No shows? No go. There’s nothing quite like securing a full booking at dinner service of your fine-dining restaurant, only to have no-shows taking up prime real estate. At the time of booking, customers were excited for an elevated dining experience just by looking at your menu — whether you’ve tempted them with a promise of the full Michelin star experience, or whipped up a foie gras mousse that’ll no doubt make its way onto many a social media page. But as excited as you are for a large party to show up, there’s always that nagging possibility that online bookings might lead to empty tables.
Singapore-based chef Bjorn Shen of Artichoke knows this all too well. A Straits Times article from 4 April 2018 quoted labour and food costs as restaurateurs’ primary concerns when no-shows happen. While other restaurants might rely on the possibility of walk-in customers to fill tables, the nature of fine dining can’t rely on that happenstance.
While singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s mantra might push you to “have a little faith”, you wouldn’t want to piss off your head chef by overpromising the number of diners. Here are some methods the restaurant industry employs to reduce no-show rates and cut unnecessary costs.
1. ‘Ping’ and never forget
Sometimes diners forget, so this is where pings come in handy. The gentlest of reminders, a ping politely pops up to let them know that an upcoming reservation awaits. A ping can be in the form of a phone call or a text message that asks the diner to either confirm or cancel their upcoming reservation. This can be implemented hours or even days before their scheduled booking.
There are even systems in place that allow you to schedule an automatic ping in advance, so you free up time for more pressing matters. You can also use this opportunity as a way to get to know your diners and personalise your messages. Ping them a day or two before to ask for any dietary restrictions, or if they’re celebrating a special occasion. Pings also build diners’ anticipation for their upcoming dining experience.
2. Take deposits for big group reservations
Contrary to popular belief, you can do something to discourage no-shows. Rid that helpless feeling by asking for a deposit to secure bookings, particularly for big groups. While a 10% no show rate is realistic, this isn’t ideal when it comes to group bookings of eight to 10 people. At $300 per cover, this can amount to a loss of $3,000 in one night. Asking for a deposit to secure a booking provides that extra step that will deter your diner from last minute no-shows.
Understand that deposits aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach: You can have the option to set a deposit per head, per group size, or even according to specific menus. For example, choose to take deposits only for a six-course degustation meal, depending on which aspects of your menu are deemed more valuable.
3. Get diners to pre-pay with vouchers
Think of pre-paid dining vouchers as insurance for your restaurant reservations team. Here at Chope, we found that diners who have made reservations and pre-purchased dining vouchers via Chope were 47.6% less likely to no-show. Even if diners still don’t show up at your restaurant at that specific date and time, they’re more likely to return to use the voucher at a later date. It’s your chance to prolong that restaurant-diner relationship, turning them into long-term customers.
Want to reduce no-shows for your fine dining restaurant? Learn how Chope sends diners to you, and subscribe to Chope For Restaurants for tips, advice and more how-tos.