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No winning with no-shows

Restaurant operators share their strategies for handling no-show guests

In the April issue, editor Michael Sanson wrote about an experience he had in a Washington DC restaurant that had a serious no-show problem on a recent Saturday night. The restaurant called him at 11:30 p.m. to let him know that a table was finally available, long after his 8:30 reservation. He asked how others deal with the difficult problem of no-shows. Here are some excerpts from letters.

I own a small steakhouse in the third world and our reservation policy is as follows: After a reservation has been made, we call an hour ahead of time to confirm their presence. At reservation time, we call them again to follow up and inform them that we’re about to release their table. If they are a no-show and didn’t call to cancel and don’t answer our calls, we blacklist them from future reservations.
Marco Cifuentes
Restaurante Porterhouse Steaks
Managua, Nicaragua

The only time I ever experience no-shows is on Easter or Mother’s Day. As for your situation, management should absolutely offer an apology at the very least. You’re only as good as your last customer. We thrive on regulars, so many of them have standing reservations every weekend. When a reservation walks through our doors, their table is ready and they sit down immediately. I ensure that all reservations are seated before walk-ins, but I make sure customers know that if they make a reservation, they too will be seated immediately. 
Sean Burke
General Manager
The Original Crusoe’s
St. Louis

We operate several Mexican restaurants that face this problem on weekends. One of the problems we face is when the entire group of a large reservation does not arrive on time, and our walk-ins see empty tables. We try to limit the number of reservations due to large amount of walk-ins, and this can cause a backup in our waiting area. Fortunately, we also have two other casual dining restaurants within two blocks that we can direct some of our guests to, but at times those restaurants face the same waiting problem as our flagship restaurant.

We also have a limited-service, 120-seat taqueria around the corner, and it will pickup some of our overflow. But even then we sometimes have waiting times of one to two hours at our restaurants. Managers will apologize and send complimentary appetizers. We feel very blessed to have the volume we have, but there’s always pressure on our hostesses. We are thankful for our loyal guests who continue coming back.
David Cortez
Vice President
MTC Inc.
San Antonio

We recently had 83 no-shows for an Easter buffet. I’m considering pre-paid tickets for seats, much like a theatre or concert venue. It may seem bold, however I’ll at least have my seats paid, customers will likely show and there will be no battle with the credit card companies that require signatures on credit card numbers to hold a reservation for no-shows.  
David Wolf
Executive Chef
The Blackwell Inn
Columbus, OH

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