No-shows and skipped reservations hurt SouthCoast restaurants

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NEW BEDFORD – Nothing is worse than an empty table in a restaurant, especially if it was booked to be full.

“It’s 50/50 if I can fill this board,” said Dave Custadio, chief executive of Merrill by the watert. “I would really like someone to cancel their reservation [if they’re not going to be able to make it]whether it’s even 10 or 20 minutes.”

Like many restaurateurs, Custadio isn’t alone in saying last-minute cancellations and no-show reservations are hurting restaurants in the long run.

In an industry already recovering from the pandemic and dealing with food prices and staffing issues, every meal counts for a restaurant’s survival.

“Cancellations are up 10% on any given weekend, and less on weekdays,” Custadio said, adding that it’s worse on holiday weekends.

“An empty table, which was originally reserved, is now exposed to loss of revenue and this server also does not have that table for himself.”

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To Primavera Spring Restaurant in Fall River, owner Joe Souza said he started charging a $50 fee for reserved tables over holiday weekends. This Mother’s Day, he said he had a group of 12 that didn’t show up.

Luckily for Souza, the restaurant’s owner for nearly 46 years, he said he was usually able to fill a table quickly. However, he always tries to give customers who have reserved a table the benefit of the doubt.

“I’m too nice, I’m waiting for them to come, even if it’s been a while. I shouldn’t, but I do,” he said. “But people not showing up, that’s just not good for us.

“These people don’t understand that.”

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Why it’s important to cancel reservations as soon as possible

Preparing a table, especially for a large number of guests, and not showing up always baffles him. He’s also surprised when people book a table for 20 people and only eight guests show up.

“It happens often,” he said. “We’re just trying to do our best to make it work.”

To La Familia in Taunton, Owner Deb Amaya said she hardly ever has any cancellations because most of her guests are regulars. “As soon as someone cancels, someone else is almost immediately available,” she said.

Towne House Fall River, also known as Douro Steakhouse.

While Fall River Townhouse and Douro Steakhouse co-owner Paul Filogenio said he also didn’t have many last-minute no-shows or cancellations, but when he did, it was nearly impossible to fill the table.

“My location is not prime or on a busy street,” Filogenio said, adding that he only had 30 tables at his restaurant on Purchase Street.

“I’d rather they cancel as soon as they know so the table is available for a date…when you tell someone they were busy and they’re leaving, and they don’t there’s no show, it’s bad for all of us.”

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Use booking apps to help you

Filogenio said he uses the booking app open table as well as the “book” button of Facebook and Yelp – but they are less reliable.

Joe’s Original in Dartmouth has been using Open Table for almost 10 years.

“It’s a very user-friendly app for both the restaurant and the customer,” said Julia Perkins, General Manager. “We connect to our restaurant and we can, in real time, see customers making reservations, not just over the phone, but through our website.”

In June 2021, Open Table launched a “Show-Up for Restaurants” initiative to stop no-shows and late cancellations with a “four strikes and you’re out” no-show policy that flags users who frequently cancel and even stops people from making reservations for a limited time.

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Perkins, who has worked at Joe for 16 years, said she sees about 20% of last-minute cancellations, but the number increases during the holidays.

With 27 tables inside and 10 tables outside, Perkins said they are usually able to fill a canceled table fairly quickly – after 28 years in business, customers are quite used to the way their operation works.

Perkins said after about 15 minutes they would either give a reservation or break down tables that had been prepared for a large party.

Menu items at Joe's Original in Dartmouth.

However, she said it was important to cancel a reservation straight away because people using the app may see “grayed out” time slots and assume the restaurant is too busy and won’t just consider going. go see for themselves.

A few months ago, Merrill’s on the Waterfront also launched reservations through Open Table. Custadio said it was very useful, but with its pros and cons.

While the app helps manage restaurant traffic, reserving time slots that can help keep the dining room running smoothly all night, it also makes it easier for people to cancel at the last minute by simply clicking on a button.

Perkins said she knows people who use the app to make multiple reservations and then choose which one to attend at the last minute.

For Grove Street Tavernthey don’t have a problem with last-minute cancellations because they don’t make reservations for fewer than six people.

Brian Levesque and Paul Martin own the Grove Street Tavern in Taunton.  (Courtesy of Robert Anderson)

“We’re pretty small. We only see about 50 people,” said co-owner Paul Martin.

Because most tables are set up as four tables, Martin said he didn’t like to commit to giving away tables because of the limit.

“People tend to put down roots in a place like this,” he added. “So it’s very unusual not to show up when people say they’re coming.”

He said he had no plans to offer reservations for groups of four or two.

“It worked well for us,” he said.

Seth Chitwood, Standard-Times editor, can be contacted at shitwood@st.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

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