Michael has been a server at a number of upscale restaurants in Charlotte for twelve years. He explains, "As a server, you are designated three to five tables per night. When someone calls to make a reservation that might be two of your tables. If the people made a reservation at seven or eight o'clock, the restaurant won't seat that table before then and probably not after that so that reservation is important."
Most restaurants allow one and a half to two hours per seating. Some restaurants offer specific seating times, such as 6pm or 8pm, to allow two covers at a single table for the evening.
Michael continues, "You are banking on that reservation for half of your income for the night. You are counting on it. Usually a restaurant will hold the reservation for fifteen or twenty minutes. By that time it could be approaching 8pm. Chances are the restaurant will not have a party of eight walk in off the street to fill your designated tables.
"A while back I had a streak of no shows: a party of twelve and a party of fifteen. Each party had reconfirmed the day before. But they didn't call. They just didn't show. On both occasions, that was my whole night.
"The public doesn't see the side duties a server does. I set the table especially for that reservation. You know what you've got with no shows is a waiter pacing back and forth with a bad attitude. If I've got a party of twelve coming in at 8pm, I'm waiting while everyone else is busy. Everyone is making money and I still haven't had a table yet. The twelve top doesn't show and now you have a party of two."
Then he added, "My attitude is to take my lumps as they come. You have to expect no shows."
How many people become no shows on any given evening? Most restaurants report a five to ten percent nightly no-show factor. Saturday, the most lucrative day, is usually the higher number.
Larry Snyder of Savvydiner.com, an online reservation company, said, "Fortunately, business travelers, who make up 90% of our users, accept the responsibility by canceling when they can't keep the confirmed reservation. Because e-mail is a favored form of communication for business travelers, our users simply respond to the e-mail confirmation which we send with every reservation. But nationally, our no-show rate is twelve to seventeen percent. Holidays like Valentine's Day create more no shows than any other specific day or event during any given year. Having made over 40,000 confirmed restaurant reservations in 2003, we recognize how no-shows can create a financial and logistical problem for our clients, most of which are very busy establishments that attract primarily business travelers."
Do a restaurant and its employees have to tolerate "no shows"? Restaurants are similar to airlines, hotels, and rental car companies since they offer a perishable commodity. Some courts have ruled that they are entitled to protect themselves. Nationally, some restaurants have opted to require customers to sign a contract for reservations of six or more with a 72-hour cancellation policy.
However, requiring diners to sign a contract may be the most extreme step to combat the profit-draining bad manners of people who make reservations, sometimes multiple reservations, and neither show up nor cancel. There are other options, though not as effective. Some restaurants require a credit card number and inform the customer that they will be charged a set amount per head for a no show. Some restaurateurs, afraid to make that threat for fear of losing customers, reserve that tactic for New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.
Some restaurants overbook; others take reservations only from frequent customers. Some restaurants have done away with reservations altogether and substituted "first come first serve" or a 20-minute call ahead policy.
Owner Fabio Salazar of the 45-seat Volare in Myers Park does not try to suppress his irritation about no shows. "I am a small restaurant with limited seating. No shows can ruin me. People just do not understand. Some want to be the big shot and make reservations at two or three restaurants and when their guests come they ask their guests to pick which restaurant. But they don't even call the other restaurants to cancel the reservation. They just don't show. I hate to do it but now I ask for a credit card and tell them I will charge them $45 per person if they do not call and cancel the reservation. They can even call that morning.
"I had a woman call to make reservations for a party of ten. She didn't show and I charged her card $450. I called her to tell her I was doing this. I said you didn't show up and I lost money. I think she realized how small we are and how much damage she did."
Multiple bookings are especially annoying to restaurant people. Server Michael said, "When I went home to Chicago, my mom asked where I wanted to go for dinner -- to Morton's or two other restaurants. She said she had reservations at all three. I told her she needed to call the other two and cancel because there is some waiter just waiting for her. She had no clue. My own mother."
How do restaurants respond to no-shows?
"I called one customer at home at 3am," said one restaurateur. "I said we are still here waiting. Where are you?"
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