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Restaurateurs speak out as no-shows result in £2K loss for Aberdeen venue as diners fail to turn up for weekend sittings

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No-show bookings prove to be a ‘big issue’ for hospitality across opening weekend as restaurateurs faced with half empty ‘fully-booked’ restaurants.

North-east restaurateurs are speaking up about no-shows after their businesses were affected by diners not turning up for bookings throughout the first weekend of hospitality reopening.

Following on from reports last July after the first lockdown was lifted about the issues venues face as a result of no-shows and customers not alerting business’ that they can no longer make their reservations, some restaurateurs have expressed their disappointment from the first weekend of hospitality reopening.

With many bars, restaurants and pubs fully booked both inside and outside, many venue operators believe customers had double booked themselves in a range of venues to have different places to pick from on the day.

Lucy Castle, who owns The Braided Fig in Aberdeen with her husband, Steve, is disheartened by the amount of no-shows they experienced over their “fully-booked” weekend.

Lucy Castle, co-owner of The Braided Fig in Aberdeen.

She said: “It has been so disappointing this weekend. It has been a great weekend in one sense as it has been great to be open and see familiar and new faces, but it is just those no-shows that really do stick in your throat.

“It is frustrating when walk-ins come along and you have a table which is empty but you are waiting for the booking to arrive so you turn them away, and then realise you could have given the table to those people who wanted to dine with you.

“Through the week it hasn’t been so bad because we haven’t been fully booked every day, whereas we were at the weekend. We haven’t turned anyone away during the week and up until Friday I think we had only one no-show.

“At the weekend there was tables inside as well as outside not showing up, so it wasn’t down to the weather. We had one table in particular who really, really let us down after emailing back and forth with them about their reservation.”

We want to thank everyone who has joined us over our first week of opening. It’s been wonderful to see so many familiar…

Posted by The Braided Fig on Monday, 3 May 2021

With more than 50 covers not showing up for their reservation over the weekend period, Lucy believes her business has lost approximately £2,ooo in takings alone as a result of no-shows.

She added: “We had over 50 covers which were no-shows from Friday to Sunday. On average, what they would have spent, we have lost approximately up to around £2,000, just in takings.

“Then you have the added pressure of covering staff costs, the kitchen had all the food orders in, I had all the drinks orders in and we had spent money to make sure there was choice for everyone and we could give them what they wanted, just to be completely let down.

“It is such a shame as it has put a dampener on what was a really good weekend – it has given it a sour note.”


Taking deposits for larger booking of six, Lucy doesn’t want to have to go down the route of taking deposits for smaller bookings but fears she may have to after this weekend.

“We take deposits for tables of six just because of the limited seating there is for that. But we are now leaning to take deposits for other tables. You don’t want to put people off, and it does definitely put people off. I book somewhere because I am going there so I don’t mind paying a deposit,” said Lucy.

The honey chilli chicken wontons, a popular dish at The Braided Fig.

“We are very understanding if people phone to say they can’t make it, that isn’t a problem. We had one table who was 15 minutes late and I phoned them and they said their dogs were sick so they couldn’t come anymore after their reservation time had already started.”

Multiple bookings

The restaurateur believes individuals making several bookings at several venues at the same time may be a big factor at play, and says independent businesses and chain restaurants alike need all the support they can get right now.

“I think there was a lot of people who booked several places and decided on the day where they were going. I don’t think they realise what that means for a restaurant like ours,” said Lucy.

“Because it is just me and Steven, we don’t have the backing of a large group, although everyone needs their bookings to turn up. It has been so difficult and it makes it almost impossible. It is really upsetting for us. It is our livelihood and we’re struggling to keep afloat because of everything and this just makes it impossible.”

Not the first time

In Aberdeenshire, Mandy Davidson who is the co-owner of The Cock and Bull in Balmedie, also turned to social media to air her frustrations about no-shows not turning up for their bookings.

This isn’t the venue’s first brush with mass no-shows, as Mandy outlines the same thing happened the first time they reopened after July’s lockdown lifting.

Mandy Davidson, co-owner of The Cock and Bull.

She said: “We were left frustrated and disappointed on our first weekend of opening
that we had so many no-shows and late cancellations. We had been fully booked for the weekend and therefore turned away customers who had hoped to dine with us but then found that we were left with a restaurant at half capacity due to tables either cancelling within 30 minutes of their arrival times or just not showing up at all.

“We already have a reduced capacity due to social distancing and early closing times meaning that we are operating at 60% of our usual covers – to then have 12 tables
cancel or not appear in one lunch sitting has a hugely detrimental effect on our business.

We are very grateful to be back open and it's lovely to have all our staff back (yes there's a "but" coming!)…but we…

Posted by The Cock and Bull Balmedie on Sunday, 2 May 2021

“We encountered this issue when we re-opened last July but it did thankfully improve so it may be that with current alcohol restrictions, customers are block booking indoor and outdoor venues then making a late decision where to dine based on the weather.

“We do not have outdoor dining and with the current ban on indoor alcohol
sales, we presume that diners were choosing outdoor venues to enjoy a drink given that it was a dry weekend – they were just neglecting to let us know of that decision.”

While Mandy tries to fill as many seats as possible to ensure the restaurant is a hive of activity, she says that being based in a remote location means there is less likely chance of walk-ins.

Mussles mariniere at The Cock and Bull.

She added: “Walk-ins are not commonplace at the moment so it made re-selling these tables virtually impossible. Hospitality has been hit incredibly hard over the past year and we have only been open six months out of the last 12 so customers not having the courtesy to let us know that they cannot keep their reservation is very hard to take.

“We feel that taking a deposit on bookings can be a deterrent to some but we
may be forced to go down that route to ensure that we survive in what is
currently a very difficult trading landscape.”

Detrimental to business

Stuart McPhee, director of Siberia Bar & Hotel and spokesperson for industry body, Aberdeen Hospitality Group, experienced more then 1,200 no-shows at his city centre venue back in summer last year.

His venue reopens on May 10 and received 1,324 cover bookings in less than seven minutes when online reservations went live last week.

And while he says no-shows are detrimental to businesses, hospitality isn’t the only industry to experience a high number of no-shows with other professionals like doctors, dentists and other essential services experiencing them, too.

Stuart McPhee, director of Siberia Bar & Hotel and spokesperson for Aberdeen Hospitality Together.

He added: “We didn’t open our bookings up for Siberia until we were closer to the hospitality opening date. A lot of people had their bookings open weeks in advance of it and maybe if it isn’t followed up, or plans change and customers haven’t cancelled then it can lead to empty seats.

“Being a no-show isn’t a bad thing. There shouldn’t be a stigma from a customer perspective that if you haven’t shown up that you’re never welcome again. It is a courtesy fashion. You still get no-shows to doctors, dentist and other essential appointments.

“As far as hospitality is concerned, given the time we have just gone through and the length of time we’ve been closed and the restrictions we are having to operate under, these things are far from normal for a lot of people, and there are a lot more places relying on booking systems. These project how many staff they need and how much food to order. Bookings are used as an indication on how you should operate, and if that turns out to not be the case, then you are in a situation of loss or wastage. Staff will be costing money by not being able to work, and then there’s food waste.”

How to help

With a pressure on restaurant to operate efficiently and make the money they have lost throughout the pandemic, the best thing customers can do to help support them is turn up to bookings, or cancel in advance if they can no longer make the reservation.

He added: “From a customer perspective is is a respect thing. If you can’t make it, let us know. From a restaurateur or operator perspective, every business has to do what is right for them. There’s a lot of technology out there which can facilitate deposit taking very easily. That in itself is another expense which some people might not want.

“We had a lot of no-shows when we reopened last year. There’s a lot of issues when it comes to no-shows. I don’t want to pay a member of staff to take deposits from everyone, especially if I have 300 or 400 bookings on a Saturday. You’d have to phone 300 different people and get deposits from them.

“I could invest in a system to do that then I’d have to review my till system, too, and would put myself at a loss in some respects. I know I’m going to have no-shows, but I know I’ll get walk-ins. It is an industry-wide problem.”

Some businesses including Mackays Hotel in Wick, Cognito on the Corner in Aberdeen and the newly opened street food pop-up Backyard Street Collective all take deposits for their venues.

The hotel has taken card details for the past two years and charge £20 per person for a booking that doesn’t show, however customers can cancel until 4pm on the day of booking.

The street food pop-up at Codona’s is also charging £20 per booking for no-shows but organisers have said they are able to accommodate no-shows with the array of walk-ins they have experienced.

For Aberdeen’s Cognito on the Corner boss Nicky Turnbull, she takes a £10 deposit per table, and although she does say the process takes a lot of man hours, it is worth it for her and her staff.

She said: “We take a £10 deposit per table. It takes a lot of man hours to call around customers to get the deposit and remind them of their booking, but we are looking at ways to make this an automated service.

Cognito on the Corner.

“We had two no-shows that hadn’t paid and although we called them three times, we never heard back. You also don’t want to cancel their booking in case they show up. We also had two no-shows who had paid not show up.

“Hospitality are struggling to get back on their feet and we are operating at only 40% capacity so even one or two makes a difference. As we are operating only indoors with no alcohol it was as steady for us at the weekend and it was so great to see our regulars that came to eat with us and showed their support.”

For more on no-shows and hospitality…