As restaurants across the country start re-opening their doors under tight seating and social distancing regulations, customers turning up on time for booked tables has never been more critical.
And when they don’t show up, business owners are taking to social media to vent their frustrations.
A customer at Low 302 bar in New South Wales, called “Aimee”, suffered the consequences after her table of four no-showed for a booking last week.
The bar lashed out on social media, writing she had “single handedly set the worst of precedence for our entire industry at this most difficult time,” and told her “there’s a special place … to burn in hospo hell.”
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The same fate befell Surry Hills wine bar Poly, which saw no-shows after re-opening under the 10 customers dining limit in New South Wales.
Following a deleted Instagram post, owner Mat Lindsay told Concrete Playground he was “upset for the people that came wanting and excited to be there, but we had to turn them away disappointed only for the seats to go empty”.
‘Firm and friendly approach’ needed
According to former cafe and restaurant owner Ken Burgin, who is now a strategic partner and events manager at SilverChef, no-shows are part of a broader cultural problem as Australians are “not exactly known for being on time and for following the rules”.
He says being 10 minutes late has previously been considered acceptable for some customers but, in this current climate, that needs to change.
“If somebody makes an 8:30pm booking, the party [might] make sure a couple of people arrive at that time, and the rest will come [later]. That might be okay in a restaurant with 50 or 80 seats working at capacity, but when you can only have 10 or 20 people dining in, every person [arriving on time] is precious,” Burgin tells SmartCompany.
Burgin suggests a number of strategies that restaurant and cafe owners can use to avoid no-shows, including using booking apps, followed by the restaurant confirming on the day; spelling out terms and conditions with “a firm and friendly approach”; and the implementation of deposits, no-show fees and minimum spends when appropriate.
“We used to do party rooms and we had this problem [of no-shows]. Finally, I said that you had to pay in advance. After that, I didn’t hear one word of murmur … and those weak excuses disappeared,” Burgin says.
“The rules have been quite tight with functions … but that’s usually for larger, more formal places. Now, that discipline has to come down to your average suburban restaurant, certainly in the short-term. That’s a change that would be good for everyone to be a bit stricter about.”
Burgin adds that there should be clear scripts for staff members to follow when they answer phones and enforce restaurant rules in an explanatory and assertive manner.
“Answering the phones can be [difficult] at times, but now it’s a deadly serious practice. Restaurants need to upgrade their phone systems – no crappy voicemails, but clear answers with firm procedures,” he says.
“When you can only seat 10-20 people after previously seating 60, this becomes serious survival stuff,” he says.
Burgin also says minimum spends can be enforced with a smile and a clear explanation.
“If a café can only seat 10 people, staff can say something like, ‘hey folks, we’d love to have you, but two-thirds of our chairs are packed away. If you want to sit down, there’s a minimum $15 spend. Otherwise, we can organise a takeaway coffee really quickly’,” he says.
“Don’t just verbalise it, have it written on your window and/or your wall, and put it on your website and social media pages. If there’s a minimum spend, keep it realistic and explain the reasons why.
“There’s a lot of good will around at the moment, just a few idiots who make booking mistakes.”
Burgin hopes these dining restrictions will create a long-lasting cultural shift in the relationships between customers and dining establishments and — if a small number of successful businesses lead the way — he says other businesses will follow in their footsteps.
As for social media, Burgin says restaurant owners should be careful with the language they use.
“You’ve got to have thick skins in this business,” he says.
“But I do understand the rage that people have at the moment.”
SmartCompany contacted Low 302 and Poly but did not receive a response prior to publication.