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.
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.
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.
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.
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?