No-shows happen when a guest makes a table reservation, but never shows up or tells the restaurant they need to cancel. It's a major problem in the industry with costly consequences.
From one-off unique experiences to normal dinner service, one no-show can start a ripple effect in the restaurant’s delicate set-up and result in thousands lost.
So how do restaurants avoid no-shows? We’ve spoken to some of the best restaurateurs and chefs in Scandinavia to figure out how to deal with no-shows and combined their advice into 7 ways to avoid it happening to your restaurant.
Whether it was a restaurant booking, a movie ticket or a trip to the dentist, we’ve all done a no-show at some point.
Chef Matt Orlando explains, “It is a very selfish act to commit to something then back out without taking into consideration the consequences of your actions. If people knew or cared about the amount of work it takes to run a restaurant, this would happen less often.”
It’s the amount of work that guests often forget about – the fact that one restaurant reservation no-show is gambling with other people’s livelihood. When you put it that way, it’s hard to justify a no-show.
But hold on. We’re not saying that the one time a guest skipped out on a dinner booking is killing your restaurant. It takes more than one no-show… or does it?
“When one person doesn’t show up, we potentially lose between 1,200-1,800 Danish kroner ($180-280 USD). If you do the math and see how tight our profit margins are, then we can easily go from making money to losing money,” replies Matt Orlando.
Restaurateur Sven Jensen of SAV in Sweden adds, “When you have a full restaurant, you need 2 sommeliers on shift. When 2 tables don’t show up, I can’t just call my sommelier with 2 hours notice and say that he shouldn’t come to work. That would leave him with a loss of earnings of several thousand kroner. Instead, I, as a restaurant owner, will have lost 10,000 kroner in both personnel costs and loss of revenue, because the guests haven’t shown up. The guest doesn’t see that. And for us who don’t get walk-ins, it hits even harder.”
Let’s say you have 50 seats in your restaurant and 50% of your nightly volume comes from pre-booked reservations. The average spend per person is around $40, which means if 10% of those restaurant reservations were no-shows, you’d lose $100 per night. That’s over $3,000 a month!
Considering that the restaurant industry’s average rate of no-shows is around 20%... in the scenario above, you’d lose $200 a night. That’s $6,000 a month.
The consequences of a no-show go deeper than the economy. Food waste, guest experience and the culture of restaurants are all affected.
So what happens if a guest makes a reservation and doesn't show up?
Joel Åhlin of Agrikultur in Stockholm explains, “We prep all food for our guests. If someone doesn’t show up, then we have food left that we can’t use the next day. Everything we prepare is very detailed and there’s a lot of work behind it. We have two chefs prepping from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon before the service staff comes in. A no-show results in hours of wasted work and misuse of craftsmanship.”
Besides the amount of wasted food, Joel Åhlin adds, “When people don’t show up, it’s blocking the way for other people who want to come. On Valentine's Day, we had 112 people on the waiting list and only 24 seats. That’s what I get the most frustrated about. There’s always a waiting list when there are no-shows. These four people could have gone instead of you, but you decided to make a no-show.”
Karlos Ponte of BaneGaarden in Denmark explains how he as a chef, co-owner and manager reacts, “I get angry at the people who don’t show up and then it might end up with me being a bit stressed, which again can affect the rest of the staff and the entire restaurant.”
Rene Mammen of Substans in Aarhus, Denmark, adds, “It’s completely disrespectful when you’ve spent an entire day preparing to give these guests a certain experience and then they just don’t show up without notice. It’s a complete mood killer.”
Give guests a set period before giving away the table – around 15 minutes. Some restaurants choose to extend the window if guests call ahead and say they’re running late.
A ticket system for your restaurant guarantees you your revenue… even if guests don’t show up. This does require that you have a set menu (maybe 3-4 courses), a fixed pricing system for your courses or host a special event. The most modern systems today – like Superb’s Guest Experience Management (GXM) platform – enable restaurants to create and handle events while managing the payments.
Superb’s restaurant management system lets you ask for a reservation deposit on the nights when you’re busiest – like weekends or when you run with a fixed menu.
Return the no-show deposit as a gift card when they arrive. This gives patrons a reason to come back and become long-term customers. With GXM Lite and GXM Pro, you can make gift cards in one integrated system.
Sometimes people just forget their reservations. Use a reservation reminder system (SMS or email) to avoid the no-show and start the groundwork for a great experience before the guest even arrives. And always be upfront about the issue and ask people to cancel in advance. It’s an easy way to remind guests that there are people behind the business who are counting on them.
Restaurants sometimes overbook each service, but it can also backfire as some guests might be discouraged with the wait or upset when they lose a table that they actually booked. Create a waiting list so you can fill in last-minute cancellations, no-shows and prevent revenue loss.
Set a limit for how many times a guest is allowed to not show and miss their reservation. This list can be time-consuming to update and difficult to enforce. But it is an effective way to deal with habitual no-show guests.
We’ve seen this as the most effective method to stop no-shows. Requiring a credit card to hold a restaurant reservation ensures you’ll be covered if a customer decides to not show up. With Superb, you can decide how strict you’d like to be about your no-show policy (2 hours, 24 hours or maybe 48 hours) as well as set the amount of the no-show fee.
See how restaurants are asking for credit card details to avoid no-shows here.
If you need to cancel a dinner reservation, let the restaurant know in advance. Superb’s worldwide community of chefs and restaurateurs agree that the restaurant won’t get mad at you if you call or email.
Kontrast’s Mikael Svensson says, “We have a generous cancellation policy. If you have a normal table and it’s not a big party, you can cancel until 2 pm. If you wake up sick the same morning, you have the chance to cancel.”
Chef Karlos Ponte adds, “We will have some cancellations, where people call an hour before their reservation and say that they can’t come. But we understand – it’s much better than just not showing up. At least we have the opportunity to do something about it.”
Yes, if the restaurant has a clear cancellation policy and a system that allows them to take credit card details when a booking is made. The restaurant has the right to charge the card in the event of a late cancellation or a no-show.
We're living in a new era, the data era, and it’s now possible to do away with no-shows altogether.
How? Using a Guest Experience Management platform at your restaurant lets you collect insights about your guests, send reminders, sell tickets, charge for no-shows, or even ask for prepaid deposits. And the best part is that you can do all of this while building strong relationships that benefit you and the guest.