It happens all the time: restaurant reservations are made, then quickly forgotten as soon as a better offer comes up.
Until recently, it wasn’t something we were slapped on the wrists for. Now, a promised bum on a promised seat is a serious business contract that, if reneged, has consequences.
“We look forward to seeing you tomorrow evening,” on the other end of the phone, is now bookended with having to cough up your credit card number for a potential cancellation fee. Do we really have genuine intentions of showing up, or are we just keeping our options open?
Australia’s most dominant online restaurant-booking service, Dimmi, introduced a blacklist program last year, allowing restaurateurs to bar customers for up to a year for not showing up. Today, 38,000 diners are on that list – last year there was only 3159.
Are you a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person? Book three restaurants on a Saturday night, just in case? This decision is targeted at you.
“The industry is better without this customer. They are the guys who cripple the profitability of these restaurants, who make them charge more for the rest of us,” Dimmi founder and CEO Stevan Premutico tells Broadsheet.
Since the black list was introduced, there has been a 25 per cent decrease in no-shows.
The company promises to reduce no-shows to zero by 2020. “It’s a very powerful way to make an industry better,” says Premutico.
Flaking on a reservation costs the Australian restaurant industry $75 million, according to Dimmi’s annual No Show Report.
“These guys are up at 6am going to the farm to get produce, not clocking off until 10 or 11pm that night,” says Premutico. “They’re making small margins. It’s a tough, tough industry.”
Look at Uber’s rating system, for example. The power balance has shifted, transferring it into the driver’s hands. While we’re all privately ashamed of our below-average ratings, you can’t deny it has made us think harder about being on our best behaviour.
Degustation-style venues such as Sydney’s LuMi Bar & Dining have copped the brunt of our fare-weather habits the most.
For co-owner Michella Boncagni, the impact comes down to three things: food waste, food costs and labour costs.
“A chef has to make a single dish of pasta, that takes up to three to five minutes depending on what the pasta is. With a no-show table, we’ve lost half an hour of someone working on that dish, that will be thrown away that night,” she says.
But for the most part, it’s about a lack of consideration. “The problem is there is no respect when they don’t show up, at least give us a call so we can move your booking to another day. If we have guests on the waiting list that we could have called, it’s a loss of revenue for that night,” says Boncagni.
“We have lost way more than $115 [the price per person for the degustation],” she says.
Melbourne’s Saigon Sally understands these uncommunicated cancellations are not always committed on purpose. “I don’t think people realise what they’re actually doing when they decide to skip their bookings,” says owner Nick Coulter. “It affects businesses, the more we talk about it the better.”
“I wouldn’t even mind if people called an hour before their bookings to cancel, it [still] gives us an opportunity to figure out what’s going on,” says Lynda Horton, the general manager of Melbourne’s La Luna. “It’s heartbreaking having to say no to people because a table has been booked by a no-show.”
Ten per cent of La Luna’s weekly bookings are made by Dimmi no-shows.
So sure, the babysitter cancels; someone gets sick; you don’t feel like going out. Life happens. Just let the restaurant know you won’t be coming.
Additional reporting by Ali Johnson.