Why do people choose a fine dining restaurant for celebrations and special occasions, when they can easily go to a less exclusive place that does great food as well? The short answer is: for the complete experience.
A well-prepared meal by itself doesn’t make the most lasting memories. It’s the carefully orchestrated ambience created by fine dining establishments with impeccable service, atmosphere, amazing food, with personal attention to every detail that elevates an occasion from merely `special’ to something `extraordinary.’
As an insider at Seastar Restaurant And Raw Bar, which has evolved into one of Seattle/Bellevue’s most desirable destinations for celebratory dining experiences, I know how meticulously our staff prepares to put on an exquisite show of warm hospitality every evening that meets and exceeds our guests’ expectations.
In return for our troubles, however, we’re often left stranded without so much as a by-your-leave when a large party simply deigns not to show up, throwing the entire evening service into a tailspin as we turn away other guests and lose money out table that’s now going to stand inexplicably empty in a fully-booked restaurant.
My grouse with no-shows is not just my own. Ask any fine dining restaurant in the world that does limited covers per day, and you will hear the same story over and over again. They’re buckling under the financial strain of coping with no-shows on a daily basis, and until patrons agree to reciprocate our hospitality with suitable courtesy, a quick phone call to cancel their reservation … the graciousness of this relationship will fully devolve into a business transaction. No-show? Then you forfeit your deposit, same way as you would with an airline, a hotel or a dentist.
Here are some ways fine-dining restaurants are trying to manage no-shows with policy changes that directly affect how people get guaranteed seating for a celebratory dining experience:
NOT TAKING RESERVATIONS AT ALL
• Not taking reservations means a restaurant does brisk business anyway with walk-in traffic. They expect to sell a table several times over in one evening, and their popularity quotient is high enough that people will wait in queue for 30-45 minutes before a table opens up.
This is not a feasible option for fine dining establishments because our volume of business is not supposed to be high. Seating is limited and to be assured of getting in on a particular day, you have to make sure you have booked well in advance.
OVERBOOKING, IN EXPECTATION OF NO-SHOWS
• Borrowing a leaf from busy airliners, some restaurants resort to overbooking – selling the same table to two parties in the expectation that one will not show up. This system requires a clever sleight of handling hand in the event that both parties do show up, but there is always the recourse of letting diners wait at the bar while their table is being `readied’, and enjoying a few cocktails before seating takes place. It does lengthen the wait for reserved tables, but it also makes sure that no-shows do not cost the restaurant money. But if both parties show up the guest suffers … not a good solution in my opinion.
REQUIRING CREDIT CARD NUMBERS TO HOLD A RESERVATION
• This is a highly effective method to control no-shows. Asking for credit card details to hold a reservation has a remarkably disciplining effect on people, and even if the restaurant has no cancellation fee policy, the very possibility of being charged for not showing up keeps diners steady on their promise to show up at the appointed time.
Then there are pre-paid ticketing systems, black-listing and even public shaming of repeat offenders that some restaurants are experimenting with to neutralize the impact of no-shows on their bottom line. Unsavory choices, most of them, which would not even be contemplated if patrons regarded their restaurant bookings with a better sense of responsibility.
We’re very willing to reschedule/cancel bookings in advance and do whatever else a patron may need to enjoy their Seastar or John Howie Steak experience. We’re even willing to believe that there are really so many dead grandmothers out there who choose to pass away on the very day their grandchildren have a restaurant booking with us. In return, please show us the same regard, so we can keep working together to create a world-class fine dining experience for you that will be the high-point in your culinary calendar, and make you want to come back to eat with us again and again.