Being charged for no-shows

From our latest newsletter:

A recent piece in The Guardian tackles the issue of diners who make reservations which they fail to honour, and how an increasing number of restaurants are responding by either requesting a non-refundable deposit on booking, or simply requiring credit card details and then “fining” people for not showing up.

On the one hand, it’s a fairly simple – and understandable – form of insurance on the part of restaurants which may stand to lose significant revenue if the booking sheet promises a bustling evening that instead results in empty seats, wasted ingredients, and a contingent of staff whose time could be better employed – and rewarded! – elsewhere.

(Image courtesy of Travel Gumbo)

On the other hand, it’s an interesting twist to the story about some of the technological advances designed to make everyone’s live easier, like online booking systems which allow both diners and restaurants to bypass what some perceive as the hassle of having to make an actual phone-call to secure a seat at your favourite spot. As The Guardian piece explains, “Tim Hayward, the Financial Times’ restaurant critic, describes a situation where, instead of booking by phone and making a personal connection with a restaurant (increasingly, restaurants will not answer the phone, he complains), diners are now nudged towards pushy, faceless platforms that alienate customers and erode the responsibility they once felt towards their dinner plans: ‘Customers have changed their attitude, but can anyone blame them?'”

In that scenario, diners are excused from their non-committal behaviour thanks to the convenience of being able to make (multiple) bookings online at the press of a button rather than having a conversation in person, the latter of which would presumably encourage more thoughtful behaviour.

Perhaps it’s true that the online booking facilities which in many ways streamline our calendar commitments can also result in people caring less about neglecting those commitments. But perhaps it’s equally the case that the technology that many people blame for anti-social behaviour simply assists with exposing people who were ill-mannered to begin with. In summary, it’s not at all clear that it’s the technology that’s changing people: many of us use it to enormous benefit, after all, as do restaurants, whose front of house can be greatly freed up to attend to other matters than answering the telephone thanks to systems like online bookings. Committing to a spend which helps to secure salaries for those who make and serve our food when we eat out does, then, seem a reasonable price to pay – especially if we actually turn up for a seat at the table.