A Ramsgate head chef has said survival of independents restaurants is being put at risk by ‘no show’ customers.
Craig Mather, who heads the kitchen at The Empire Room, says two tables booked for Valentine’s Day failed to show up – meaning a loss of income and wasted food.
The failure to cancel was particularly galling as The Empire Room had turned away customers because the venue was thought to be fully booked.
Other Thanet restaurants also suffered no shows, including customers for 4 tables failing to show at Wyatt & Jones in Broadstairs.
Mr Mather, who has been at The Empire Room since 2016, said the ease of internet booking contributed to the problem.
He said: “It’s now so easy to make a restaurant booking on your phone or tablet using websites and apps that some people make bookings on a “just in case” basis. They book just in case they might feel like going out on the night or they book a number of different restaurants so they can make a choice on the night depending on how they feel. We are finding this tough.
“Customers will sometimes ring only 30 minutes before their booking to cancel! This means that we have no opportunity to sell the table to someone else. It also means food goes to waste as we prepare on the day based on the numbers of tables booked.”
The problem is not confined to Thanet. Nationally online booking service Open Table now has policy that if a diner no-shows for a reservation four times over 12 months, they’ll be prohibited from making future reservations.
A Peterborough restaurant owner has launched a #StopNoShow campaign which has provoked a global response and many restaurants are now forced to ask for deposits when people make a booking.
Mr Mather said:“We try to get around (no shows) by asking for deposits for big tables and special occasions like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day or (occasionally) busy nights. We would much rather not do this but don’t really have a choice.
“Increases in food costs, rents, business rates and the national living wage mean that our costs have risen and there is more and more pressure on our bottom line.
“We understand that some customers might need to cancel but cancelling at short notice could eventually threaten our survival.”
Wyatt & Jones has also found it necessary to take deposits for special occasions because of the risk of customer no-shows.
In a post to their facebook page they said the four tables no show meant 10% of the night’s bookings had been lost and they too had turned custom away because they were fully booked.
They added: “This year will be a tough time for all small independent restaurants in the UK. Brexit will have an inevitable consequence whether you believe in it or not. In small coastal towns, businesses rely on evenings such as Valentine’s to make up in a tiny way for the long, cold winter.
“It doesn’t take much to call and cancel.
“We had a great evening nonetheless but I just wish that people understood we had chefs, waiters and kitchen porters to pay and that 10% makes all the difference to all us small restaurants. We all have bills to pay.”
According to online booking business liveRES a 2015 survey said British restaurants were losing £16bn annually due to no-shows and a recent poll of UK restaurants found 42% of restaurants are now taking and holding pre-paid deposits, to help insulate them against the cost of no-shows.