Restaurant No Shows: 5 Quick Tips for Reducing No Shows

Customers 17 minute read 11th February 2021

Restaurant no shows affect all restaurant owners, whether you’re at the beginning of your restaurateur journey or a seasoned veteran. These guests who book tables and leave you hanging are the bane of every hospitality industry worker’s existence.

Suppose you’re opening your first restaurant or have an established business. You’re doing all you can to make sure your eatery succeeds. Then, you start seeing the impact of no-shows on your ability to grow and maintain a healthy profit line.

That means it’s time to take action. Keep reading to learn what a “no show” is in the food industry, why it matters, and how to combat no shows.


Defining a No Show

Before we look at how to reduce the chances of no-shows drastically, let’s define what a ‘no-show’ is.

Restaurant no shows are customers who book a table, room or appointment but fail to turn up. They don’t notify you via a call or text message. Often, there’s rarely an excuse or legitimate reason offered after that.

No-shows don’t only exist in the restaurant world. They also show up (or fail to) in the hotel, medical, and service industries.


Two Types of Restaurant No Shows

When it comes to restaurant reservations, there are two main types of no-shows you’ll likely encounter.

Top-of-funnel no-shows: These are customers you’ve only recently met or interacted with. They’re the most likely no-shows. Why? Because they don’t have loyalty toward you or your business.

They don’t know what to expect at your establishment, and you don’t know what to expect from them. Expect around 20% of the bookings in your reservation system to be top-of-funnel.

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. You’re more likely to get last-minute cancellations from these customers instead. Expect less than 10% of your guests to fall into this group.

It’s easy to confuse no-shows with cancellations. Indeed, people often use them interchangeably while lamenting another empty table. But the distinction between the two is essential.

In the case of a cancellation, a guest has an upcoming reservation that they fail to fulfill. However, when they cancel ahead of time, they’re allowing you to give their table to someone else.

With no-shows (especially repeat offenders), they’re not only not visiting your restaurant but also keeping others from doing so. They’ve stuck you with empty tables and little chance to fill them.


Why Restaurant No Shows Happen

There are two main reasons people fail to attend their restaurant booking or appointment.

The first is, unfortunately, emergencies. This is why you’ll never achieve a zero rate for restaurant no shows. Emergencies happen. People fall ill, family members need assistance, and car accidents happen.

Of all the reasons for a no-show, an emergency is entirely understandable. Restaurant owners should always consider this possibility and not automatically assume a no show had bad intentions.

The second reason customers fail to show up is priorities. If another task, appointment, or last-minute event seems more important than a table reservation, some people will de-prioritize their reservation. In fact, it’ll suddenly be so far down their list of priorities that they neglect to deal with it properly.

Of course, as a restaurant owner, you’d rather they show up. But at the very least, you’d like them to cancel and give notice. So, why do people choose not to show up rather than cancel?

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

  • The inability to quickly find the option to cancel (45%).
  • They didn’t care (27%).
  • They forgot they made the booking (18%).
  • They booked multiple tables at many restaurants and made a final decision nearer their reservation time (9%).


Why Restaurant No Shows Matter

You know why restaurant no shows usually happen. But why do they matter? Because they contribute to a restaurant’s revenue loss.

In the restaurant industry, your expenses depend on how many customers you host and how that aligns with your budgeting. So if you’re expecting a table for dinner tonight and they don’t show up, you’re wasting time, money, and resources.

For one, think about your restaurant staff. Depending on your expected business, you assign a certain amount of kitchen and floor staff to a shift. If you’re not as busy as initially thought, you’re paying more workers for less work.

For another, there’s food waste. Let’s say you’re managing your inventory, expecting to use a certain amount of ingredients in a night.

Then, multiple tables don’t show up. That means you won’t use those allotted products. Instead, you’re likely to end up with expired and wasted food.

According to news reports, no-shows contribute millions of dollars yearly to restaurant and hospitality industry losses. Smaller restaurants, in particular, are the hardest hit. Why? Because they have limited seating and less average restaurant profit margins, to begin with.

Those choosing not to turn up often don’t realize they are causing huge restaurant issues. They don’t know about the lost revenue, reduced ambiance, and needless stress on behalf of the staff. That’s why it’s also vital to educate diners so they won’t leave you in the lurch.


5 Instantly Actionable Tips To Reduce Restaurant No Shows

As previously noted, restaurant no-shows aren’t going anywhere. You’ll always experience them if you work in hospitality or a business within the service industry. So how can you fix your no-show problem?

By using tried-and-tested strategies to limit the number you receive and their impact on your business.

1. Take Ownership of the Booking To Reduce Restaurant No Shows

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 reservation system. Call or text parties to confirm that they’re still coming. In fact, many reservation software options have tools allowing you to contact your guests via an email or phone list.

2. Give the Customer a Reason To Turn Up

A customer booked a table. But what can you do to show that they really don’t want to miss out come the day itself? Email them with information about their restaurant reservation and any attractive specials or deals available that night.

For example, surprise them a few days out with a new menu or a special drink offer. Give them a reason to make you the priority, no matter what else might crop up. Ensure that they’re excited about their upcoming guest experience with you.


3. Implement Reservation Windows To Reduce Restaurant No Shows

One way to curb restaurant no shows is a reservation window. 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.

Many online reservation systems offer ways to have a ticking clock displaying while guests book their tables. Or it’ll post a memo letting them know the last booking date.

This can have a meaningful, subconscious impact on the booker. They’ll know they only have a certain amount of time to take advantage of their booking slot. On top of that, it lets them know that rebooking in the future will 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, fearing it’ll put people off?

If it’s the latter - stop. Check that your cancellation policy is visible and ultimately clear. Explain what will happen if people don’t cancel within a specific window.

Additionally, if you don’t have a cancellation policy, now’s the time to create one. We recommend that you charge no shows. It sounds harsh, but a no show fee is the number one way to cut down on empty tables.

Collect diners’ credit card details when booking via your restaurant reservation software. Tell them they’ll incur no show fees if they cancel after a certain time. This is especially helpful for catching the attention of repeat offenders.

5. Reduce Restaurant No Shows by Making It Easy To Cancel Ahead

This might sound counter-intuitive, but canceling a booking at your venue should be barrier-free.

Instead of hiding the option or burying the process on your website, make cancellation simple. Have it front and center in your messages or phone calls to potential guests.

We’ll get into why next.

pexels-on-shot-2788792 (1)

The Secret Sauce: Preventing Restaurant No-Shows by Simplifying Cancellations

Cancellations are far better than restaurant no shows. They result in less wasted time and allow you to prevent any loss of business.

This is why people need to cancel easily when they really can’t make it. Just remember to set in stone a solid, clear cancellation policy.

The timing is the most important thing here. Make it so the latest a person can cancel their booking still gives you time to find a replacement. 24-48 hours is usually enough, but go longer if you feel more comfortable.


Using Tech To Reduce No Shows

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

There are two forms of tech in particular that will help restaurant owners.

Optimize Your Booking System To Cut Down on Restaurant No Shows

Whether you’re providing tables or rooms, your booking system plays a key role in preventing a no show. Systems with automated guest correspondence that allows guests to manage their own bookings are worth the money.

Limit Restaurant No Shows with SMS and Email Marketing

Sending reminder texts and emails about bookings is simple if you have a system capable of it. But so is an email marketing platform. Use these to send out regular newsletters and offers, so you’re always on your customers’ minds.

Create a Customer Loyalty Program To Limit Restaurant No Shows

Another brilliant way to address your no show issues is to create a restaurant loyalty program. This draws people closer to your brand and results in more definitive bookings.


Final Thoughts on Restaurant No Shows

We all know that dealing with a no show isn’t fun. Especially if you can’t snag walk-ins to fill your now-empty seats. However, you don’t have to be at the mercy of your customer’s whims. Cut down on these time-consuming customers by adopting technology-savvy preventative methods.

Like creating a loyalty program or keeping in touch with your guests via email or SMS reminders. Not sure how to gather this valuable information for reducing restaurant no shows? Try BeamBox.

BeamBox is a WiFi marketing software tool that allows you to collect customer insights and data. Use our captivate portal technology to gather visitor emails. That way you can keep in touch with them for future bookings.

Ready to watch your business grow? Start your BeamBox free trial today!

Get Started With Free WiFi Marketing

Beambox helps businesses like yours grow with data capture, marketing automation and reputation management.

Sign up for 30 days free

Grow your business and customer loyalty with guest WiFi!

Related posts