We need to talk about no-shows. Some may not even understand the term used by restaurants when guests who have booked a table do not show up on the night or cancel at the last minute when it’s too late to refill the table.
We are fortunate that this is a rare occurrence at Ballymaloe House but this practice is rampant around the country and appears, as on restaurateur put it, to have become ‘a national sport’.
I’m quite sure those who lightly book two or three restaurants on the same night and then decide after a few drinks where they’ll actually go don’t realise the devastating impact they are having on the restaurant industry where the margins are very tight and no-shows can and do make the difference between profit and loss, survival or not.
The Restaurant Association of Ireland in support of its members earlier this year urged them to take non-refundable deposits which would be deducted from the final bill in an effort to raise awareness of the impact of ‘no shows’. This decision was made after an average of 15% to 20% of bookings over Christmas turned out to be no-shows. This is not just an Irish phenomenon, restaurants in the US and UK are also experiencing similar challenges and are responding by charging non-refundable booking deposits.
This practice seems to enrage many Irish customers yet, where else can we expect to book something without paying? A theatre or concert ticket? No way.
BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme recently did an entire segment on the problem with several chefs, owners and restaurant critics discussing the impact. The problem seemed to be considerably less among the restaurants which answer the phone rather than take bookings on a ‘booking engine’ or answering machine.
Not surprisingly personal contact, a friendly human voice and a little chat, creates a bond and somehow seems to make it more difficult for customers not to show up. Some restaurants don’t even have a telephone number any longer so you must book online. At a time when costs are soaring, business rates are increasing dramatically, particularly in cities, investment and growth in the industry is slowing down and there are acute labour shortages, no-shows, are the last straw for many hard-pressed restaurateurs.
Some restaurants in cities have opted to have a no-booking policy, guests just show up, take their chance and must be prepared to queue, that at least eliminates the no-show problem, but only works in a densely populated area where there are enough customers who are prepared to queue and the food must be worth the wait.
In just one small seasonal restaurant in West Cork last summer, there were over 60 no-shows during August which eliminated the profit for the entire month. Sadly several were regulars who would have been quite affronted at the suggestion that they should pay a non-refundable booking deposit. In our busy lives we often don’t realise the impact of our actions — but this is not okay.
Plans change for various reasons, some totally unavoidable but at the very least, let’s pick up the phone and cancel at the earliest opportunity so the restaurant has the chance to refill the table. Few restaurants will hold a deposit in the case of unexpected death or a unfortunate accident. www.cookingisfun.ie www.instagram.com/darina_allen www.instagram.com/ballymaloecookeryschool