Boiling Point... with chef Oliver Dunne
Michelin-award winning chef Oliver Dunne on Why restaurant no-shows try his patience.
About eight years ago in Bon Appetit [his restaurant in Malahide] I decided to ask diners for credit card details when booking, but it proved such a nightmare that I stopped. Diners seemed suspicious, like something was wrong. One side of me was thinking they were being unreasonable, but in Ireland it's alien for people to have a credit card handy for a restaurant booking.
The number of no-shows in a restaurant is phenomenal. It can easily be 10pc. On Tuesday night if a table of two doesn't show up I don't really care. It doesn't cost me anything; I haven't brought any extra staff in and there wasn't a queue for that seat. It bothers me on a Saturday night though.
So what do you do? Hotels overbook - they have 50 bedrooms so they book out 52. Restaurateurs can do that, but for what time? I only have 50 seats, for example, in the downstairs restaurant (in Malahide). Maybe my 7pm doesn't show up; maybe my 9pm. So which do I overbook?
Three years ago I decided to do something for Christmas. When customers rang, my staff were trained to read them a full paragraph: "For the month of December, due to the number of no-shows, we are currently asking customers to leave a credit card booking as a holding deposit." By explaining our reasons up front people were very sympathetic and happy to oblige.
In London, if you don't show up you will be charged full price. Here we were requesting a small holding fee per person and it worked out great. It seemed to make people conscious that they've booked and made a commitment. The amount of cancellations I got was huge but the amount of no-shows was much smaller than any other month.
People don't realise the implications of not showing up. Perhaps additional staff costs, wasted food and turned-away business. It makes a massive difference to cancel or even ring ahead to say your group has changed size.
I think the Restaurant Association of Ireland should put out an email asking members to commit to requesting a small booking deposit, say €10 a head, for December. If members explain that it's to counter the high volume of no-shows then customers shouldn't mind. Once the wording is right, our experience shows a positive reaction from diners.
An official worded paragraph could be supplied for reservations staff to read out. I'd be very happy to email all the members myself if I had the RAI's permission!
Even if they only got 500 members on board it's a start. Then they can analyse the numbers afterwards. If everyone saw reduced no-shows then why not decide to keep going with it? And then it becomes normal. If I were booking a restaurant in London tomorrow I'd have my credit card ready on the phone.
If you're a lone soldier people will start asking why you're being the difficult one. We need a lot of restaurants doing this at the same time to change the mind-set. I'd love to even see the top 20 Dublin restaurants undertaking it. Then people would simply get used to it.
Oliver Dunne is chef-proprietor of Bon Appetit, Malahide and Cleaver East Restaurant, Temple Barh