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Struggling with no shows? Make it personal

David Charlton

August 15 2018,
David Charlton

Hospitality businesses need to cultivate the art of personality to counter no-show culture.

no shows

This post first appeared in Propel's Friday Opinion

I was flicking through the morning news round-up when I came across an interesting BBC article entitled “Are online bookings killing restaurants?”. This is an interesting question and one I’m obsessed with in my role as commercial director of marketing technologies.

For me this is the eternal debate of how evolutions in technology can keep pace with human behaviour. At the heart of it is how we make the most of new technology without losing the essence of what a drink or meal out is. It’s an experience that makes us feel good, an emotional experience and an emotional connection with a brand.

That’s why we need to focus on showing the cult of personality and helping operators to make that personal connection with their customers.

No show culture

According to the BBC report, no-shows account for 5% to 20% of total restaurant bookings across the country and can cost venues thousands of pounds a month. The blame was firmly set at the door of third-party online booking sites, which offer lots of deals and let people make multiple reservations at the same time.

No-shows account for 5% to 20% of total restaurant bookings across the country and can cost venues thousands of pounds a month

The article quotes well-known operators that are understandably frustrated by the amount of no-shows and the impact this has on their bottom line. Let’s face it, people not turning up on busy trading periods, especially during the summer holidays, is unforgivable. In real terms, it’s like being invited to a party, not turning up and not even having the good grace to apologise. You wouldn’t do it to your friends, so why would you do it to a restaurant?

The answer is because you don’t feel an emotional connection with the restaurant if you book through a generic website and therefore don’t feel guilty about cancelling at the last minute or not turning up. You don’t think about the implications for the business, staff or other customers who may have enjoyed a night out at your empty table.

[Infographic] The true cost of no-shows for pubs and restaurants >>The BBC article quotes renowned restaurant critic Jay Rayner, who thinks online bookings have de-personalised the relationship between restaurants and their customers. He said: “If you talk to an individual when you book, some form of connection has been made and it’s much harder to screw a restaurant around. If it’s all online, people think less about the consequences, which is reprehensible.”

This is why restaurants need to take a different approach and start to cultivate the art of personality.

An authentic brand experience starts with the booking process

In our experience, online booking systems don’t have to be impersonal – in fact they should be the opposite! Creating a personal and brand-authentic experience is at the heart of what we do at liveRES, giving people the tools to engage with their customers and build a relationship that lasts.

Our online booking solutions can be customised to match your brand personality – from the language you use to the look and feel and the offers you tempt people with. It also seamlessly links with EPOS so you can mine a huge amount of information about your customers and their habits – from their likes and dislikes to how likely they are not to turn up.

On the theme of no shows, there are a lot of tactics restaurants can use to minimise them. Using reminder SMS messaging in your brand voice to remind people of their bookings at set times before they arrive will jog their memory.

There’s also something to be said for making it easier for people to cancel their booking. Let’s face it – it can be daunting to ring a restaurant and cancel so give people an easy-to-use SMS, social or web facility to cancel or reschedule their booking. At least you’ll know they’re not going to turn up and can promote the empty table.

The system could also offer different functionality based on guest history and their loyalty status so in theory you could stop regular offenders from making bookings or flag up you might want to ask them for a deposit before you accept the booking.

Emotional connections, driven by data

Part of that emotional connection is also about building brand loyalty and making your offers authentic -- so, for example, if you know a regular customer always orders a vegetarian meal, don’t send them your steak night offer!

In fact if you use it properly, EPOS can give you so much information about your customers it can be really powerful. It shows how often they visit, when they visit, how much they spend and, more importantly, tells you what they order regularly so when you seat them at their table you can offer them their favourite drink. Imagine how powerful it is when you ask a customer if they would like their usual glass of shiraz when they arrive? How valued does that make them feel? It would certainly make you think twice about not turning up.

It’s about making the intelligence in your EPOS work behind the scenes for you so you engage with customers in your brand language and build an ongoing dialogue.

It’s about making the intelligence in your EPOS work behind the scenes for you so you engage with customers in your brand language and build an ongoing dialogue. Keeping it personal pays, and making an emotional connection with your customers will help to limit no shows. It won’t stop them but it will certainly make people think twice before letting you down.

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