Talking Point: Fiona Beckett: June 2021

Restaurant reservations

You’d think after months of being shuttered the last thing that restaurants would face are no shows. But it still seems that people either can’t be bothered to let them know or simply don’t think. Or, worse still, like to keep their options open until the last moment – a way they’d never think of behaving to their friends.

What can we do to help hard pressed restaurateurs (of whom, you may be aware, my son Will, is one)? He, by the way, takes the view you can’t penalise customers and that restaurants have to swallow the cost but his Hawksmoor restaurants are huge so it doesn’t have quite the same impact.

Others like Peter Sanchez of Casamia and Josh Eggleton have gone down the route of charging upfront. At Josh’s new Bristol restaurant, The Pony Bistro in North Street you pay £47.50 when you book. Don’t show up? No refund just as it would be if you missed a match or a concert.

It’s a parallel that is frequently drawn but it’s not quite the same. Typically live events are one-offs, your only chance to see your team or that performer. A restaurant is open night after night, serving the local community. I understand chefs’ frustration but for me it goes against the spirit of hospitality to charge upfront.

Taking credit card details and a non-refundable deposit (with a sympathetic ear to cases of real hardship like rushing a sick child to hospital) seem fairer but don’t typically cover overheads let alone make a profit. So I think it’s a question of trying to make the public more aware and that involves the majority of restaurants in an area publicising the impact on their business of no shows. Which is where we, as communicators, come in.

I’d love to know if you can think of other solutions or else we may lose the restaurants we love.