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."


Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
12 comments
Wawa
Wawa

Or, Farmhaus could just raise its prix fixe price by 10% on special nights knowing that there will be no shows. Customers wouldn't blink at a 10% increase on a special night.

Wawa
Wawa

Solution? Sell tickets (even if just for big nights like Valentine's Day and NYE). That is what Achatz is doing for every night of service at his new restaurant, Next.

JZ71
JZ71

Part of the problem on V-Day is that Joe Cool wants to impress his date and either wants to give her two or three great options to pick from or is making a "just in case" reservation, knowing full well that somewhere else was/is the real first choice.The solutions have all been covered - billing, losing the table and/or black-balling - but no one answer will work for every restaurant, and none addresses the underlying issue, a blatant lack of manners or respect.

Chris McKenzie
Chris McKenzie

If the restaurant advises when you make the reservation, that there is a charge for a no call/no show cancellation (or < 24hrs notice), and you go ahead with the reservation and then no call/no show, they can legally hit your credit card for the fine/charge. Much like a Dr., or dentist or masseuse would do - even if it is just for your once a year hand job or semi-annual ass waxing. That's a verbal contract and it will hold up in court. I'm not sure this is the best answer for all parties but on nights like this past V-day at Farmhaus it certainly would have stopped some of the bleeding.

Geo Mahe
Geo Mahe

D McGee is onto something. The situation that spurred this discussion is somewhat unique: it's Valentine's Day at Farmhaus, a small, fully-booked, popular restaurant...on V-Day there are few, if any, walk-ins to fill any gaps, so the restaurant’s loss is real and irreplaceable.

In a similar-type restaurant a decade ago, we would call the party to confirm, and if unable to reach, ask them to reconfirm with us in order to hold the reservation. We’d always mention the "15 minute rule" and would seat the table promptly 20 minutes post-reservation time, flagging both the party’s name and their number for future reference.

When we were feeling especially frisky, we'd call the party an hour or so post-reservation time and ask: "We're trying to hold your table, but we have other reservations waiting...will you be arriving soon?" Just doing our part to teach a little common courtesy, one inconsiderate guest at a time.

On special occasions, we would ask for credit card numbers, however, just to "put a deposit on the card," which incidentally we never did. But just the threat of one's card being charged was enough to keep folks in line, and on those nights had a zero no-show rate.

common sense
common sense

The reason a doctor charges you for a late cancellation is because you're paying for a doctor's time, and that time is worth money. It would be different if you didn't show up and there was a line of 20 people waiting to get in. Theoretically in that case the doctor wouldn't have any lost revenue because they'd just take the next person in line, which is exactly what hotels do, and what Farmhaus should have done. Why whine about lost reservations when you have people beating your door down to get in? Simple rule: Show up within 10-15 minutes of your reservation or you lose your table, no questions asked. Charging people money for meals they didn't eat for one reason or another is not a good business practice and sophomoric on top of it.

BWhitt
BWhitt

If I remember correctly, when I booked a reservation for Brasserie for my dinner with my partner, the reservation site clearly stated that if more than 20 minutes late, our table would be filled. To me, this is an easier solution. When folks book a table, let them know if they will lose it if they aren't on time. If they are actually running late, they'll know to call, if they're not showing up, another lucky diner gets the table and the restaurant doesn't lose money. I would think dealing with people who are pissed about losing their table would be less of a hassle than dealing with those charged no-show fees.

skoz
skoz

Honestly, I feel like a $20 credit card deposit should be enough of a deterrent for no-shows, or at least deter people who make reservations at more than one restaurant, possibly for different times (which is what I suspect to be part of the problem). It's not $100, but most people don't want to have $20 charged to their card for nothing...

Michael
Michael

Hotels overbook based on reservations they expect to not show up and not cancel. They charge the no-show guest's credit card used to guarantee the reservation. However, the no-show guest can contest these charges and frequently have them reversed. It becomes a 'customer service' issue for hotels to not anger a potential returning guest by persisting with the charge. They're happy to take the money from the full-house and the no-shows that don't contest the charges and crediting the contested no-shows is no big deal for them.

Douche McGee
Douche McGee

IMO charging a no show shouldn't be illegal at all - if you cancel a Dr. or dental appt with less than 24 hours notice or just don't show up they usually want to charge you $25 or $50.

Can they overbook? It's risky, but they probably can form some statistics based on their current reservations that a certain % will always cancel. Airlines do it all the time, and if for some reason you are short tables just discount those who have to wait

Douche McGee
Douche McGee

I agree the $ is for the doctor's time and I agree that charging people $ for a meal they didn't show up for will probably leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths, but what if people were simply not going to Farmhaus after they already tried to get a reservation and found out none were available? If I had called and no reservations were available, I wouldn't show up hoping to get a table - I would find a place I could make a reservation.

I'm assuming they didn't have anyone there waiting for tables if the amount of people not showing up for reservations bothered them.

Michelle T
Michelle T

We called Farmhaus on Valentines Day for a last minute reservation and couldn't get in so we went somewhere else and spent a couple hundred bucks on a really terrible meal. So I additionally am irritated with their no shows. We would have loved and cherished a spot there.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...