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Restaurants Show Frustration Over No-Show Reservations

“Fickle diners are every restaurant’s worst nightmare.”

Restaurants have always thought so, but it’s just lately that they’ve been showing it to the world and are doing something about it. Chefs from Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, for one, got viral media attention last month after posting a picture on Twitter showing their middle fingers to customers who ditched dinner reservations at their restaurant. The fingers were for “the people of two different no-show tables last night,” as their tweet said.

Some questioned the act, saying that it’s not really that big of a deal; while others are completely agreeing to it – they totally understand where the chefs came from.

As one supporter puts it, “What customers fail to understand is that restaurants run on very tight margins. A 10-20% no-show can easily reduce it to break-even point for the night’s takings, losing whatever profit it could have gained for the evening.” And yes, for a restaurant like Noma, it is a big deal to have a no-show for two tables, especially that reservations should be booked two months in advance. Management can hardly do last-minute filling-up of the tables and merely bank on walk-ins.

Now, a lot of high-end restaurants across the U.S. are charging customers anywhere from $50 up to the full cost of a meal for not showing up. New York’s Eleven Madison Park started charging customers $75 per head if they don’t show up or cancel their reservations 48 hours beforehand.

“We were losing 8 to 10 people a night because of no-shows,” says Eleven Madison Park owner Will Guidara. “We have a lengthy roll of waitlisted customers, and we’ve been turning away a lot of people. It’s tough for our staff, in their cool restaurant aprons, to keep saying ‘no’ to so much people then just allow others to not show up after being granted the reservation. But since we’ve had that no-show penalty, we only had to charge a couple of cards a week.”

And it’s not just the swanky restaurants that have been getting impatient about no shows – Walt Disney now requests for a credit card to hold a reservation for any of its restaurants in Florida. Customers are considered no-shows if they don’t cancel 24 hours in advance and are charged $10-$15 per person.

The practice isn’t that unpopular to customers. Sherri Kimes, a professor at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, made a research about this and says that consumers are actually open to being charged for any last-minute cancellations—just as long as their tables are ready when they arrive at the restaurant.

Others, like wd~50 in New York, turns down reservations from anyone who has had a history of not showing up. Some chefs, such as Ron Eyester of Atlanta’s Rosebud, takes note of a reservation if the caller seems wavering, just so that the staff in durable restaurant aprons would not hold the empty table too long.

In Australia, restaurants like Bistro Bruno in Sydney have come to publicly name their no-show diners on Twitter. They’ve done this several times, especially to those customers who failed to respond to their calls and follow-ups.

One way or the other, restaurants are now getting more assertive in finding ways to protect possible losses and/or settle the score.