant owners and chefs have since then joined this campaign, posting their grievances and frustrations on many social media platforms under this banner, to try and convince the public to end these selfish practices. Joining others in such efforts could help considerably in lowering your losses.
Charging your customers in advance
A clever tactic employed by numerous restaurants to counter this problem is charging customers when they first book the tables, which helps the restaurant cope with any losses caused by those who don’t show. They do this in many forms, from charging non-refundable fees (that would later be adjusted into the final bill) to ticketing (conditionally refundable coupons that balance against the whole meal).
While these practices certainly help curtail losses, many customers find these practices off-putting and tedious, so you risk to lose a lot of prospective customers if you go down this route.
Do away with reservations altogether
Another solution to this problem would be to do away with the whole concept of reservations and operate your business as a walk-in restaurant, or at the very least restrict reservations to only certain days.
While this eliminates all possible losses caused by absent diners, it does make your restaurant harder to manage, since you can’t accurately predict the staffing and stock requirements for the day. Also, people wouldn’t want to wait in line until their turn to be served, which would once again result in prospective customers lost.
Overbooking? Probably not a good idea
Another way restaurant managers cope with absent diners is by overbooking: they book more reservations than they have the capacity to cater at a given time, accounting for the probability that a certain percentage would not bother to show up. In theory, this method works to ensure maximum guests in the restaurant at all times.
In practice, however, this method fails when more people show up than expected, and what follows is a hectic day of business, during which the quality of service plummets and the guest experience is nowhere near as good as it could have been. My advice? Employ overbooking only if you have a considerably high rate of absent diners per day.