Restaurant Reservations and No Shows

I always prefer to book a table at a restaurant to avoid a long wait in a noisy bar.  Given the choice between drinking too much during a long wait for a table because my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut or making a reservation, I’ll opt for a guaranteed table most every time.  Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s that when I go out, I want to enjoy the experience.

empty table

There’s a good meal on our table every night because I love to cook and experiment with food so when I go out, I want to smile from ear to ear, laugh with my friends and enjoy interesting, innovative dishes.

However, after listening to a panel discussion that included two very clever restauranteurs, I didn’t realise how tough some of them are doing it.  Most Americans who read my blog know that the wait staff at their local restaurants don’t make very much per hour but it’s topped up hugely by tips for great service.

Most Australians don’t tip unless the service is stellar, requiring the restaurant to meet minimum wage requirements of about $16 an hour.  (The Aussie dollar is roughly equal to the US dollar)  The US minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and US restaurants only have to pay their servers $2.13 per hour – a staggering $13 difference an hour.  Yes, our meals cost a bit more but not THAT much more, meaning restaurants here  have to watch every cent whether it’s food waste or empty tables.

two empty tables

Going back to the reservation system, I had no idea how many patrons make a reservation and don’t show up.  It’s no wonder that making ends meet is why new restaurants struggle plus there are fewer and fewer new restaurants opening.  It’s different in the big cities, but I live in a smallish tourist area and I can’t remember the last classy new restaurant I visited.

A woman sitting next to me at the panel discussion said that she’d heard the trend was growing where people would book large tables at 2 or 3 restaurants, meet their friends and THEN decide which one they were going to and not bother to call and cancel.  I can imagine if that happens even once a night, it will affect the bottom line.

Some big restaurants in Sydney have started a cancellation policy.  If you don’t show up, or cancel on time, they charge up to $175 per person for the number you booked for.  They’re saying it’s made a big drop in their no-shows.

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”horizontal-curve-bottom” width=”450px” height=”” background_color=”#fffeea” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Sydney No Show Fees

  • Tetsuya’s $210 (credit card charged)
  • Momofuku Seiobo $175 (credit card charged)
  • Quay $175 (credit card charged)
  • Sepia $150 (credit card charged)
  • The Tea Room $150 (deposit lost)
  • Rockpool on George $100 (credit card charged on bookings of 5 or more)
  • Coast $50 (deposit lost)

[/dropshadowbox]

It’s not uncommon in Australia to see restaurants which have as few as 30 or 40 seats, so just one no-show can be a 10% loss and if there are more, the evening is ruined and food is wasted.  Many restaurants operate on just a 10% margin so why bother opening at all if you’re going to break even or lose money.  Most chefs feel that if you make a reservation, you’re saying  you’re going to show up and they should buy food and hire wait staff to look after you.

The news I’ve read about US restaurants is that many good restaurants are going to a ticket system.  If you don’t show up, you lose your money.

I read some comments on a news website yesterday about the ticketing system and there were some huge haters of this policy.  The comments went from a few who understood how tough a market it is to those clueless ones who say it’s just that the restaurant is so greedy or they don’t know how to run their business or they have too much waste and then they started getting nasty.  For me, it’s really simple, I go where I know I’m going to get value for money and often it’s the dining out experience and fun with friends.

Would you buy a non-refundable ticket to eat out and consider that it’s like any other prepurchased event ticket?  Here is a screenshot of Piperade’s (San Francisco) ticket reservation page.

Buy a ticket at Piperade Restaurant in San Francisco

Are you angry when you try to get a reservation at a popular spot only to find out that someone who did get a reservation and didn’t show up?   Have you ever cancelled last minute or just not shown up?

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Funny enough, I went out to dinner over the week end, and the restaurant thanked me for making and keeping my reservations! OpenTable.com makes it so easy to make, modify, and cancel reservations, so I use that all the time. If someone is coming over to my house, I’d want to know when and how many, so I think restaurants deserve the same courtesy.

  2. says

    Looking to the point of view of restaurant owners, who have financial obligations, the charges make sense although I think they were pretty high. In Brazil, 10% is already automatically included in the check, so we are not used to extra tip servers unless they did an extraordinary service. I though the hour value of a server in Australia was great. I wish we had the same here in the US. I love to know about cultural differences. Thanks for sharing them, Maureen!
    Denise Browning@From Brazil To You recently posted..Homemade Pineapple-Mint Iced Tea (Chá de Abacaxi com Hortelã)

    • says

      Our service people like wait staff and shop assistants/clerks all get huge bonuses for working holidays so there is a trend for some places not to open because of the salary loading the businesses have to pay.

  3. says

    Great post Maureen! I don’t know anyone that would book at two or three places and then cancel, that’s terrible! I had a friend who would always book for one extra person and just tell them that they weren’t able to make it because she liked the extra room and I thought that was bad enough…
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella recently posted..Make Your Own Cola Drink!

    • says

      Yeah, that’s pretty icky but then, if you’ve been squeezed into a restaurant table like you would do in Paris, then you’d probably book one extra.

  4. says

    I don’t always make a reservation but then I live in the countryside and tend to eat at small, local places (some of which don’t take reservations anyway), and we don’t mind the idea that we might end up somewhere else if it’s too busy. If we decide we’re going out with friends in a bigger group, I’ll call ahead, but it might just be an hour or two in advance. I can understand why high-demand places might want to take a non-refundable deposit, and that seems perfectly reasonable to me, as long as you could cancel a day or two in advance (like you can with a hotel) if circumstances change.
    Rachel Cotterill recently posted..Spinach & Mushroom Stuffed Paccheri

    • says

      We live in a touristy area and my friend Peter who has a restaurant up here says lots of people just walk by and come in and that’s not a problem. What IS a problem is making a reservation for 6 or 8 and then not showing up.

  5. says

    No shows must be a huge pain for restaurants. Few of the restaurants we go to penalize people for not showing up, but I’ll bet that will change. Like Claire, we usually use Open Table when we make reservations, and I know they keep history on your reservations, and I suspect restaurants can see whether/how often you’ve cancelled or been a no show. So I wonder if they charge “risky” reservations a no show fee? (In the rare event we can’t make a reservation, we always call the restaurant well ahead of time to let them know.) What irks me is when we do have a reservation – particularly one made well in advance – and we arrive at the restaurant and need to sit in the bar anyway. I do understand why this sometimes happens, but I’m reluctant to return to a restaurant where this happens. BTW, I know it will never happen, but I wish the US would start marking up the price of meals and paying their staff a decent wage rather than having them rely on tips. I’m not sure that the tip system generally results in better service, and it really seems outdated these days. Anyway, good post – thanks.
    john@kitchenriffs recently posted..Tangy KC-Style Barbecue Sauce

  6. says

    This is a very informative post Maureen, thank you. I knew Australians made more money but I had no idea how much more. In Canada it is customary to tip 15% on food, but who wants to do the math and to figure out what it is without the booze? So generally everyone tips 15% on the total; I recently read that Martha Stewart has recommended the tip be more like 18%. In groups of more than 6, it is customary for the restaurant to automatically charge 18% tip.
    I knew that lack of cancellation was a rude habit in Canada simply through the fact that when I cancel my reservation the host is extremely grateful, can’t thank me enough. It’s too bad that society has come to think of themselves as entitled — much more than in our day, selfish.
    I wouldn’t mind the ticket fees, but that’s because I cancel when I can’t show up!

  7. says

    I loved this post Maureen! To be honest, I haven’t heard of no show fees here in the Netherlands, nor in surrounding countries. Restaurants here on weekends are usually so busy that even if someone would cancel they’ll always have walk in. Having said that, we’ve never cancelled a reservation, but I wouldn’t mind paying for a non refundable as well, since there’s usually a good reason for picking a certain restaurant.
    Gourmantine recently posted..Day 4: effortless with chocolate again

  8. says

    I’m not sure about the ticket system (there are genuine circumstances when you can’t make it) but I would be more than happy to give my credit card when making a booking.
    Restaurants should absolutely be able to charge your card if you don’t show up.
    Why should they have to pay because someone is too inconsiderate to let them know they won’t be coming? There are situations where you change plans but you should (and I do) always let them know! How awful to book a few restaurants then decide and not let them know you’re not coming.
    Can you tell rude/inconsiderate people make my blood boil?!
    Claire @ Claire K Creations recently posted..Mexican wedding cakes

    • says

      I can’t believe that anyone I know would make a reservation and not show up. We wouldn’t do this to a friend and shouldn’t do it when a business will lose money.

  9. says

    A great read Maureen, good for you on raising awareness on this issue. Frankly, Peter and I rarely dine out, although we do enjoy it. We would never not show up, as I’m well aware of the issues faced by restaurant owners in these very difficult times.

  10. says

    I’ve gotten to know a fair number of local Denver restaurant owners as a result of my foray into food blogging and it’s been an informative experience. No shows are a big problem here too; for the reasons you cite and others. I see it as another example of the ‘it’s about me’ generation and I don’t blame them for charging upfront fees with the expectation that you either show up and take your reservation or you call and cancel. If people did this out of common courtesy then restaurateurs would not have had to implement such a policy, diners have no one to blame but themselves for the practice!

    Not unlike my daughter complaining about laws regarding cell phone usage in the car…like I told her; if people weren’t so stupid and used common sense and stayed off their phone then the laws would not have had to be enacted. Yes, I am referring to her. :)

    I’m in the States and would give ANYTHING to get rid of the tipping system. PLEASE? I understand wait staff and their low hourly wage and how it supplements that income but it’s abused beyond that; the girl who charges $100 for a haircut gets a tip? The moving company that just charged me $1200 to move my stuff into storage and it took 4 guys about 3-4 hours INCLUDE a tip line on the bill. Really? Didn’t I just pay $1200 for a move that included 4 guys? They expected 20%; I gave them $20 each. I paid for a move damn it; I shouldn’t have to tip anyone for providing that!

    I know…off topic but then isn’t the topic tipping? :)
    Barbara | Creative Culinary recently posted..Japanese Curry

  11. says

    I rarely make reservations at restaurants, but if I do you better believe I show up! I can’t imagine doing this, but people rarely make sense to me :)

  12. Melissa Loh says

    I have heard of no-show fees, but it’s so disrespectful to make reservations and not show up. It is a good deterrent, but I wonder whether they would waive that fee under certain circumstances.

  13. says

    I have heard of no-show fees, but haven’t really seen it take off here in Brisbane. It’s a good deterrent, but I wonder if that fee would be waived under certain circumstances. It’s just so disrespectful to make reservations and then not show up.

  14. says

    Great post Maureen. I always call to cancel I think it’s only courtesy. Last year when I was back in Melbourne, my basket of produce at the market was more expensive than in Tokyo which just blew me away. I noticed the cost of going out for dinner has gone up too when I read restaurant reviews – cost of labour & ingredients must be hurting these businesses. Many ‘foodies’ dream of opening a cafe or restaurant but it’s not for the fainthearted.

  15. says

    I can imagine it must be so frustrating for restaurants. I never make a reservation and not show – so rude. Another issue for restaurants is the fact that fewer and fewer people are making a reservation and instead choosing to just front up. This didn’t happen years ago – you just didn’t leave home with out a reservation. And this is making it so difficult for restaurants to work out how to staff their restaurants. I don’t envy restaurant owners xx

  16. Eha says

    Two ways to look at this! I have certainly never in my life made a reservation and then not shown up without officially cancelling as far before as possible! And I have never ever made a reservation at more than one restaurant for a particular night! BUT: looking at the ‘cancellation’ amounts charged by some of the Sydney restaurants I quite get the ‘creeps': these amounts are crazy if one is aware of the turn away of the number of people every night at any of their doors to filll the ‘no-show”s shoes! Oh me that is so very ‘up-oneself’!!

  17. says

    G’day! VERY interesting read Maureen, TRUE!
    I, like you, like a reservation confirmed too!
    If something changes, I always call and change as soon as I know.
    While I am more than understanding from a business/restaurant point of view…sometimes through no fault i.e. health, hospital…(but would call!) would cause a no show.
    Guess with the economy, people eating out (fine dining) on a less frequent regular basis, the bottom line of every restaurant does count..
    Joanne T Fergusob recently posted..Flavours of Campbelltown Food Trail

  18. says

    I rarely make a reservation unless it’s a very fancy pantsy place and I need to check about food InTolerances, or if we are turning up with guests. I don’t think it’s too much of an issue here as most places you just show up. There are times like when Parliament’s busy where you might find a place just too busy to fit you in, but that’s not very often at all.
    I’m not sure what I think of no-show charges, if it’s necesary to the bottom line then it has to happen. But I never tip- as experience as a waitress and a chef, I find that the money always went in the bosses pocket and NEVER got to the staff at any establishment I worked at. I would rather be a nice,polite customer who smiles and says ‘please and thankyou’ instead of treating the staff as slaves and being rude, then leaving a token :)

  19. says

    Very interesting read, Maureen. I never knew someone making multiple reservations and not cancelling. I can understand why a lot of restaurants do not take reservations any more.

    • says

      It makes it tough if you don’t like standing in a queue or sitting in the bar. I like reservations and I’d prepay to get a guaranteed table.

  20. says

    So very few restaurants in Sydney ( that are hot) take reservations theses days for just that reason. They would prefer people wait and grab whatever table is available . Some restaurants do 1/2 reservation and 1/2 front up. The name restaurants ( some of which you mentioned) have been taking a credit card deposits when you book for a while now, and fair enough. If you book a table at Rockpool or Quay or Bridge Room and don’t show then you should be charged, ( just like if you book at the physio and dont show) that is expensive real estate and these restaurants have a lot of staff to pay .
    If you think about the cost of living in Sydney ( Aust) then you will realize that $16 an hour is absolute minimum wage here. A good deal of wait staff do not get a 40 hour week and if you think about that then you will see that they dont get a lot of money in any restaurant ( even the very best) . If you want good service and you get helpful professional service then tip. I never worked in a restaurant in Sydney where the owners or management got the tips. If this were the case you can be sure good wait staff will not work there for long. Great article Maureen. PS Hello , Im back x

  21. says

    At this stage in my life nothing surprises me any more. I hear and read articles here in the states that many restaurants have the same issue/problem.

    Jim Morrison of the Doors said it best – People Are Strange.

    But it does seem to have gotten worse. Just like the number of reckless drivers who have no common sense, are rude and inconsiderate of their fellow passengres on this journey here on earth.

  22. says

    Hmm, this is interesting because a lot of times reservations are broken, it’s because something unavoidable occurred at the last minute. Though, I do see more of the 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants following this same booking fee trend.

  23. says

    I think restaurants have every right to charge you if you don’t show up, I can only guess how damaging no shows must be to profitability. I can’t think of anyone who would book several restaurants and then not cancel. It strikes me as really arrogant. Great post. GG

  24. says

    Maureen – I also cook at home a lot and even though we are in the DC suburbs, we tend to eat at the no-reservations required type restaurants. While in Iceland recently we did make reservations only to find we seemed to be the only people in the whole place. Not sure whey they were so insistent on us coming at a certain time – unless they all wanted to go home by eight. In the US they have GROUPONS – like prepaid coupons with a discount. You can often buy a Groupon for a good restaurant and pay $25 for $50 worth of food. We like those deals. We also like to frequent the small local restaurants and always tip, often well above the norm when service is exceptional. Our US wait staff is so under paid! I’ve never had to hold reservations with a credit card but shame on the groups that have caused this practice!

  25. says

    I think some people think that the world needs to center around them and wait for them to decide what they want to do. I totally agree that a restaurant should charge if they hold a table when people don’t show up and they can’t seat potential customers that are waiting. Great article. :)

  26. says

    This is an issue that often comes up and you have summed it up nicely :) Sometimes I see restaurants tweeting how many of their bookings got cancelled and it makes me sad that people don’t think about how their decisions can impact a restaurant and be the difference between if they make a profit or loss on the night.

    I don’t eat out much as I love cooking so if I do eat out I will be for a reason and I’d be happy to prepay if it assures me a place and the restaurant gets a peace of mind.

    • says

      When we all realize that our no show can mean the difference between the business breaking even or not, I understand why they do it.

  27. says

    Maureen, I thought the whole point of “reserving” a table was to ensure an evening of wining, dining, and fun. Why folks wouldn’t show up is beyond me! We don’t eat out very often (primarily because I love to cook, too!) but when we do, I look forward to a great meal, great service (which we tip generously for) and a great time. Manners seem to be going by the wayside, despite how “sophisticated” people claim to be. To me, it comes down to making a commitment and keeping your word.

  28. says

    Such an interesting post Maureen, it is always great to learn about other cultures and how things are done or not done…
    We often make reservations, and always make sure that we get there on time, and if by chance we run late, we always, I mean always call the restaurant to let them know …I just feel that it is only common courtesy and treat people/business the same way that I want to be treated.
    Hope you are having a wonderful week :)

  29. says

    Great post Maureen. I do think it is probabky the Same in the Netherlands. Some restaurants have taken up calling their customers on the day of e reservation just to make sure people are showing up. I think it is just common decency to make sure you either cancel on time or show up when you make a reservation! And I can also understand why restaurants would charge for people who don’t keep their reservation.. It’s like having a hairdresser appointment; when I don’t show up I still need to pay!

  30. says

    I am horrified that people book and don’t cancel. How rude! Now I understand why I’ve occasionally been called the evening of a reservation to check we’re coming – it annoyed me at the time (I reserved didn’t I?!) but now it makes sense. I don’t go out often enough to need to book regularly, but don’t think there’s ever a reason for rudeness, and no shows are rude.

  31. says

    I’m with you, Maureen. Super article! We don’t eat out much but when we do book a restaurant in Paris, each one asks you these days for your ‘phone number and ask that you confirm again on morning of reservation. I was put off by this at first but realise it makes sense. Also, if I don’t call straight away (coz I turn up, of course – if hubby’s taking me out I usually need a nasty excuse to call and cancel!) they call me to confirm. It seems to work well. Interesting concept with the ticket system. Why not? The one thing that does irritate me are the two sittings and feeling that you’re thrown out and hurried at dessert. Happened once at Un Dimanche à Paris that we were actually asked to finish our dessert up in the bar! It was as if I was given a ticket for being too slow…

    • says

      In Australia, unless otherwise stated, you book the table for the night. If you leave they’ll re-set it but if you want to keep drinking and talking or even just talking, nobody will ask you to go anywhere.

  32. says

    Maureen, thank you for visiting my blog. It’s a pleasure finding and reading yours’ A very interesting read, as it’s always good to know what happens in other cultures. In Greece we always decide to go out the last minute and never plan where to go. If it is full, we leave and go somewhere else :)
    Ivy recently posted..Ivy’s Lemony Galaktoboureko

    • says

      Hi Ivy and thanks so much for visiting. I found you through Jamie Schler. :) In Australia normally folks book a table for an evening unless it’s otherwise arranged, so someone not showing up really hurts. In the US where I’m from it’s not unusual to turn a table several times a night.

  33. says

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this topic Maureen and I feel the same way. I cook all of the time so when I dine out, it’s more for the experience. I’m from the US but my husband travels to Australia on occasion for business. I’ll make sure to let him know of these restaurant no show policies as unfortunately no shows happen quite often when dealing with biz meetings that run over unexpectedly.
    Carrie-CarriesExpKtchn recently posted..Lemon-Thyme Stuffed Zucchini

    • says

      Not all restaurants here do that and they would be advised upon making the booking. Only the top tier of restaurants would make that charge currently.

  34. says

    Really a fascinating panel discussion and pretty damn important – if restaurant-goers only knew! But then who do things like reserve at 3 places then decide at the last minute without cancelling the places they don’t go to wouldn’t care anyway. I am shocked! And good for those expensive restaurants to have some kind of policy (as long as they don’t charge for really serious excuses) charging for no shows. Hotels do this so why not restaurants! And yes I would be royally pissed if I did not get a table and found out some reservations didn’t show up. I have known restaurants who will take your phone number and call you offering you a table if a group doesn’t show up which I think works well for both client and restaurant.

  35. says

    Restauranteurs do it so hard, don’t they? I don’t know how fine dining restos in Australia survive. We never pull a no-show without notice, but I’ve also never booked to go to a place that requires prepayment or a deposit. What we have done is become very selective about where we dine out – we literally eat at just half a dozen restaurants (with the exception of when we’re with friends who want to try something new), and because we’re “regulars”, we have a relationship with the owners of those establishments. This in turn means that they’ll cut us some slack if needed – like if we needed to cancel, or squeeze an extra person in. We will occasionally try new restaurants, but it’s hard for them to make our list unless we’ve had an outstanding experience – as we get older, our relationships with the people running the place has become more important than the food itself, if that makes sense. x

    • says

      I have no problem with the restaurants charging if their no-shows begin to bite into their viability. We have our favourites too and I know they’d put us in the kitchen at the chef’s table if we were really hungry. :)

  36. says

    Wow, I just can’t fathom making a reservation, then not showing up. So rude. Some of those penalties for not showing up are huge…but I can understand their reasoning.

  37. says

    I think it’s just plain rude and totally inconsiderate of people who make a reservation and then don’t show up and don’t cancel. Here in the US many better restaurants actually call you the day before to confirm – to cover their costs no doubt. I am also surprised, by the comments, that many people didn’t know a lot of the things you’re saying here. So glad you’re here to enlighten them!

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