Combating no-shows/ Opentable

What do you think Opentable and restaurants should do about the no-show problem?

Also, a recent opinion on reservations by an SF food writer:

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I’m really torn on this topic. Yes, I think it is bad etiquette to make a reservation and not show but . . . .

How much of this is because of a broken system that doesn’t work for diners and doesn’t work for restaurants. (I’m not saying I have the answer right now). It is a vicious cycle - if you want to go out to eat you have to make reservations, sometimes weeks in advance. But eatings isn’t like going to the theater (as compared in the second article), 2 weeks from now I might not be in the mood for what I reserved - so people make a few reservations because if you don’t, you are either stuck with a menu you’re not in the mood for or SOL for the evening. And I’ve been in the situation where I had to do a work lunch, where it drastically changed what I was in the mood for for dinner.

In these cyclical circumstances my personal feeling is that the onus falls on the business not the customer. And if restaurants don’t take the lead to figure it out, someone will find a way to disrupt the system and they may be in an even worse situations (just ask Uber - Air BnB - etc).

I liked the system (first article) that finally became smart enough to handle a lot of this via texts and chat bots. If someone pushed me a text to confirm a reservation at say 1pm, I’d know by then if I was going to keep the reservation and if I could just respond “Yes” or “No” via text I’d do that for sure. I’d even be comfortable with a day before text to weed out some cancellations and then a day of re-confirmation. I’d even be willing to sign up for a wait list that would push me a text (say at 2pm with a 30 min window to respond - as a starting point for ideation) if a reservation became available on a specific night.

Edit: Why couldn’t Open Table know when I have multiple reservations and help me manage them accordingly. If I have 3 reservations, ask me a day or two in advance if I’m willing to drop one (as an example) and then push more texts closer in to encourage me to narrow down to one . . .

I really can’t see how this is different from tickets to the theatre or a sports game. If you booked for Wicked but you fancy Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night instead do you you not go to Wicked and find the play on Netflix…? If you know you booked a grand Italian for dinner and went out for an unexpected work lunch then just eat lighter food and try not to choose pasta.

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Wouldn’t it be better for it to not let you do it in the first place?

Even if you cancel 48 hours in advance the restaurant now has an open table and not long to fill it. Given the slim profit margin your unfilled table could be their nights profit.


I have no problem with a no-show penalty charged to my credit card. Its getting pretty common for popular restaurants and never caused me a problem (I use Dimmi in Australia). All the ones i used had a reasonable “no penalty” cancellation policy.

I have used the pre-paid ticket system at Alinea and didn’t have a big issue with it especially as they seem to have a resale exchange system. I do wonder if it could attract ticket scalpers though.

I like the black-list concept and think the systems should be intelligent enough to ban persistent no shows, multiple table bookers, and those that book for four people but often show with fewer.

I tend to think of restaurants as a valued local amenity rather than just a convenience. As such I think I tend to respect them and try and act as a responsible customer honouring my commitment to the booking, arriving on time, respecting the staff etc etc. So this probably makes me comfortable with sanctions against those who abuse the reservation system.

I am certain there are others who think of restaurants simply as service for their convenience who would find these restrictions to be a restriction on their freedom of choice…and that’s why we see more no-reservation restaurants as its a way for restauranteurs to rebalance the relationship.

Well they bare no resemblance for me. But let’s say they do to others - I would guess that the theater community wouldn’t recommend modeling their business given the challenges that live theater has …

Probably some restaurants will worry that having any penalty policy will deter some legitimate diners who may be concerned potential late change of plans. Perhaps a voucher system. First strike, charge the no-show in exchange for some dining voucher for use later. Second strike, just penalty.

It wouldn’t be universal. Lots of restaurants do a lot of trade as walk-in’s and have few advance reservations. Bigger restaurants would have the volume to absorb lost revenue from no shows.

But the smaller places, probably doing something special, probably more of a destination or special occasion place probably have the cachet that ensures enough people are OK to do it (I am planning a trip away for a long weekend and found it interesting all the places I was interested in eating in had such a policy).

These maybe 40 cover’s which may turn twice a night. Two four top no shows probably wipes out their profit for that day.

Its a precarious business as it is without the tyranny of no shows.

And what does your doctor or dentist do if you don’t show up for an appointment? Do they charge a no-show fee?

Mine do not.

And again for me not comparable experiences. Not only are those the most aversive experiences for me, they are also something I only do 1-2x/year. I’m guessing restaurants would be happier with a few no shows if it meant people came more frequently than that.

Again, I’m not saying it is okay to no show (honestly I don’t think I’ve ever been a no show for a restaurant in my life - I have been a day of cancalleation, and I have made more than one reservation for a night, when dining with out of town guests, so that I can give them a few options when they arrive, though this is very rare).

I’m saying that if restaurants think they will change their customer’s behavior rather than coming up with a solution on their own (if this is really a problem for their business), they are always going to be upset with the outcome.

No problem with a no-show penalty so long as it’s clear how/when it applies. I know a handful of mainly small, but upscale, places that require credit card details at the time of reservation and apply such a charge.

I look at like this, I make a reservation for any restaurant that accepts them. I am not schlepping halfway round the M60 orbital to somewhere that doesnt take them. When I make a reservation I have every intention of eating dinner there. If circumstances arise that means I need to cancel, tehn I can do that via OpenTable or picking up a phone. As for people who make multiple reservation on spec, flogging is simply too good for them.

By the by, Phil, seeing as you asked - my NHS dentist also says a no show penalty may be charged. No problems there, either.

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I couldn’t agree more. If you can’t decide where to eat until the day of, then forego making reservations altogether and take your chances as a walk-in.


I need more data on this topic. I only have my own personal experiences to go on, and it is too anecdotal.

How big of a problem is this really and for what caliber of restaurant? I ask because, at least here in Boston, if you don’t have a reservation at many places you’re just not getting a table. So for those “nicer” or “trendier” places, if no shows were really a bottom line issue, you think being a walk in would get you a table because they would have several no shows. But that doesn’t happen here

Is this a bigger issue for weekdays or weekends or all days? Sometimes the only reservation I can get planning the week of or week before is for either 5:30 or 9:30. Well on a weekday 5:30 is risky and 9:30 might end up being too late depending on the day (or next day’s schedule). Again I rarely eat out during the week for this reason but I imagine most people would have this situation.

Is this an issue for particular table sizes? If I make a reservation for 2, we are coming unless something major happens. If we have a reservation for 8 (again rare) the chances of an issue of course increase.

Is this a bigger issue for places that take reservations for dates further out? Here is Boston, I tried to get in to a place (for a 2 top) on a Friday or Saturday night, the first opening on OpenTable was 3 months out. I can’t make any guarantee for anyone 3 months out, regardless of industry.

We are currently on a wait list for a small place (about 12 covers) which has recently been awarded a Michelin star. The wait list is for any day in December!

They are, literally, booked solid from now until the end of this year. The problem will come that it’s a 90 minute drive away and we are not prepared to do that, at what I expect will be very short notice of availablity.

A restaurant that is able to enforce a penalty policy and continues to attract trade “in spite of the policy” has made a good business decision, because it is thriving without diners who do not accept the policy. Prospective diners that do not accept the policy and do not book tables are not impairing the restaurant’s success until the policy fails the restaurant’s bottom line; they are simply missing out on a meal whose value to them does not equal the offering price and conditions.

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Here you go - in Australia with about 6% of the population of the USA there were 38,000 people blacklisted due no shows last year based on data from one booking web site, costing the industry an estimated $75million - sorry don’t have US data:

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Interesting - thanks!

I wonder if it is different in the US (slightly) only because we handle restaurants differently here. Restaurants here rely on turning tables over the course of the night, much more so than other countries where there may only be one seating or they plan for only one table turn for the night. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem here, I just wonder about the impact.

I still feel that if technology (OpenTable) has made this worse, then there is a way for technology to make it better . . . . the easiest solution will be to charge the no-show (and we reserve at those places from time to time and i’m not upset about it since I show) but I don’t think it is the best. It is a road that if the industry decides to go down as the only solution will likely bite them in the butt.

When I last made reservations for NYC on Thanksgiving weekend last year, I changed my mind about one dinner, and forgot to cancel the first before booking the second. Open Table wouldn’t let me do that unless I cancelled the one that I booked first. I got a message that I could not have 2 different reservations for the same night for different restaurants. Not sure if that’s just a New York thing, as I generally don’t double book, and haven’t tried to here in Boston.

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I suspect that with the generally fast turnover of tables in America there are more people who may make multiple bookings and become no-shows. I’ve no idea whether that impacts more on the profit margin than a noshow at, say, a British restaurant which doesnt turn its tables in an evening.

I suspect kimfair offers the best OpenTable solution to the problem - simply adapt their system so you cannot double book via it. It won’t eliminate doublebookers - the shits may just pick up the phone several times.

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