Restaurants Gear Up for the No-Show Season

Dear Harvard grads who cancel your large party CONFIRMED reservations at the last minute ‘something  just came up’, have fun ruling the world.

–tweet sent last May from the Twitter account of Cambridge, MA restaurant Rendezvous (@RendezvousCS)

It’s almost May, the month that brings warm weather, spring blooms, Mothers Day, and restaurant no-shows.
Fickle diners are a restaurateur’s worst nightmare at any time of the year, but the problem peaks in May with college graduation dinners.

Restaurants in cities with large student populations are thrilled at graduation time when families and friends descend on local venues for commencement celebrations. In cities like Boston and Philadelphia, the ceremonies at nearby colleges and universities can give restaurants their biggest nights of the whole year. The problem is, as J. Erin Reilley, general manager of Boston’s Bondir puts it: “Graduates and their families are notorious for flakiness regarding celebratory dinner reservations.”

There’s a penchant for multiple reservations. It can happen innocently when different family members don’t communicate about different bookings and they only learn of overlaps at the last minute. More often it’s intentional with someone trying to hedge their bets with the family’s taste buds. According to Bill Curry of Philadephia’s Cafe Nola: “[Students] will call five or six places and make reservations. Then when their parents get to town, they decide where they’ll go.”

The impact of even a single empty table can be significant in an industry where average profit margins run as low as 3% to 5%. Restaurateurs know that things can happen: a flight is delayed, someone gets sick, the babysitter cancels. But when research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business tells of an average no-show rate of 20% for restaurants in large cities, they also know that the real problem is rudeness.

And no one is immune. On a recent evening, two groups of diners didn’t claim their reservations at Noma, the celebrated Copenhagen restaurant considered by many as the best in the world. With just 12 tables and a tab that hovers around $500 per person it took a real bite out of the night’s business. The next morning, chef and co-owner René Redzepi tweeted: ‘And now a message from the Noma staff: to the people of two different no-show tables last night,’ accompanied by a picture of staff members showing their middle fingers. It was quickly deleted by cooler heads, but of course the retweets carried the message for days.

After a similarly rough night, another fed up restaurateur, this one from Los Angeles’ Red Medicine, turned to Twitter to publicly call out the customers who failed to show up for their booked tables:


Restaurants are experimenting with cancellation fees, reservation deposits, mandatory telephone confirmations, and the Twitter ‘name and shame.’ Of course the only real solution is for diners to realize that a little courtesy goes a long way.


3 Responses to Restaurants Gear Up for the No-Show Season

  1. Janice says:

    I have not. I will now! Thanks.
    I agree about the effectiveness of Twitter, although there is symmetry in fighting diner chutzpah with restaurant chutzpah.

  2. Kate Mai says:

    Have you read David Lebovitz’s blog on no-shows in Paris? It’s particularly damaging there, where most restaurants are small and only turn their tables once or twice a night. “Twitter Outing” is pretty funny, but I question its effectiveness.

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