Restaurant’s Reservation Dilemmas

Every year it’s the same for some restaurants. People book tables at multiple places for holidays such as New Years, Valentine’s Day, or Thanksgiving not knowing until the last minute which place they’ll actually dine at. While this may be useful for the guests, the restaurants that hold reservations that people never show up to are struggling to find the balance between reservations and walk-ins that get turned away because all the tables, which may not get filled, are already booked.

Chef and owner of restaurant Palio d’Asti, Daniel Scherotter, wrote an email to one website saying the following about the situation.

Our New Year’s eve dinner was quite successful – we did 250. The problem was the 40 no-shows. We don’t take credit card numbers because we don’t want to offend or scare anyone away – I guess I still believe that a reservation is an oral contract. We open up all slots on OpenTable, which is how most reservations come in these days. We call a day or two ahead to confirm and frequently get the, “now which restaurant is this” from people who made multiple bookings so they could decide at the last minute where to go. The problem is that people who want to come can’t get a spot.

Our only solutions to this behavior are to take credit cards or overbook by 10-20% assuming people will no-show, come late, or change party size. We could have a waiting list, but most people want to get a sure thing for a busy night like Thanksgiving, New Year’s or Valentine’s Day.

We’re a big house, so we can be (and are) more flexible, but I can’t imagine the 40 seat dining room that winds up with an empty 6 top because of a no-call/no show or last minute cancellation and has no way to fill the seats.

The question remains, what should restaurants do to avoid having reservations that people don’t keep and subsequently lead to empty tables on busy nights? One suggestion is that restaurants just refuse reservations all together. Another choice is to follow the lead of restaurants such as Flour + Water, Nopa, and SPQR who reserve limited tables and leave the rest for walk-ins, ensuring they are covered even if there’s a no-show on a reservation.

Some restaurants also are trying the method of taking a credit card to guarantee reservations, particularly on occasions where demand for a table is high such as holidays in small restaurants like Coi where “with only 32 seats, Coi requires a $100 deposit to reserve a table.”

What do you think is the best way to ensure reservations are kept? Do you think there even should be a charge or deposit for reservations? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.