Credit Card Guarantees

This morning while getting ready for work, the television caught my attention. Kelly and Michael on their show ‘Live’ were discussing an article they had read stating that some restaurants have started taking credit cards with reservations and now charge $30-$200/person if a table doesn’t show or cancels late.  The two acted surprised and disapproving. Why?

Taking a credit card to hold a reservation at a restaurant has always been a touchy subject. For whatever reason, people who have no problem doing such to guarantee a hotel night or a plane reservation can balk at the same request from a restaurant. Perhaps this is because big, casual restaurants, where Americans dine most often, tend not to take reservations except for large groups, and if a table doesn’t show there are often other walk-ins to fill the space.

The world of small  fine dining establishments is completely different. A large percentage of independently-owned, high-end restaurants are relatively small. With the high food and operating costs associated with such an operation, filling every seat possible is imperative. In order to guarantee a table at these establishments one needs to make a reservation. At The Lark we gladly take walk-ins as well but often times a table is not available. As locals have grown to discover this, walk-ins are a rare occasion at our 12 table restaurant. Thus, when a table no-shows or cancels last minute, it will remain unseated.

As it takes 2-3 hours to dine at The Lark, when one reserves a table Tuesday through Thursday (and sometimes Friday), the table is reserved for the entire evening. Very different from casual restaurants where tables are constantly being turned. Thus a no-show equates to an empty table for the night.  This causes a loss to the service staff, who depend on gratuities to support their families. A 4-top no-show at The Lark could be a third of a waiter’s income for the day.  Of course the restaurant takes a hit as well, as the lost income will never be recouped. And folks on the waitlist have been denied the opportunity to dine at the spot of their choice that evening.

I’m not sure why people are so disrespectful to restaurants that they no-show or cancel ten minutes before their arrival time. It’s a problem that many restaurateurs face and in many cases can be the difference between turning a profit or taking a loss. If one doesn’t want to be hit with a fee for failing to honor a reservation the solution is simple:  be courteous enough to cancel with sufficient notice so that the restaurant is able to rebook your table.

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