How to Cancel a Reservation Like a Civilized Person

Surely we don't need to go over something as simple as having the good manners to cancel a reservation on one of the busiest restaurant nights of the year, right?

Apparently, we do.

10% of our reservations did not show tonight. Our waiting list was around twenty tables long. Anyone have any ideas on what we should do?less than a minute ago via Echofon

So Tweeted Eric Scholle, manager and bartender at Farmhaus, towards the end of Valentine's Day service.

Today, Scholle discussed the situation via email with Gut Check. "Fourteen percent of our reservations on Valentine's Day did not show up. Which equates to close to $1000 in lost revenue. As a new business, we keep our margins and costs as low as possible, $1000 is a lot of money to us."

First of all, why would someone lucky enough to score a table at one of the hottest restaurants in town, with one of the hottest chefs in the country, cancel? Aside from situations involving death and dismemberment, of course. And if they did have a need to cancel, what's so hard about picking up the phone and placing a quick call? That's how the reservation was made in the first place, right?

"Our culture has gotten so careless about the courtesy we should show to others," said Melenie Broyles, owner of Etiquette St. Louis. "A reservation is something that should be canceled 24 hours ahead of time when possible. The exceptions might be a last minute flu, an accident or something unavoidable on the way."

We make multiple calls to every rez, every day RT @SeanCollinsSTL: @farmhausstl Are you able to re-confirm reservations by phone the day of?less than a minute ago via Echofon

... which requires a lot of manhours from an already-busy restaurant. But Farmhaus does it, according to Scholle. "We attempt to confirm every reservation for every day that we do dinner service here at Farmhaus. Our guests are typically happy to hear from us with confirmation that their reservation is confirmed."

Farmhaus wasn't the only restaurant singing the no-show V-Day blues.

@farmhausstl come drink with me and we can curse them together! It's a never ending problem!less than a minute ago via Echofon

To reserve a hotel room or a car, it's standard to ask for a credit card number, then charge it if the card holder doesn't honor the reservation. An August post on Eatocracy, CNN's food blog, illustrates how consumers still don't consider this a fair practice for restaurants, when Chicago's Alinea was taken to task for charging no-shows $100. The restaurant's co-owner Nick Kokonas and chef Grant Achatz responded on the restaurant's website:

But sometimes people just don't show up. And the reasons are often logical and good. But they all come down to "It wasn't my fault" even though, of course, they didn't call to confirm, they didn't call to say they were going to miss it at the last minute, they didn't show up, and in this case they don't use 'fancy palm-pilots'. I am not sure what else we can do ... Buy tickets to the Cubs, Bruce Springsteen, or a theater and no-show and what happens? You miss the show. You don't call the Cubs and tell them you forgot.

Broyles continues, "Many restaurants are taking credit cards to hold reservations. This actually deters some diners from making the reservation in the first place."

After their V-Day no-shows, Scholle was looking into such possibilities.

Seriously, any one with some legit legal "know how" have any info about the legality of charging no showsless than a minute ago via Echofon

Because so many people are skipping the simple courtesy of making a cancellation phone call, the days of restaurant reservations as oral contract are numbered. Broyles said, "Recently I heard a business began a reservation no show list. Checking new reservations against the list, they know who has done this before and actually push these people to the end of the list. It is so sad that our lack of courtesy has led to this type of practice."

Worse, such bad practices by customers can ultimately hurt small restaurants like Farmhaus. They're looking at how to recover in the next few days. "Our food costs are especially high here due to the level of cuisine and focus on utilizing local, responsibly-grown produce, and fresh, sustainable seafood that our chef/owner Kevin believes in. On a night like Valentine's Day, we order enough food to accommodate all our reservations. For every guest that does not show up, we will inevitably lose money on food that goes to waste.

"The only way to 'recover' from no shows is to hopefully utilize the extra food before it goes bad. We can also be more proactive in ensuring that our reservations show up. We are working on the process right now."

Scholle has a simple solution to the problem. "If a guest cannot make it to a reservation with our restaurant all we ask for is a call by the afternoon of the reservation. That way we can hopefully fill that spot and accommodate another person who wants to dine with us."


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