Reservation no-shows are a frustrating experience for any restaurant. On an especially busy night like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day, they can really cost your restaurant some serious money. Not only do you have to depend on walk-in traffic to fill those seats, but there’s a good chance you turned down other customers looking for a reservation leading up to that high-traffic day.
So how do you fight the evil no-show?
Traditionally, restaurants don’t require a reservation confirmation using a credit card, especially for non-holidays. In recent years that’s been changing, with many restaurants requiring a credit card for the big days like New Year’s. Some have even begun holding a credit card for regular weekend nights, especially in locations where foot traffic is very light and the restaurant is heavily dependent upon reservations.
First, the 101 on credit card reservations.
Two schools of thought dominate the discussion over credit card reservations. The first maintains that anything making it harder for your customer to enjoy a meal in your restaurant, like the inconvenience of giving out your credit card and being on the hook for a fee just to make a reservation, is just plain wrong. The second school says that taking a credit card protects you from losing business, especially on busy nights, and that many other types of businesses like airlines and hotels require a credit card to secure a reservation, so why not restaurants?
Both approaches have a point. Most restaurants probably shouldn’t sweat a cancellation on a weeknight, and therefore there’s no need to make your customer go through the hoopla of putting a credit card down. Weekends are (hopefully!) a different story, but for most restaurants higher walk-in rates offsets cancellations, so unless you have the uncommon good fortune of owning a place that is always packed to the gills with reservations every weekend, taking a credit card probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The big dining days should be a different story altogether. If you’re turning down reservations for New Year’s or Valentine’s, then you should be securing the reservations you do have, because people usually don’t walk in on those days, they get a reservation first.
OK, 101 – Check. What if there’s a better way than taking a credit card?
Ah ha – now we’re talking. I don’t know about you, but anytime I have to pull out my credit card I have to pause and think about it. There’s something mildly unpleasant about giving your credit card number to someone else, especially if all you want to do is take your wife out to dinner. There’s got to be a better way to maximize the number of people who make a reservation versus those that actually show up.
Really, your reservation crowd is a great one to get to know. That’s because these are people who are already sold on how great your restaurant is. They want to eat in your establishment and they’ve made an appointment to do so.
So why not follow up with them?
Collect an email address and/or a telephone number and call them and/or email them 24 hours before their reservation to confirm. The vast majority of no-shows simply had their plans change or decided to eat somewhere else and never let you know. Taking the time to engage this customer not only shows how interested you are in their business, it allows you to make your reservation process more efficient and leaves fewer holes due to no-shows.
Naturally, some days, like New Year’s, are always going to be credit card days. You just absolutely have to know who’s doing what on those days. But for the rest of the year, requiring a credit card seems like too much, and relying on your customer 100% of the time seems like too little. Engaging your customer, especially since they’ve already indicated they’re interested by calling for a reservation, is a great way to bridge that gap.