CUSTOMERS who don't turn up to restaurant bookings face being hit with a €10 cancellation fee as the hospitality industry gets tough with no-shows.
Many restaurants have been charging deposits on group bookings over the Christmas period, to discourage people from last-minute cancellations or failing to show up.
Now the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) is recommending that all its members follow suit, in a push towards making the cancellation charge an industry standard.
Adrian Cummins, CEO of the RAI, said charging a cancellation fee was widely accepted in the UK and in other trades, such as the hotel and airline industries.
He estimates that no-shows are costing the industry hundreds of thousands of euro a year in wasted food and staff costs, as well as the loss of potential earnings. "Consumers may think that restaurants will be able to fill the table but it's not as easy as people think," he said.
"It's very hard to refill -- especially for restaurants outside of Dublin or in rural areas."
The worst offenders tended to be individuals who booked on behalf of their work colleagues for a night out up to six weeks in advance and then didn't follow through, he said.
But if a small deposit fee of about €10 per person was charged at the time of booking, people may think twice about failing to show or at least cancel their reservation within a reasonable amount of time. The deposit would then be deducted from the bill, he said.
Michelin-starred chef Oliver Dunne said he fully supported the plan and hoped more restaurants here would follow suit.
The chef and owner of Bon Appetit restaurant in Malahide, Dublin, said he and other leading restaurateurs were fed up with the number of people who booked large tables for Christmas parties and other events and then failed to show up or cancelled their reservations at the last minute.
"This is really common but it's so infuriating," he told the Irish Independent last night.
The problem of no-shows is a year-round issue for restaurant owners, who find about 10pc of their group bookings routinely fail to show up or cancel their reservations.
But it is particularly bad at peak times like over the Christmas party season when most restaurants are booked out weeks in advance.
Mr Dunne estimated he and his staff lost between €2,000-€3,000 when a large table failed to show up one night last week.
"I had all the food prepped and extra staff on who had to be sent home early," he said.
"It's affecting the livelihoods of everyone," he said. "Sometimes we call to confirm that day and people will say 'absolutely' and then they still don't show up."
Mr Cummins said even though there was more footfall in restaurants this Christmas, likely due to the favourable weather conditions compared with last year, the overall spend was down and restaurants were still struggling to keep afloat.