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No-shows, deposits and trust

Sigh. It's an old story. A fully-booked restaurant, a busy day, and in the middle of it, like a gap in a row of teeth, a table that,for whatever reason, hasn't turned up. Or, in the case of the Father's Day just gone, three tables.

I've blogged about this before, it's a recurring problem that bedevils the hospitality industry. As I observed in the last post, it doesn't bother me so much for the financial hit we take (annoying though that is), the staff will still get paid and I've never known a kitchen that didn't jump at the chance to have a quieter half-hour than they were expecting. I had a good day on Sunday, I took enough money, the few hundred quid I missed off the absent tables was mitigated by a few walk-ins I was able to squeeze in.

What's annoying is you remember all the people you knocked back.All the times you said sorry we're fully booked, the people who wanted to come,and couldn't. Some of them were regulars,and any hospitality worker worth their wage hates to disappoint a regular. It was with this in mind that I put up a small facebook post (in retrospect, probably an error) gently reminding people that, if they can't make it, please let us know.

I find myself, I confess, uneasy at the response, where a lot of commenters were far more annoyed about it than I am (but that's facebook for you, I guess, where people go to be angry), and expressed their displeasure towards my no-shows in terms stronger than I would have used. I didn't intend (though should have expected) a variety of responses along the "people nowadays" lines (as if this hasn't always happened), as well as more generalised deploring of standards slipping everywhere etc. Many of the respondents, well-meaningly, advocated me taking deposits.

This is not something I particularly want to do. Maybe I am being naive, and possibly regular Coastalblog readers will choke on their cornflakes when they read this next sentence, but my natural inclination is to think the best of people, until they show me otherwise.I don't know what reason the tables that didn't show up have. Maybe they just forgot, true, but it's possible that they fully intended to come, before plans were kiboshed at the last minute. In these days of suddenly having to isolate at the drop of a lateral flow test, it's plausible. And yes, we did phone them to check. One had forgotten (and was very apologetic, and I'd be prepared to bet she won't forget again), the other two didn't answer their phones.

Taking a deposit basically says I don't trust you, and that runs counter to the whole ethos of a good pub. Pubs are supposed to be egalitarian spaces, where you take people as you find them. They are called Public Houses, after all. It's the same reason I don't raise my prices on the days when you've a captive audience, Valentine's, Mother's and Father's days. Putting prices up safe in the knowledge that you'll sell out anyway strikes me as an absolute arsehole's trick, likewise the practice of selling tickets for nights like New Year's Eve. Every other day of the year,you're happy to have people walk through your door,and now you want to charge them?

Possibly this makes me a bad businessman, but I seem to be doing okay.

To me, deposits are of a piece with these moves, they're a barrier to what is supposed to be a relaxed, comfortable, informal experience.  On top of which, sometimes people just can't make it, the thought of profiting off someone else's misfortune doesn't sit well with me at all. I get all the arguments in favour, and I am not criticising those businesses who do choose to do so. If you're a forty cover restaurant that relies on a high spend per head, I'd imagine they're pretty essential. But if the weather's nice I can seat a hundred and fifty, and on any given day you can guarantee I'll have people trying to walk in, the odd table of four here or there isn't much in the grand scheme of things.

So, call me a fool to myself, but over the course of this blog, which essentially has been the written equivalent of me thinking out loud, I've talked myself out of it. No deposits it is. Come one, come all (but please do phone if you can't make it).


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