Independent restaurants across the UK have said no-shows are "crippling" their businesses as they reported that many tables were left empty on Valentine's Day.
Damian Wawrzyniak, owner of House of Feasts, Peterborough, has launched a campaign to combat no-shows after revealing they cost his business about £3,000 in just one weekend.
His #StopNoShow campaign has received the support of hundreds of peers including award winning American restaurateur Grant Achatz of Alinea, Chicago.
At Menu Gordon Jones in Bath, a table of four failed to turn up on Valentine's Day, despite being contacted multiple times, meaning it lost out on at least £400.
Jones, who had 47 people on a waiting list, said: "It's not necessarily about the money for me, it's more for me the embarrassment, because people come and see an empty table after booking six months in advance."
Matthew Brend, director of Brend hotels which operates 11 venues in Devon and Cornwall, said his company started taking deposits for every booking following a disappointing New Year's Eve to combat no-shows. He found that less bookings were taken for Valentine's Day, but all those who had reserved a table arrived.
"I'd encourage people to take deposits wherever they can, especially at special occasions such as Valentines Day." He said. "But I can sympathise with businesses that don't because diners are reluctant to hand over money when it's not a special occasion. Awareness needs to be raised somehow to show it is a very serious issue and people need to be more mindful when making these bookings."
Bar 44, a tapas bar in Cardiff, had 16 no-show tables on Valentine's Day, estimated to have cost the business £1,300. At its more formal sister site a new booking system, which requires diners to enter their debit card details, has combated the problem and director and co-founder Tom Morgan is now considering rolling this out at Bar 44.
Joe Buckley, owner of the Perfect Country Pub Company, explained the difficulties of introducing such a system. He said: "At a Michelin starred restaurant you'd expect to pay a deposit, but we aren't in that position as a pub. Fortunately, we are in a lucky position where we can sell tables if people let us know in advance. We will generally call round and confirm bookings, but if you can't get hold of them then what do you do? Do you cancel and resell the table and risk them turning up?"
His three pubs in Northamptonshire lost 52 covers across three pubs on Valentine's Day due to no-shows.
"It's not the kind of night where you expect to pick up walk-ins as people generally make plans for Valentine's Day." Owen Farr, general manager of the Modern Pantry Clerkenwell, London said. "We started with 100 booked and ended up just doing 90 covers - 10% less - which is quite a lot to lose in one night. Per head we lost around £30, which can really make or break your day. If it happened on a regular basis then no business would be able to sustain that."
Steps are being made to prevent customers from continuing this behaviour. Reservation system OpenTable's policy is, if a diner doesn't show up for a reservation four times in 12 months, they will be prohibited from making future reservations.
Henry Eldon, owner of the Cauldron in Bristol, took a less orthodox approach by naming and shaming the people who did not show up for their bookings on Twitter telling them to "sort their shit out."
Si Toft of the Dining Room in Abersoch, Pen LlÅ·n, said for him no-shows are a problem every night: "I've always put it down to people booking tables before they've finalised their plans, essentially securing options so they can decide nearer the time. Every time I tweet about it I get told I need to do deposits and name and shame. I hate deposits, it creates issues such as tables turning up short but expecting the full 'per person' deposit to be taken off the bill, while naming and shaming wouldn't be beneficial for us, a restaurant which relies on word of mouth.
Toft added: "For me, the problem is people's lack of understanding of the industry. We prep and staff according to numbers, our stock has a very short shelf life and margins are already stretched to the limits, all while restaurant prices are criticised by consumers at every opportunity."
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