I’m hearing more and more about restaurants asking for credit card details when patrons book a table, with the implication that they will be charged a fee per head if they don’t show up.
Most people, including myself, are quite averse to this practice. But it is totally understandable, considering the number of people who seem quite happy to book at restaurants and not pitch. It’s not only inconsiderate, it’s disastrous for the restaurant financially. I’ve had many chats with restaurateurs and no-shows is a major problem for them. People often book at several restaurants for an evening, deciding at the last minute which one to eat at. They may or may not cancel the other tables, but by that stage it’s too late anyway.
There are methods that some restaurants employ to try and reduce the number of no-shows. Calling the patron on the morning of the booking to confirm they are still coming is one such method, and from what I hear it does reduce the number of no-shows, but mainly because at that time they admit they will not be coming. Another method is to not take bookings at all. This is how Chef’s Warehouse works. I’m not a big fan of restaurants not taking bookings because I like to know if I want to go, that I will have a table. I don’t want to take the risk that there are no tables and then I have to wander around trying to find an alternative restaurant at the last minute. I believe that keeping a percentage of the seating for walk-ins is a good compromise.
Some restaurants will only take credit card details if it’s a booking for a large number of people, perhaps 6 or more.
Those restaurants that are always full can afford to make people provide credit card details when booking. For less popular restaurants, the added friction will cause patrons to rather go elsewhere, which they cannot afford either. The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francaise will only be taking online bookings from October. Credit card details will be required and any no-shows (even reduced table sizes) will be charged the set menu price.
There are a number of issues I have with the practice of asking for credit card details. The primary one is that I am never going to give my credit card details to some random person over the phone. They could use those details to clone my card or even just start shopping online. And what happens to my details later on, are they deleted after I eat there? The restaurant would have to have a) some very strict policies around data protection and retention and b) employee screening, and I’m confident none have those in place.
Tasting Room gets around that problem by making you book online so the credit card details are not handled by a person but rather stored somewhere. But where? Is that data accessible to people at the restaurant or even in the IT support team? Or are they encrypted? I have no idea, and if I wanted to steal credit card details, that would be the first place I would hack.
The other problem I have is that people are notoriously unreliable, especially in Cape Town. So if I make the booking for a table of 6 using my credit card details and two people don’t arrive, I will be charged for them. Then I have to get the money from them, which may or may not be easy. I just don’t want to take on that responsibility. How much does the restaurant charge for no-shows? The average price of a main meal? I imagine it varies from place to place.
And how far in advance must I cancel before I am liable for a payment? And what if you charge me plus you fill the table with a walk-in, will you refund me? How would I know if the table was filled?
Unless all restaurants implement the same policy, people will just prefer to go to the ones where they don’t have to give their credit card details. So it will be very difficult for this to be implemented by restaurants that are not top tier.
I think there are other things that can be done. The first is, only punish the guilty. In other words, if I make a booking and don’t pitch then next time I try make a booking you can ask for my credit card details because I have demonstrated that I am unreliable. But why punish all those good patrons who would never book and not arrive? It’s not that much admin to enter the details of no shows into a spreadsheet for future reference. In fact, restaurants not using some sort of online booking and information system will find themselves struggling to compete in the future.
Also, why not share info between restaurants? Imagine if we could have a central list where all restaurants upload names and telephone numbers from bookings that don’t pitch. Then if someone is on that list, it doesn’t matter where they try and book they will be asked for credit card details because all restaurants will have access to the list. This will get rid of the problem very quickly, but it will need solidarity amongst restaurants. In fact I think this is a brilliant idea, anybody want to work on it with me?
And finally, what if I have a legitimate reason for not pitching? I fall ill, or I have a car accident en route. Will I then have to send a doctor’s note to get a refund? This would make eating at a restaurant more effort than it’s worth.
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