Combat no-shows: the invisible guests who cost too much

A restaurant table with plates of food seen from above.
A restaurant table with plates of food seen from above.
Photo: Matheus Frade

When restaurant guests make a booking and never show up, they become no-shows. This is an issue that costs a lot for the industry. In the storms of 2022’s financial downturn and higher prices, reducing no-shows is more crucial for restaurants than ever. It’s time for us to turn things around!    

According to a 2021 study no-shows cost the British hospitality sector £17.6bn a year. The same study also showed that younger people, 18-34-year-olds, were most likely to become no-shows. What complicates matters is the fact that these young people eat out more often than any other age group – they’re important for the industry.

Many restaurants are no longer willing to accept no-shows as a fact of life. Things need to change to avoid wasting food, money and time. We’re in this together – let’s look at some ways to solve the no-show puzzle!  

Why do restaurant guests become no-shows?

Before solving any problem it’s necessary to take a closer look at the reasons why the problem occurs in the first place. When restaurant bookings turn into no-shows it’s often because: 

Tell your guests why it matters

A empty restaurant table with a rose in a small vase. A counter and tables with diners are visible in the background.
Photo: Lisa Fotios

Diners who don’t show up aren’t a bad bunch who don’t care about what happens to their favourite restaurants, they just don’t realise how much trouble they’re causing.

Most guests who become no-shows simply aren’t aware of the consequences. You can change this by being honest and communicating with your guests.   

Use your social media channels to reach as many guests as possible. Let them know how much it means to you that they remember to cancel in good time.  

To make sure you get the best reaction from guests, use a kind and informal tone to explain the situation. There’s no need to go into a lot of details.  

Here’s an example:   

We missed you for dinner last night! Want to help reduce food waste and make our team’s workday better? Don’t forget to cancel your booking if you can’t make it *heart emoji*    

Strengthen your restaurant’s social media presence  

Social media and no-show rates, is there really a connection there? Even if it doesn’t seem obvious, a stronger social media presence can help you reduce no-shows.  

If you often appear in your guests’ social media feeds, they will feel more like they know you and your team. This is especially true if you share behind-the-scenes content such as fun facts about team members, cooking videos, and other things that make it easier for guests to see your restaurant as more than just a name and a menu.  

The more committed and loyal your guests are, the less likely they are to become no-shows. Naturally, this also has a lot to do with the great experience you provide at your restaurant, but regular updates on various social media platforms will remind them why they love you!  

Restaurant staff looking at a laptop and smartphone
Photo: Tim Douglas

Introduce prepayment  

Prepayment is an effective way of making sure guests remember to cancel. It’s also a solution that many restaurants are a bit hesitant to implement.  

But there’s no reason to avoid prepayment because you’re afraid guests won’t like it. You can tailor your own version of prepayment and use it only at certain times, for set menus or for larger groups.  

The prepaid amount can be either a deposit or a part of the price for a set menu. You decide how much makes sense for you. Guests who have paid an amount when completing a booking will have to cancel in good time to get a full refund, for instance, 48 hours or 24 hours before their visit is scheduled.  

Guests happily pay in advance for concerts, trips and soccer matches. They won’t mind paying for a great dining experience either.

Use all your booking system’s features

When you’re using a good restaurant booking system, such as DinnerBooking, why not use all available functions to combat no-shows? 

With a DinnerBooking Business, Enterprise or Chef’s Table plan, you can use our smart feature, Conflicting Bookings.  This feature shows you if your guests have booked tables at other DinnerBooking restaurants at the same time as they were supposed to eat at your restaurant. That’s just one of many functions that we have developed to help you reduce the risk of no-shows. 

SMS reminders, event tickets and prepayment are also strong tools that can effectively reduce no-shows. Want to know more? Book a free demo right here.  

Create a waiting list 

Is your restaurant fully booked for the weekend? Add guests to a waiting list! 

With guests lined up on a waiting list, you can easily fill tables when someone cancels last minute or doesn’t show up at all.

Some restaurants use an overbooking strategy instead of a waiting list, and that can work, after all, even airlines overbook, but it can also backfire and result in unhappy guests. That’s why the waiting list is a much better and safer option to use in your no-show combat strategy.  

Maybe you’re already using some of these strategies? That’s great news! But when you start combining more of them, you should be able to effectively reduce your no-show rate. A little goes a long way. Moreover, just by making guests realise why it’s so important to cancel earlier than the last minute, we can gradually change things for the better!