Putting an end to no shows

no-shows

It’s the number one gripe of Australian restaurateurs. Now new technologies are helping put an end to it, writes Tracey Hordern

No-shows can be costly and annoying, so how do you deal with this issue without putting off potential diners? And what are the best systems now available when it comes to managing your bookings and minimising no-shows?

If you think about it, when you book a ticket to see a show, concert or sporting event, you expect to pay up front. And if you don’t show up, it’s not going to impact the bottom line of the producers; in fact, they may even re-sell your seat.

Yet, just like any show, for a fine-dining restaurant the costs start adding up long before the diner is seated at the table. Add to that ever-tightening margins, and no-shows can have a dramatic impact on your profits.

It’s little wonder, then, that research from Ipsos, a popular point-of-sale solution for the hospitality industry, revealed that 33 per cent of respondents said their number one beef was no-shows and diners showing up excessively late for bookings, hurting both the restaurateurs’ sensibilities and bottom lines.

But, as they say, there’s now an app (or 10!) for that. There are now myriad in-house and online systems that will allow restaurateurs to implement the best policy for a particular venue. Restaurateurs are increasingly setting bespoke no-show policies and working with online booking agencies and implementing in-house solutions.

Acquired by Tripadvisor in 2015, Dimmi is Australia’s largest online booking service. It was acquired by Tripadvisor in 2015 and now manages more than one million Australian restaurant bookings a year. Research conducted by Dimmi last year revealed no-shows are hovering around four per cent Australia-wide.

According to Dimmi’s research, the culinary culprits are unsurprisingly most likely to occur in restaurants in the inner-city postcodes of Sydney and Melbourne where competition is fiercest. These postcodes were followed by another densely populated region, Queensland’s Gold Coast. Interestingly, the gender split of no-shows is 54 per cent female and 46 per cent male.

The Office of Fair Trading states an Australian business is within its rights to charge a cancellation or no-show fee for appointments—so long as this policy has been communicated to the customer before making the booking.

There are now a variety of broad policies that restaurateurs could put in place to minimise no-shows, including foregoing bookings entirely. However, this policy would most likely only be a viable solution for those restaurants that are located in highly populated areas that provide ample walk-in patrons.

Another alternative is to ask patrons for payment upfront. However, this option only applies to restaurants that offer set-price menus, although it could work for the many restaurants that now offer set menus for special occasions such as Valentines Day or Mothers Day.

Another option is to ask for a deposit upfront, like most of the hotel industry now does.

Finally, restaurateurs could communicate and confirm bookings with diners in an “old-school” style, with an in-house system of personal phone calls. However, it is now increasingly popular and far easier to streamline your bookings with online systems, such as Dimmi and OpenTable.

A recent development made by online booking systems such as Dimmi and OpenTable is to offer restaurateurs more power by launching the added benefit of securing credit card numbers with the booking. This recently added service means businesses can now take credit card details from patrons as they make the booking online.

The bonus with obtaining credit-card numbers is diners can now be charged a fee if they cancel with little notice or don’t show up. And for some restaurants that deem it necessary, they can take a deposit upfront before the diners even sit down to their meal.

The Office of Fair Trading states an Australian business is within its rights to charge a cancellation or no-show fee for appointments—so long as this policy has been communicated to the customer before making the booking. But remember, the onus is on the restaurant or booking service to ensure the policy information is made available at the time of taking the credit-card number.

“We take the patron’s credit card details and there are lots of follow-ups with them. The key is communicating; we have confirmation emails and also text messages sent through the system.”Elizabeth Hewson, Fink Group

Ultimately, how you design your no-show policy is up to you—and is presumably based on how you choose to operate your business.

One thing perhaps worth noting: Dimmi claims that their recently developed Dimmi Payments system has substantially reduced the number of cancellations for many restaurateurs.

With online booking systems, such as those offered by Dimmi or Open Table, by requiring a credit card, the diner at the very least feels he or she has essentially invested in the experience of dining at a chosen venue and is more likely to be motivated to show up or cancel the booking with due notice.

According to, Karni Shai, owner of the O-Sushi group in NSW and QLD and recipient of the Restaurant & Catering 2016 award for Best Japanese Restaurant for regional NSW, “For bookings we now mostly use Dimmi, though we still take phone bookings and we also get a few bookings through our own website.

“Most customers are terrific and they manage their bookings really well,” says Shai. “I would say 99 per cent of our customers are now letting us know well in advance if they have to cancel, so it’s easier with this technology. We always take notes of any Dimmi cancellations and update them online. We find the new system works really well for us.”

Dimmi’s competitor, OpenTable, offers a similar online booking system, whereby bookings also require a credit-card number. The OpenTable online booking system is currently used by many of Australia’s best restaurants, including The Fink Group (Quay, Otto’s in Sydney and Brisbane, Bennelong, The Bridge Room, Firedoor and Beach Byron Bay).

According to Elizabeth Hewson from the Fink Group, each restaurant has its own no-show policy, with the restaurants varying in how that policy is implemented. “With Quay, for instance, patrons can wait up to six months for a table, so a no-show would be quite a loss, hence we require a minimum of 24 hours notice to cancel,” explains Hewson.

“However, at Otto’s, there are always lots of walk-ins so we can resell a table quite easily, but we still implement a no-show policy. We take the patron’s credit card details and there are lots of follow-ups with them. The key is communicating; we have confirmation emails and also text messages sent through the system. But if the diner simply doesn’t show up, well, it comes down to rudeness, considering we have kept our end of the bargain.”

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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