It’s only been ten days since restaurants have reopened after shuttering in March, but already they’re undergoing another setback with diners failing to turn up for bookings without cancelling in advance.
Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge criticised ‘selfish’ customers in an incensed Instagram post after 27 people failed to turn up to Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in the Corinthia hotel on Saturday night despite booking tables in advance.
‘This industry, like many others is on the verge of collapse,’ he said. ‘Your behaviour is disgraceful, shortsighted and downright unhelpful. All of you “no shows” in all restaurants up and down the country are adding to the issues already being faced. YOU [sic] are putting people’s jobs more at risk.’
The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit after restaurants were ordered to close their doors on March 20. While lots of spots kept their kitchens going by pivoting to takeaway and delivery, many are still faced with high city-centre rents and reduced footfall and tourism. For many venues, enforcing social distancing is either impossible or not financially viable and, sadly, beloved restaurants like The Ledbury and Sardine have already announced they won’t be reopening.
Kerridge explained how customers not turning up to their bookings without cancelling in advance puts further financial strain on venues: ‘We put staff levels to the number of covers booked and when you fail to turn up, it now costs us, which in turn will force very uncomfortable and hard decisions about staffing levels. You are the worst kind of guest, and that is “selfish”. I hope you have [a] good look at yourselves.’
No-shows have been a problem for the hospitality industry even before the pandemic. However, as restaurants, bars and pubs rely more heavily on booking systems to aid social distancing and help decide when to take staff off furlough, customers honouring their bookings will become more and more important.
Highbury small-plates restaurant Westerns Laundry said it is increasing its ‘no-show’ charge policy from £10 a head to £50 a head to cover the cost of lost revenue. It made the decision after 12 customers failed to show for their bookings on Saturday night, which equated to a quarter of the restaurant’s revenue for the evening.
The restaurant said on Instagram: ‘At a time when our industry is struggling enough, we are also afflicted by a plague of unusually large numbers of “No-Shows”. In normal times that table would be difficult enough to fill at such short notice [...] Under the current conditions, it’s virtually impossible to make up for the loss of revenue.
‘Plans change, we completely get that. But when they do, give your restaurant a call and let them know. It only takes a minute. It’s much appreciated and can be the difference between staying open, save jobs or closing down permanently, and impoverishing lives and neighbourhoods.’
Shoreditch wine bar and restaurant Leroy said it has had to charge for no-shows. ‘Thank you to those of you who came for our first two services back. You inspire us to keep pushing,’ it said on Instagram. ‘The (small number) of you who no-showed were charged £20 per person for not turning up. No showing at any time is a dick move. At this time it is not acceptable. We don’t deserve it. The customers who wanted to come but couldn’t because of you did not deserve it either. Don’t be a dick.’
Some of London’s top chefs and restaurant critics have also weighed in on the issue. Josh Katz who co-owns Berber & Q said: ‘I wish some people understood quite how tough it is, even when there isn’t a global pandemic. If you miss your theatre performance you don’t get your ticket refunded, but with restaurants, which have far fewer seats, it’s a totally different set of expectations.’
Clare Smyth, two Michelin-starred chef and owner of Core by Clare Smyth, said: ‘We need to educate people now more than ever. Our industry needs to come into line with others. Staff don’t work for free because the guests don’t turn up. Ingredients are prepared and wasted. It is incredibly disrespectful.’
Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner told BBC 5 Live: ‘The reality is that restaurants are not money pits. They are very expensive operations to run and they’ve been through the most shocking four or five months. Staffing up for the number of covers is a common thing to do and when you [no show] businesses will suffer and people will lose their jobs.’
So, if you do have a booking at a newly reopened bar or restaurant and you realise you can’t make it, don't be dick – just pick up the phone.