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No-show solutions

No shows can really ruin your evening, especially in these low-customer-count days. But what’s the best policy to get customers to understand the importance of showing up or canceling in advance—without turning them off in the process?

No shows can really ruin your evening, especially in these low-customer-count days. But what’s the best policy to get customers to understand the importance of showing up or canceling in advance—without turning them off in the process?

Some restaurant owners are revamping their reservation policies and some are even doing away with them entirely. Grant Achatz, the acclaimed chef of Alinea in Chicago, plans to sell tickets to his new establishment, Next Restaurant, instead of taking reservations. Another common tactic is to require deposits or credit card numbers when diners make reservations.

Online commenters generally find paying restaurant deposits acceptable as long as they are compensated if they cancel. ML8000, a Chowhound.com participant, singles out Manresa in the San Francisco Bay Area for its no-show policy. The restaurant takes a deposit and if customers cancel after the allotted time, they are issued a gift certificate for the deposit amount. “I thought that was a great compromise and showed a bit of grace on their part.”

Explaining the reservation policy helps. Jaschang, a commenter on the food blog Serious Eats, is accepting of the no-show charge at Momofuku Ko in New York City and says, “I don’t mind ... since it’s spelled out. Ko only seats 12 people ... so I’m sure missing a reservation ... cuts into the margin quite a bit.”

Some restaurants have completely stopped taking reservations to solve the no-show problem. But waiting in line poses it’s own problems. Mamabigdog, a commenter on portlandfoodanddrink.com says, “Time is money for your guests too, restaurateurs. And if I have to spend an hour waiting for a table ... I won’t be staying.”

The best compromise might be to impose a hybrid system. Ian M, another commenter on Serious Eats says, “Follow the example of Otto Enoteca in New York City. Reserve a certain amount of tables for reservations, and the rest for walk-ins. That way, if you do have a no-show, you can just fill it with a walk-in!”

Show me the solution

More ideas for dealing with no-shows:

  • Create a call-ahead system as an alternative to taking reservations. Guests call about 20 minutes before they want to be seated to leave their names. If there is a wait for a table, your reservationist can tell them about it.
  • Overbook, assuming that 10 to 20 percent will be no-shows.
  • Keep a waiting list of potential customers to call at the last minute when guests cancel or fail to show up.
  • Send diners an e-mail contract.
  • Hold tables for only 15 minutes before declaring the party a no-show. If guests call to say they will be late, hold their table for 30 minutes.

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