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David Charlton

October 14 2019,
David Charlton

Dreaded no-shows aren’t just inconvenient. They can be fatal, leaving British restaurants and pubs severely out of pocket. These figures show how serious the issue is, and what steps the industry is now taking to tackle it.


Restaurant no-shows are a MASSIVE problem for pubs and restaurants. In an industry where profit margins can sometimes be quite low, once a few bookings fail to materialise, you are probably looking at a loss for the evening.

One restaurateur explains how no-shows can decimate the bottom line:

...we don't make any profit for the night. We only have 60-65 seats, so if 10-12 people don't show up, the profit gets thrown out the window"

Joel Best, Sydney Morning Herald

These figures show just how big the issue is, and how some restaurants and pubs are beginning to fight back.

1 in 5

The average no-show rate in big cities

On average, 20% of diners fail to turn up for their reservations in big cities, according to an in-depth study on restaurant no-shows.

This may be down to many factors, including the high level of competition and consumer choice, and a casual attitude towards booking commitments.

Most shocking of all are anecdotal reports of people routinely booking multiple venues in advance to avoid disappointment, before making a last-minute decision on the night.

£16 billion

What no-shows are costing the UK restaurant industry

A 2015 survey by a restaurant booking system put at £16bn the amount British restaurants are losing out on annually due to no-shows.

As every manager knows, the pub or restaurant incurs costs whether the customer shows up or not, with staffing and overheads biting into the bottom line.

15 minutes

Time to wait before declaring a no-show

So says the National Restaurant Association of America, which has published a brief guide to combatting no-shows.

The organisation (sorry, organization) advises clear communication of your reservations policy, as well as dropping a courtesy call reminder to the customer the day before.

They also recommend email confirmations, as a written reminder. These should be sent automatically to the customer as part of any online or tech-based restaurant booking system.


Restaurants taking pre-paid deposits

In a recent poll of UK restaurants it was found that 42% were already taking and holding pre-paid deposits, to help insulate them against the cost of no-shows. Christmas Day and Mother’s Day are prime examples, but the operational challenges this tactic presents can’t be ignored.

Even so, restaurants requiring credit card details for reservations has become relatively widespread at the higher end of the market, and casual dining restaurants and pubs are starting to consider the idea.

1 in 3

Venues feel guests are open to late cancellation charge

The same survey asked pub and restaurant managers about late cancellation, less of a bugbear than no-shows but still a significant cause of loss. Allowing customers to have the flexibility to cancel their booking via SMS gives you the opportunity to resell the table to another customer. Table management systems such as liveRES facilitate this service from as little as 4p per text.

32% of the business representatives agreed that ‘most guests would understand the need to hold a deposit or credit card details,’ to compensate the venue against late cancellation.


Cancellation fee at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Cancelling on Gordon Ramsay might leave you spluttering The F-word. Unless diners give a full 48 hours notice they lose £100 when cancelling lunch, and a whopping £150 on dinner bookings.

Another extreme example is the trend of naming, shaming and even banning customers who fail to turn up for bookings. Restaurants around the world, from Australia to America, have been known to resort to this tactic.

While probably cathartic, this approach has the obvious effect of undermining customer goodwill. Instead, taking credit card details and implementing a reasonable late cancellation fee may be a better way to go.

With liveRES, PCI compliant pre-payments can be taken during the book stage, whether it is £10 per head or a fixed amount if they do not cancel 24 hour ahead of the amount taken per booking is your choice.  

£13.7 million

Value of prepaid tickets sold by pioneering restaurants

A revolutionary solution to the restaurant no-show problem has been slowly making its way to the UK from across the pond - taking payment up-front. A number of restaurants in the USA and UK have started to redefine the dining out experience as a ticketed event - like a trip to the theatre or a sporting fixture. This means the customer loses their fee if they cancel, but the venue isn’t left out of pocket.

The future?

It’s yet to be seen whether similar no-show “fines” will catch on over here (our hunch is the UK dining public won’t have the stomach for such measures in the long run).

But what is clear is that pubs and restaurants do need all the ideas and tools they can get to protect their investment in each service.

Key points to remember

  • If up to 1 in 5 diners fail to honour reservations, overbooking tables on key trading days may not be such a radical idea after all
  • The total cost of no-shows to UK pubs and restaurants is estimated at £16 billion
  • Communication can help to reduce no-shows: With liveRES restaurant booking system you could send automatic email confirmation and SMS
  • 42% of restaurants are taking pre-paid deposits, while late cancellation fees are another way to recoup the costs. liveRES allows you to take deposits helping you reduce the number of no-shows
  • Restaurant ticketing is a more proactive trend, putting the onus on customers to book and prepay for their dining experience.
  • Cancellations are not refunded, insulating the venue against loss.

Discover more about how table booking technology can boost your profits and improve your operations in our free eGuide. Download now


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