I recently got an exasperated e-mail from a restaurant owner who is struggling over the issue of cancellations and no-shows. This past Saturday night, 137 patrons either canceled their reservations or simply failed to show up. One party of 17 called to cancel 30 minutes before the reservation, even though they had confirmed by phone earlier in the day.
“Do these patrons not know the impact of the decisions they make?” he wondered, “or do they simply not care?”
Folks, I gotta tell you, I am as appalled as my correspondent. Restaurants buy food and staff their kitchens and dining rooms based on how many meals they think they are going to serve. When they are booked solid, they turn away customers who want to dine there. If the people who book the tables don’t show up, the tables stay empty, the servers make no tips.
This drives restaurateurs crazy, of course, but in the end, diners suffer, too. Restaurants may overbook their tables, which means that diners have to wait even though they have reservations. Or restaurants may understaff their dining rooms because they can’t be sure their servers will have enough to do. Then diners get spotty service.
More importantly, it damages the relationship of mutual trust and respect that must exist between a restaurant and its patrons, and it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.
Of course, there are times when something really does come up at the last minute, forcing you to cancel a reservation. (As for people who don’t even call to cancel, there’s a special ring of hell they share with guys who smoke cigars on the street.)
Most restaurateurs on Long Island are loath to impose a cancellation fee on diners who change their minds at the last minute, and there are various legal issues that make this a tricky move to pull off. But I have willingly given my credit-card number to restaurants in Manhattan to hold a large reservation on a busy night. It seemed only fair.
Patrons who showed up at Two Steak & Sushi Den in New Hyde Park (March 12, 2010)