Da­rina Allen

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

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

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