There is always an uneasy feeling in the back of your mind that you might be "over-booked," but we have to trust that our system works. Part of me is happy to only have to deal with those days a few times a year because it can be stressful. The other part of me is depressed, because it would be great to have the volume that many of the big city restaurants have on a daily basis.
Busy schedule or not, taking reservations is a service that we offer for free. But will it always be that way?
Many restaurants are trying to cope with an ever-increasing population that backs out on their reservations at the last minute. The percentage of customers that do this is very small, but it only takes a very small percentage to completely ruin a restaurant's plan for an entire evening.
To prevent this from happening, many restaurants have begun to take a credit card number with a customer's reservation and alert them that if they fail to cancel by a certain time, they will be charged a cancellation fee!
Now, being in the service industry, we must understand (and I think we do) that this is probably not the best customer service. As one restaurant reviewer gently put it,
“If you’re penalizing people with a cancellation fee, it’s also probably an effective way of canceling the relationship in the long term. If the first interaction is making the reservation and the second interaction is the cancellation fee, chances are there won’t be a third interaction.”
So, yes we are very sensitive to this issue, but we have also documented and studied what cancellations can do to your restaurant and your staff on those busy days. And, like others, we have made an educated decision that taking a credit card to hold the reservation is a must.
Many restaurants are doing this all the time - mostly inner city restaurants. The Uptown only does this on major holidays such as the big three mentioned above. The greatest reason is that once a reservation is booked - mainly for 5 people or more - the restaurant simply does not have a chance to book that reservation again.
Many places, including us, will turn away hundreds of people on busy holidays. When a group cancels last minute, how many hundreds of other bodies could we have put into those seats? Another reason our industry is starting to police the reservation process is for our employees.
A server will only have a small station on these types of days because they are so busy for so long. If the one large table in their station cancels at the last minute, the chances of filling that table are next to nil because everyone has already made their plans for the big day. Now that server, who has already given up her time from friends and family, gets shafted with a very small station and one table sitting open for 2 hours until the next group arrives.
This issue is a double sided coin, no doubt about it. Customers don't want to be hassled by digging into their wallet to make a reservation and restaurants don't want to be turning business away because customers won't pick up a phone and cancel within a decent time frame.
The only real answer is just common courtesy, and many of these restaurants that enforce the policy don't end up charging the customer the fee anyway. They use the policy as more of a deterrent to get their guests to cancel sooner rather than later.
It's a very interesting dynamic that has been a hot topic within our industry, and it is always nice to hear the other side of the argument!