A Peterborough restaurateur has seen his battle against the crippling effect on the food and drink industry of customers failing to turn up to honour bookings go worldwide.
Damian Wawrzyniak, who opened his House of Feasts restaurant at Eye Green last year, first hit out in February after so-called “no shows” cost him more than £2,000 in one weekend.
His ongoing #StopNoShow campaign on social media has gone viral, with messages of support from chefs across the globe.
It has since been picked up by national industry publications as well as international news outlets, and in July he will speak on the issue at the Hospitality and Catering Expo in London.
International consultant chef Damian said: “It is not a new thing, it has been going on for years, and it is not restricted to my restaurant, or Peterborough, it is everywhere.
“But, in February I went ballistic. We had three or four tables - about 35 guests - fail to show after booking and it totally destroyed the weekend. The worst thing is they had pre-ordered but no one called to cancel or answer our calls to confirm bookings.
“I am not an angry chef but this just should not happen.”
Damian’s outburst on social media saw tweets of support from chefs in Norway, Finland, France, Holland, America. The issue even made the news in Australia.
Damian now uses guest management software Tock to handle his bookings for his tasting menu nights - taking the full amount upfront - and has changed the terms and conditions for booking from his a la carte menu.
“It has only been a few weeks but we have had no no shows,” he said. “I am glad I did what I did with #StopNoShows and am happy to be part of what has happened. Someone needed to open the door.”
Damian’s plight is, of course, one that is familiar to fellow restaurateurs across the city, although not all have gone down the deposit route.
Peterborough Telegraph columnist Lee Clarke, who last week celebrated two years at his city centre Prevost restaurant in Priestgate, agreed “no shows” had been a long-standing problem - and one he had also taken steps to overcome because of the impact it could have on his 30-seat fine dining venue.
“We used to take credit card confirmation which was great, although it felt like a lot when we charged people £50 for not turning up, and at times I felt a little guilty. But the number of people making the excuse of a ‘medical emergency’ was just so regular it was impossible to be true.
“Then I thought about the customers that we were turning away because we thought we were ‘fully booked’. And for a full house we might have six staff on who need paying even when bookings fail to turn up.
“There have been times when we have lost £1,000 in a week and for a small restaurant that is not sustainable. It is no way to run a business.”
Lee now also uses Tock, which takes a £10 deposit when a booking is confirmed.
“As a result the problem has almost disappeared,” he added. “It doesn’t come cheap, but if it means I don’t lose a table of four on a Saturday night then it pays for itself.
“And if people aren’t prepared to make a £10 deposit then they don’t really want to dine with us.”
Will Frankgate, at the Blue Bell in Glinton, is another chef patron to have been hit by no shows - which he sees as another cost factor that needs controlling .
“It does impact us and can be frustrating. However its especially hard for smaller restaurants operating with lower covers and can seriously affect their financial status,” he said.
“No shows usually happen over the weekend. Usually it’s the online bookings. Sometimes its genuine, sometimes not so. A mistake? A last minute illness? Change of plans? Is it sabotage? Or just a sheer lack of common courtesy?”
Will, who has been at the popular and highly regarded pub restaurant for five years, said it was something he had accepted as a part of the business.
“Most restaurants now have systems which can be integrated with card payment facilities for deposits,” he said.
“For me this is a lose/lose situation. Firstly, other customers lose out with the unavailability. Secondly, the deposits would only cover a fraction of the anticipated amount to be spent, which then doesn’t solve any issues, as this amount would barely cover the wasted food, let alone the staff wages and overheads of the restaurant.
“Maybe the solution would be to pay in advance? Like a show or event. If you don’t turn up, then the bills get paid.
“Either way, it just about controlling another factor against the rising costs within the hospitality industry. I’m sure each restaurant will determine their own individual policies that will be based on their size/demand/ menus/ style. I’m old fashioned and unless it’s a large booking, a simple name and telephone number is good enough for us (for now).”
However he felt most people making bookings were genuine and his online system sent confirmation emails rather than taking deposits.
He also felt restaurateurs had a responsibility to make sure they were handling bookings properly, no matter how they were made.
“For a special occasion - Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day - we always take deposits up front, likewise for big groups during the Christmas party season.
“I find people who are genuine when they make a booking are willing to pay. People who are not are likely to not show up, or they will book for 15 and turn up as a table of four.
“To be fair we do not get many, but it does happen. Some are legitimate, but sadly there are some people who are malicious and book a couple of places before deciding which one to visit on the night.They are few and far between.”