Restaurant owner warns of 'heartbreaking' impact of rising no-shows

13 July 2022 by
Restaurant owner warns of 'heartbreaking' impact of rising no-shows

A restaurant owner struggling with a rise in no-shows has warned of its impact on small businesses.

Helen Leonard, who has run Cookfella's in Guisborough, North Yorkshire, with her husband Wayne for 10 years, has spoken out after 20 guests failed to turn up for their bookings on Saturday night (9 July).

She said the empty tables of six and 14 had cost the 65-cover restaurant hundreds of pounds worth of sales each and the late notice meant they could not offer them to customers on a waiting list.

Helen told The Caterer: "We've got a new booking system which is wonderful and people get an email or text the day before they arrive…all the way through the booking process it's easy to cancel.

"It's very frustrating because obviously you've got staff and food in and it's just heartbreaking that people are saying ‘we can't get in [to the restaurant] as you're always full' and you're standing in the restaurant and you aren't."

Customers booking tables and then not turning up costs the hospitality industry an estimated £17.6b a year, according to research from Zonal and CGA.

Helen said the problem of no-shows had got worse since the start of the pandemic, adding: "Before Covid we got a few no-shows but not a lot. When we were being opened and shut down [in lockdowns] there were a lot of no shows and cancellations due to Covid.

"The world seems to have changed a bit and people seem to just not have as much regard.

"I would definitely say it's getting worse. I've been in catering 30 years and although a lot of that time was spent in hotels in restaurants, no-shows never seemed to be such an issue [as it is now]."

A post about the no-shows made by Helen and Wayne on Cookfella's Facebook page received over 70 comments, with many encouraging the couple to start charging deposits.

But Helen said the team needed to focus on offering "great food and service" rather than becoming "wrapped up in admin".

She said: "A lot of people said ‘take £20 a head' but if you're so wrapped up in taking deposits and giving them back it would get crazy.

"The other suggestion people made is ‘don't take bookings' and make people queue up, but I'd never go down that route."

The booking system allows the restaurant to raise a note next to a person's name if they have a history of not turning up, but Helen said she did not want to block anyone from coming to the restaurant.

"It's hard because when you're dealing with the public you want to be as easy and accessible as possible and putting up barriers and banning people leaves a bad taste in the mouth," she said.

Around 50% of Cookfella's guests are regulars and Helen said the response to the Facebook post had been "phenomenal". The team are keen to raise awareness of the impact no-shows can have on small businesses.

She said: "We want to keep being able to [trade] into the future but week after week a half-full restaurant is not going to be able sustain itself.

"People don't realise the impact [of no-shows]. They think it's nothing. But when it is a continued thing and larger tables changing their minds it does impact you."

Image: @cookfellas/Facebook

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