Restaurant reservations just overtook walk-ins – but owners aren’t happy

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Online restaurant reservations are growing in popularity, with advanced table reservations far outpacing walk-ins in 2022.

That’s a marked change from 2019, when Canadian restaurants saw more visits than reservations, according to data from online restaurant reservation services company OpenTable.

But the growing trend could hurt the restaurant industry, owners and industry experts warn. The surge in online bookings has led to more no-shows, which can be detrimental to establishments in an industry that is just beginning to recover from the pandemic and faces extraordinary pressures amid rising demand. inflation and reduction of discretionary spending.

“For some restaurants, if a table doesn’t show up, it could be the difference between breaking even and being profitable in a shift,” said Matthew Davis, national manager at OpenTable Canada, adding that the problem is become more pronounced than before. years.

The number of no-shows has been “incredibly high” over the past few months, said Jennifer Gittins, co-owner of Dutch-Indonesian food bar Little Sister, which has two locations in Toronto. Before the pandemic, about 5% of people who reserved a table did not show up. Now she estimates it’s closer to 15-20%.

“It hurts because you’re basing your night on how many bookings you get and you’re turning people away,” Gittins said. “I’m really surprised, having come out of the pandemic, that people are doing this.”

Gittins even calls customers two or three days before their reservation date to remind them of their reservation. But that doesn’t seem to prevent no-shows.

Other restaurants go further and require diners who reserve a table to leave a credit card on file. If they fail to complete the reservation, they will be charged a nominal fee. The system doesn’t cover the cost of lost money due to no-shows, but encourages customers to show up or cancel their reservation if they can’t, Davis said.

This is a common policy in New York, but it is only beginning to take hold in Toronto.

“Toronto restaurants are slow to take this approach, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated it,” Davis said. “As more restaurants face this no-show challenge and given the current economic conditions, many will begin to embrace it as a tool.”

Gittins has debated the implementation of the policy at Little Sister over the past few months. It’s a double-edged sword, she admits, because “it kind of goes against the whole concept of hospitality.”

For now, it will start by charging larger groups who make a reservation but don’t show up.

Davis said there were a lot of no-shows because some diners felt bad about calling an establishment three or four hours before a reservation to cancel their reservation. “As a former restaurant manager, I would much prefer that to someone who doesn’t show up because I can at least fill that table again,” he said.

He has also noticed customers making multiple reservations for the same time slot. They usually wait until the last moment to decide where to dine and don’t cancel other reservations, Davis said. Although OpenTable does not allow customers to make multiple reservations, it is possible if customers use different reservation systems.

“It’s so important to educate people on why it’s not a good idea to do this, but rather to make a reservation in good faith and show up, basically,” he said. .

Davis noted that OpenTable has added features to help restaurants avoid no-shows. Properties may flag a restaurant as a potential no-show based on previous booking activity. The company is also suspending diners who don’t show up for a reservation four times a year.

Three years ago, only about 40% of tables at restaurants using OpenTable were reserved in advance, while 60% were reserved for walk-in customers, according to the company. Now, the majority of seats at these full-service restaurants are reserved in advance.

Asad Amin, senior vice president at market research agency Ipsos, said pent-up restaurant demand was driving an increase in advance reservations at full-service restaurants. “People feel the need to plan ahead to make sure they can get reservations at favorite restaurants or popular eateries,” Amin said.

Restaurant industry expert Stephanie Dickison believes the way restaurants have operated for much of the pandemic has also led to shifts in consumer habits and made people more accustomed to making reservations. When restaurants began to reopen, many establishments required reservations in order to better schedule service, she pointed out.

But as Canadians begin to eat out more often, Dickison hopes it will inject more spontaneity into the restaurant industry and lead to a return of more walk-in dining experiences. The balance between the two is essential, she said.

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