How to Deal with No-Shows at Your Business

Customers 10 minute read 11th February 2021

It’s thought that no-shows cost the UK restaurant industry £16 million every year.

Those choosing not to turn up often don’t realise they are causing huge issues for restaurants, from lost revenue to reduced ambiance and needless stress on behalf of the staff.

If you’re opening your first restaurant or have an established business and you’re seeing the impact of no-shows on your ability to grow and maintain a healthy line of profit, there are measures you can take without introducing harsh measures such as deposits that may put off casual diners.

Defining a no-show (not using rude words)


Before we look at how you can drastically reduce the chances of no-shows, we should quickly define what a ‘no-show’ is.

A no-show is when a customer books a table, room or appointment but fails to turn up when the time arrives. They don’t notify you, and there’s rarely an excuse or legitimate reason offered thereafter.

There are two types of no-shows to consider:

Top-of-funnel no-shows: these are customers you’ve only recently met or interacted with. They’re the most likely no-shows. Expect around 20%.

Bottom-of-funnel no shows: these are the customers in whom you’ve invested a significant amount of time and energy. Their no-shows always come as a surprise. Expect less than 10%.

It’s easy to confuse no-shows with cancellations; indeed, the two terms are often freely exchanged by staff while lamenting another empty table, but the distinction between the two is important, as we’ll discover later in this guide.

Why don’t people show up?


There are two main reasons people fail to show up for their booking or appointment.

The first is, unfortunately, emergencies. This is why you’ll never achieve a zero-no-show rate. Emergencies happen; people get ill, members of the family need assistance, people have car accidents. Of all the reasons for a no-show, an emergency is entirely understandable.

The second is priorities. If another task, appointment or last-minute event is viewed as being more important than a table reservation, for instance, some people will decide that the latter is far less of a priority. In fact, it’ll suddenly be so far down their list of priorities that they neglect entirely to deal with it properly.

Clearly, the priority for you is that the guest actually bothers to pick up the phone or write an email to say they can no longer make it. So, why do people decide to simply not show up rather than cancel?

In a survey by Carbon Free Dining, the reasons people don’t cancel reservations included:

  • the inability to easily find the option to cancel (45%);
  • they couldn’t be bothered (27%);
  • they forgot they made the booking (18%); and
  • they booked several other restaurants and made a final decision nearer the time (9%).

5 instantly actionable tips for limiting no-shows


As previously noted, no-shows aren’t going anywhere. You’re always going to experience them if you work in hospitality or a business within the service industry.

However, you can use some tried-and-tested strategies to limit the number you receive and the impact they’ll have on your business.

1. Take ownership of the booking Remember, there’s lots of competition out there. If a guest decides, last minute, to opt for a table at a different restaurant without telling you, can you honestly say you did everything you could to keep them engaged after they booked?

Own the booking from the moment it lands in your diary. Keep in touch regularly leading up to the day of the booking and make sure you remain in the customer’s thoughts.

2. Give the customer a reason to turn up They’ve made a booking, but what can you do to show that they really don’t want to miss out come the day itself?

Surprise them a few days out with a new menu, or a special drink offer you’ve just devised. Give them a reason to make you the priority, no matter what else might crop up.

3. Implement reservation windows This doesn’t suit every venue, but by creating reservation windows for each booking, you’ll add a sense of scarcity to your space and services.

This can have a telling, subconscious impact on the booker. They’ll know they only have a certain amount of time to take advantage of their booking slot and, clearly, rebooking in the future is going to be a pain.

4. Implement a no-nonsense, clear cancellation policy Does your cancellation policy stand tall and proud during your booking process, or have you hidden it away in the fear that it’ll put people off?

If it’s the latter - stop; make sure your cancellation policy is visible and ultimately clear. Explain what will happen if people don’t cancel within a certain window, and follow-up on any rules that result in a charge to their credit card.

5. Make it easy to cancel This might sound counter-intuitive, but just as it’s important to make it easy to unsubscribe from a mailing list, cancelling a booking at your venue should be barrier-free and obvious.

We’ll get onto why, next.

Secret sauce: preventing no-shows by encouraging cancellations

Cancellations are far better than no shows because they result in less wasted time, usually arrive in advance and give you the opportunity to prevent any loss of business.

This is why it’s so important to encourage cancellations when people really can’t make it. Just remember to set in stone a solid, clear cancellations policy.

The timing is the most important thing here, so make sure the latest a person can cancel their booking gives you enough time to try and find a replacement. Twenty-four hours is usually enough but go longer if you feel more comfortable.

How your tech can reduce no-shows

Good news: you live in a world of wonderful technology which can help you reduce no-shows significantly.

There are two forms of tech in particular which will help.

  • Your booking system. Whether you’re providing tables, rooms or treatments, the booking system you use will play a key role in preventing no-shows. Systems which provide automated guest correspondence and the ability for them to manage their own bookings are worth spending money on.

  • SMS and email marketing. Sending reminder texts and emails about bookings is ridiculously simple if you have a system capable of it, but so too is an email marketing platform which can be used to send out regular newsletters and offers to ensure you stay utmost in your customers’ minds.

Final thought

Another brilliant way to reduce the number of no-shows you experience is to create a loyalty program.

This will draw people closer to your brand and result in bookings that are not only nailed-on to happen, but they’ll be also repeated again and again. Check out our guide on how to build a loyalty program that’ll help reduce no-shows at your venue.

Beambox guide: 5 Steps to a Profitable Restaurant Loyalty Program

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