How three chefs from Cornwall are winning the battle against no shows

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th April 2018

With no shows fast becoming more common, three chefs from Cornwall have decided to tackle the issue head-on.

According to a recent report by RezDiary, it is estimated that no shows are costing the UK hospitality industry up to 16 billion a year. The #StopNoShow campaign which aims to reduce the number of restaurant no shows is gaining momentum and is being pioneered by chef Damian Wawrzynia. Not only are no shows financially crippling, they are having a huge impact on morale too. With this sobering fact, both independent restaurants and restaurant groups are looking to curtail these losses and put measures in place to eliminate this completely.

With the rate of  ‘No shows’ ever increasing, we speak to three chefs in Cornwall who have decided to tackle this issue head-on. 

How Nik Boyle has all but eliminated no shows

Nik Boyle is chef patron at the Victoria Inn in Penzance and thinks that the issue of no shows is two-fold. He says: “Firstly, when you book online, you take the humanity out of it and are dealing with a computer, therefore you don’t feel any obligation to a computer. It is also the chain restaurants - people don’t worry if they book a chain restaurant and cancel. It doesn’t matter if they don’t turn up for their booking as they (the restaurant) will fill it again and they are doing the same to non-chain restaurants.” 

no shows

Being a Cornwall-based eatery, Nik has noticed that no shows are incremental and increase as the pub gets busier over the summer. Nik recalls one instance of a no show that was the final impetus to make significant changes to combat this on-going issue.

“We once had a table of 19 not turn up. Why? Because they had hangovers.” 

Leveraging a deposit scheme

These changes came in the shape of a deposit scheme, diners are asked to leave their credit card details and if they fail to turn up and notify the team, they are charged £20 per head.

Nik reports that by implementing these measures, they have all but stopped the no shows (apart from one or two isolated incidents at Christmas). Nik believes that prior to implementing this scheme, around 15% of bookings resulted in no shows, fast forward to the last ten months and this is now practically down to zero.

Despite this obvious success, Nik is regretful that he has had to implement these measures at all, but feels that it was the right thing to do. He says: “We are in the middle of nowhere, right out in the west of Cornwall and we don’t have passing trade. If you turn up between 7.30pm and 8.30pm, there are only a certain number of tables available. If there are five or six tables booked in this hour and three of them don’t turn up, the knock on is that you have lost revenue and it leaves a gaping hole in the dining room."

Nik
Nik Boyle

Positive feedback
The deposit scheme has been very positively received by his customers and thanks to the installation of an electronic booking system, Nik and his team are able to determine any potential risks of no shows

If someone is booking for the first time, or they are booking for tables for more than six people, the system will prompt the customer to provide their credit card details which are stored securely and if they don’t show up they will be charged £20 a head. The electronic booking system sends out a text message to remind people about their booking and an automatic tracking number is generated upon booking which can be sent by text or email.

Nik explained: "One of the major issues with no shows, is that if you have a large table booked, you will also need to have an extra member of staff booked to cover this table."

Taking positive steps

When asked if he would encourage other restaurants who are experiencing no shows to follow suit with a similar scheme, Nik wholeheartedly agrees but encourages restaurants to ‘really do their research.

“Holding peoples credit card details is a real minefield," he said. "Plus, you’ve got to balance whether you are going to upset your regulars. I do think it’s a shame that it has come to this and that we have had to start policing people because of one or two selfish people.”

Whilst these measures have clearly made all the difference for Nik, he is clear that the top priority was to take positive steps to remedy this issue without alienating his customers. 

"The clue is in the name, we are in the hospitality industry. We want to make people happy and not piss them off or upset them and send people away with a bad taste in their mouth. You have to take positive steps to make it right otherwise you just end up with a really negative atmosphere.”

jeff in the kitchen
Jeffrey Robinson

£15,000 lost from no shows

Jeffrey Robinson of the New Yard Restaurant on the Trelowarren Estate agrees, having lost £15,000 from ‘no shows’ last year. He has also implemented a deposit scheme which is having a positive impact on decreasing the number of no shows.

Whilst this is clearly an issue UK wide, Jeffrey feels that this is slightly worse in Cornwall. This, combined with the fact that most Cornish restaurants only have eight months or so to make money, whilst having bills and other financial outlays to pay all year is really making restaurants feel the pinch.

He says: “We can’t drop standards, we do want to compete nationally. We still must have the same gp as anyone else to stick to, but for three months we make no money which in itself is already a challenge.”

It's not just about the money 

When quizzed about why diners fail to show up, Jeffrey feels that this is difficult to pinpoint, it tends to happen more during the midweek service. He (like Nik) has experienced the disappointment of having a big table fail to show up for lunch.

“We had a table of 12 for lunch booked that meant we went up to 45 covers for lunch which resulted in me having to get another member of staff in and pick up some more fish on my way in, and then only five people turned up, its hundreds of pounds lost in turnover, wasted produce and over-staffing.” 

Jeffrey continued: “The percentages in restaurants are very tight as it is - it is the difference between restaurants surviving and not surviving. I’ve got a young family to look after, I think that people need to be more mindful of not turning up to restaurants when they ask us for a table.”

Embracing technology

Similarly, to Nik, Jeffrey and his team have implemented an online booking system which flags a warning when someone has previously not shown up. They won’t be able to make a new booking unless the restaurant lifts the flag to allow them to book a table. It will ask for the restaurants permission first whether they can have a table. The restaurant will also take a £10 per head deposit for larger tables between six and ten.

money lostThis deposit scheme has also been positively received by Jeffrey’s customers, he says transparency about the scheme and why it has been implemented has helped.

Hopefully, this scheme is not only curtailing the level of no shows but it is also making diners more mindful about the significant impact of no shows. He reflects: “We use local produce and the trickle down from the money spent in our restaurants (whether that’s me, Nik or Bruce) all goes back into the local community, we are the good guys “

Seasonality

Bruce Rennie of The Shore Restaurant feels that seasonality of running a restaurant in the heart of Cornwall heightens the problem of no shows and this, therefore, has a greater impact on the profitability of a restaurant.

At Bruce’s restaurant, there is only a maximum of 24 covers at one time and like Nik and Jeff, Bruce has experienced no shows. On one day, he experienced ten people not showing up for dinner. Bruce recalls: “I had two waiters in to cover the bookings. The big problem with summer no-shows is that we require to make capital to pay the rent and rates through the winter when trade is extremely slow. No-shows in the winter are problematic because I buy produce in for each service and if I can't sell it, I may not even have the guests to sell it to the next day.”

bruce rennie
Bruce Rennie

What could have been 
Such is the impact of no shows, Bruce believes if he had filled the ‘un-honoured’ tables that resulted in no shows, he probably would have “broken even last year”

Bruce started taking card details towards the end of last year to act as a deterrent and to prompt people to call and cancel with enough notice if they couldn't make it.

He has chosen not to take deposits at this moment in time, as he feels that this is too costly when it comes down to processing the payments to third parties.

Bruce feels that whilst this has cut down on the number no shows that is has had a slight impact on the number of people completing the booking process.

Honouring bookings

The message is clear, as diners, we all have an obligation to honour these bookings where possible and if it’s not, to let the restaurant know as soon as possible. Bruce said: “It doesn't take much effort to pick up a phone and cancel the reservation. We are aware that things go wrong in life and situations can't be avoided. I’d rather be told so that I could offer the table to someone else. They are reducing the likelihood that I will ever earn a reasonable wage to help support my family ...I own the restaurant and earn £8k per year for 70-100 hours per week at the restaurant and then more admin at home...and the restaurant didn't make a profit last year.”

What are your thoughts on no shows, has your restaurant been affected? We would love to read your comments on this.

By Emma Harrison 
@canteenemma

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th April 2018

How three chefs from Cornwall are winning the battle against no shows