How are no-shows damaging the restaurant business?

The  Staff Canteen

Fighting at the forefront of almost every restaurant’s ‘most hated’ list is the infamous no-show. That gut-wrenching, fist-clenching feeling as a bare table sticks out, unmanned and unloved; its counterparts filled with on-time and, more importantly, present guests.

No-shows have plagued restaurants since they began and, although it may be easy for a customer to think that it’s not a big deal, it can mean everything to a restaurant.

The Staff Canteen took a look at the full effects abandoning a reservation has on the restaurant business.

Reserved sign
Reserved sign

In 2014 Matt Orlando, head chef and owner of restaurant Amass, Copenhagen, wrote an open letter to so-called ‘no-showers’.

The letter from 2014 was published as a blog on Amass’ website - - and addresses various angles of no-shows from a chef’s point of view. In the letter, Matt asks customers:

“Would you schedule a doctor’s appointment and not show up? Would you schedule a hair appointment and not show up? Would you book a meeting with your bank advisor and not show up? Then why would you book a table at a restaurant and not show up? If the answer is yes to any of these, then you are a selfish person that has no respect for the people around you.”

It’s not only the other customers that are affected but the restaurants too. Matt raises awareness of the financial implications that no-shows have on restaurants as a business further in the letter: “For anybody out there that is not aware of the financial gains of most restaurants, the profit margins are minimal so an empty table really hurts most restaurants.”

No-shows strapping restaurants for cash is well-known in the industry with Nick Kokonas, founder of the Chicago-based restaurant, Next, stating that at his three Michelin-starred restaurant, Aliena two reservation no-shows could result in a 100 percent loss in profit. In addition to this, online booking site ResDiaries, said in 2015 that no-shows are costing UK restaurants £16 billion a year in revenue and account for between five and twenty percent of reservations.

So how can chefs deal with no-shows? We asked our Facebook and Twitter followers for their views: and Advertorials/No shows/FB pic2.JPG

A popular idea amongst our followers was a Trip Advisor-esque system that requires a customer deposit for every table. Well, that’s exactly what’s been happening.

In Australia, a digital software company named Dimmi partnered up with Trip Advisor in an attempt to rid no-shows from Australian restaurants once and for all. The website presents customers with over 4000 restaurants from which to make a reservation. In order to make a booking, customers must give their full name, telephone number, e-mail address and in some cases, their credit card details. If the customer fails to make it to their table without contacting the restaurant via phone, e-mail or SMS message, they will be blacklisted for up to a year and could face a fine. The blacklisting is specific to the restaurant and can be overturned if the restaurant chooses. According to Dimmi, no-shows are costing the Australian restaurant industry AUS$75 million a year and account for about three per cent of reservations. Since its launch the day before Valentine’s Day 2016, Dimmi has seen 38,000 customers blacklisted. However, Dimmi says its restaurants have seen a 25 per cent decrease in no-shows over the past 12 months as a result of the new scheme and plan to reduce this to zero per cent by 2020.

Similar measures are being carried out by French online reservation and review site, LaFourchette. The website sends an SMS message out to customers 24 hours before their booking to act as a gentle reminder of their reservation, preventing the oldest excuse in the book; 'sorry I forgot.' LaFourchette also gives restaurants the ability to request credit card details for each reservation as well as a finger-print at the time of booking. The website creates a profile for customers which is dirtied every time they commit a no-show. The no-show lingers like a criminal record and alerts a restaurant about the customer’s history whenever they attempt to make a booking.

A system that is proving ever more popular in the quest to eradicate no-shows comes in the form of pre-paid tickets. This method was highlighted by two of our followers, Brian Sysun and Lee Skeet. Former Gordon Ramsay head chef, Lee Skeet, said that the pre-paid system has shown near-flawless results for his services: “We've always pre-sold tickets, works great. Might put some off but we know if 40 are booked, 40 will turn up and we prep accordingly. No waste, every customer's produce arrives the day of their reservation. Too many chefs/managers are worried about names in the reservation book rather than taking control of wastage, quality, staffing, etc.”

Brian Sysun showed fondness of the pre-paid method currently in use by Thomas Keller’s three Michelin-starred restaurant, The French Laundry: “I kind of like the new French Laundry ticketing system. When you make the ressie (reservation), you are charged an advanced ticket fee that is refunded on your bill after your meal. If you don’t show up you don’t get your money back.”

Photo credit Corey Olsen for Bloomberg Businessweek
Photo credit Corey Olsen for Bloomberg Businessweek

The system used by The French Laundry is called Tock and was set-up by previously mentioned head chef and restauranteur, Nick Kokonas. After his comments about the financial damages that no-shows have on restaurants, Nick created Tock – an online booking site that sells pre-paid tickets for a meal as opposed to a table reservation. Customers purchase their full meal when they book and are given a Michelin-star style cinema ticket with the price, seat and meal listed on the ticket. By using the pre-paid ticketing method restaurants could see a dramatic decrease in no-shows, how many customers will be attending every service, exactly how much produce is required for each service and eliminate the need for staff to answer phones for reservation.

Tock’s success spread across the Atlantic and was first adopted by Michelin-starred UK restaurant, The Clove Club. Head chef Isaac McHale began using Tock in 2015 as a way to get people to pay for their meals before eating as at the time Isaac felt the cost of cancellations was damaging to his business. 

Tock inspired Chef Richard Turner to start his own pre-paid ticket system named ‘Turners Ticket’ for his restaurant, Turners Restaurant, in Birmingham. ‘Turners tickets’ was implemented by the restaurant in 2015 and became the first in the UK to launch a live pre-payment booking system to help diners cut the cost on the price of Michelin meals.

>>> Related: Should more restaurants be introducing pre-paid ticketing?

But will this put the customer off? Would you buy a pre-paid ticket to a restaurant? Are pre-paid tickets the future for restaurants? Can they really wipe out no-shows for good?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or send us a Tweet: @canteentweets or leave a comment on our Facebook page: The Staff Canteen

By Will Chadbon

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th April 2017

How are no-shows damaging the restaurant business?