How to reduce no-shows at your restaurant

Trying not to take a restaurant no-show personally is easier said than done, especially when it impacts your revenue. So far, no one has come up with the perfect solution to eliminate no-shows once and for good, but a solid toolbox of effective strategies can help reduce them. Here, we’ve put together a list of tips for minimising no-shows. Not every strategy will suit all restaurants, but one or more will likely be a good fit for your spot. 

Request a deposit

Requiring guests to put down a deposit will probably make them think twice before no-showing. Paying a small payment upfront encourages people to commit to the date and time they’ve chosen and honour their reservation.

Deposits work best when used strategically. They can be especially helpful for large parties and high-demand times, like celebrations. 

Think through your deposit policy before you start requesting them. Keep in mind people are more comfortable with smaller amounts in the £5 to £20 range. And decide what kind of cancellation policy works best for you. A full refund on reservations cancelled more than 24 to 48 hours in advance can work for restaurants and guests alike.

Confirm reservations with text and email

When you remind people about their reservations, it can make a difference. You can call them, text them and email them to offer a nudge. Giving guests the option to cancel at this time can help minimise no-shows (this doesn’t need to be on your to-do list; OpenTable automatically sends reminder texts and emails).

These reminders provide an opportunity to refresh guests’ memories about your booking policy, including how far in advance a reservation needs cancelling. Remind them how long you’ll hold their table so there’ll be no surprises if they show up half an hour late and ‘their’ table is no longer available.

You can also stay in touch directly with on-the-go diners using Direct Messaging to individually confirm reservation details ahead of time. That way, guests are reminded of their upcoming reservation and can let you know if their plans have changed. This gives you the chance to better prepare for service.

Try prepaid experiences

When you create a special event for your guests, it makes sense to charge them upfront. It’s not much different from a concert or performance, after all. Use Experiences to design a fancy tasting menu for special occasions or specific nights and essentially sell tickets for your tables. When diners opt-in to a prepaid experience, the likelihood of them attending increases.

Even if they no-show, it protects you, and you don’t lose money. Adding one or more Experiences to your offering can help ensure cash flow and dramatically cut down on those no-shows while giving guests a unique meal at your spot.

Plan for the worst

It’s good business to plan what you’ll do when people don’t show up or cancel at the last minute. Maintaining a waitlist is a smart way to handle the inevitable no-shows. You can fill those open tables fast when you’ve got a running list of people who want to dine with you now.

Taking that waitlist online makes this strategy even more effective. There might be many more people looking for dinner browsing OpenTable than hungry neighbours walking down around your neighbourhood at any given time. When your waitlist is online, they’ll see you, and they can get on the list with a tap. You can amplify this benefit by highlighting last-minute tables on Twitter.

Joining waitlists appeals to guests because it gives them the flexibility to wait where they want. They can grab a drink or take a walk, knowing you’ll ping them when their table’s ready.

It’s also a good idea to use your Boost Campaigns and tackle this pain point, targeting diners who specifically book last minute to help fill last-minute cancellations or availability. Keep on running those marketing campaigns that target people with a track record of booking last-minute.

Use a reservation management tool

Managing your books can be tricky and time-consuming. A reservation management tool removes plenty of the hassle so you can focus on running the restaurant. Attracting the kind of diners who are less likely to no-show is a huge perk of using a reservation management tool. If you use OpenTable, update the status of cancellations and no-shows. You won’t be charged for them. If diners cancel, they’ll receive an email prompting them to reschedule their reservation. And if they no-showed, they’ll be kindly reminded to please officially cancel their reservation next time.

Another benefit of using an online management tool is that diners visit the platform when they’re trying to figure out where to go. Especially for a new restaurant, showing up at peak times in these searches increases the likelihood of people finding you. Many of these platforms, including OpenTable, let diners sign up for “availability alert” messages, so they know when a table opens up at the last minute at a restaurant where they want to dine. It’s a great way to replace those last-minute cancellations.

Keep track of repeat offenders

When it comes to no-shows, guest stats are the next best thing to seeing the future. This data tells you which guests are more likely to bail based on how many times they’ve done it in the past. You’re probably not going to want to ban these guests, but being able to anticipate their bad behaviour can be helpful. For instance, you’ll be less wary about squeezing in an extra two-top when you know there’s a strong chance a particular reservation isn’t coming.

OpenTable keeps track of these guests, and there are consequences for repeated no-shows. If a diner no-shows four times during a rolling 12-month period, their account will be deactivated.

Consider overbooking

This strategy is a little like fighting fire with fire, and it’s certainly the riskiest. But at the end of the day, having a few too many diners is usually a better problem than having too few. Proceed with caution as it’s a delicate balance. 

Look at the numbers to spot no-shows trends, identify the party sizes and times when they’re most likely to happen, and allow a small number of extra reservations in those spaces. And definitely have a plan B, as guests made to wait for tables they’ve reserved can become irritated. But in those situations, a sincere apology and a complimentary snack can soothe the aggravation.

Educate diners on the impact of no-shows on your business

People who don’t turn up to their reservations can feel like faceless adversaries. In reality, they’re more likely to be well-meaning but clueless people who don’t understand how their behaviour affects the bottom line of the restaurant they love.

Awareness of this issue can go a long way. If you have a blog on your website or a newsletter, consider writing a short message about how no-shows impact the restaurant. Social media posts can do the trick if you don’t have a blog or newsletter. Plus, you can always email the no-show diners personally to remind them that their actions have consequences for a real human and a local small business.

No-show no more

These strategies have worked for others and hopefully can provide you with some inspiration to deal with one of the most pressing problems in the business. While there’s no cure for no-shows, taking some of these steps can help keep them in check.

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