A top Auckland chef has shared how no-shows can have a devastating effect on a restaurant's business, and sparked a national debate on how to tackle last-minute cancellations.
Kyle Street, co-owner of Culprit and former executive chef at Depot, took to Facebook to share his recent experience of two groups who didn't take up their bookings, leading to a "massive impact" for his business.
"We had a bit of a let down last night, two separate groups cancelled, one on the day and another just didn't show up, it was about 30 per cent of our spot, if they had given notice we may have been able to rebook, but as it was this has massive impact to us," he wrote.
Street then suggested that his restaurant may need to start penalising diners who don't turn up, asking others in the hospitality industry if they thought it would be effective.
"On the back of this we may need to take credit details and have a stricter cancellation policy for groups of 8+, which we never wanted to do," he added.
"Question : would this perhaps deter people from making a booking ?"
An informal poll showed that the vast majority of respondents said that it would lead to them being more considered when making a booking, but would not necessarily stop them.
Some said that leaving credit card details would deter them from making a booking.
Hospitality NZ CEO Julie White told the Herald that many restaurants "simply cannot afford to have no shows or late cancellations", especially in the wake of Covid.
"While it isn't usual widespread practice for eateries to take a credit card or deposit for security, in a post-Covid era, like in many other sectors, the hospitality industry are having to pivot to survive.
"This is a practice most people have come to expect when booking accommodation, so it is something we could be experiencing more regularly with our cafes and restaurants."
In comments below the post, Street clarified that he didn't want to take the action, saying: "Most of our peeps are great and super communicative. It's tough to make a blanket change because of bad behaviour of a few."
He also said the reticence from some in taking the action, which is commonplace overseas, is because "we want to treat our guests like our friends, and you trust your friends".
"This doesn't happen very often for us, but it was so upsetting for me and the team last night, that there needs to be a change unfortunately," he added.
Kiwi food icon Peta Mathias said that New Zealanders' reluctance to take credit card details is part of the national psyche.
"NZers hate talking about money," she commented.
"You have to swallow, smile and ask for the credit card."
Chef Lauren Watson commented: "This is so inconsiderate, people hate it when they can't book and then behave like this! Appalling manners, I ring if I'm going to be 10 minutes late as should everyone in my opinion."
Emerald Gilmour, doyenne of the Auckland restaurant scene, went further and described those no-shows as "utter bastards" and urged restaurateurs to protect themselves.
Food writer Lauraine Jacobs argued that customers should be made to pay if they cancelled late or didn't show up, saying that it should be standard practice.
"Absolutely take credit card details or better still charge a deposit on the meal equal to your average profit [can be refunded up to 24 hours cancellation]," she wrote.
"And let's make that the standard in all restaurants across the city."
White told the Herald that even with Covid restrictions relaxed, the hospitality industry will continue to have lower turnover with international travel non-existent and people having less disposable income.
"For many restaurants, cafes and bars taking bookings is a way to help forecast and ensure they have enough inventory, staff and income to remain open," White said.
"They simply cannot afford to have no shows or late cancellations as this has a direct impact on how they manage their business."