5 tips to reduce no-shows

  • Posted on September 10, 2021 by John Jones

According to a recent survey by UK POS company Zonal Retail Systems, one in seven customers who made a restaurant booking failed to honour it in the post lock-down period. As we know, restaurants are still in a fragile state following nearly two years of restricted operation and their owners struggling to get back on their feet. Legislation severely reduced venue capacity, leaving spending levels way below pre-Covid norms. According to the report, no-shows are costing the industry over £17bn a year.

The shift towards mandatory pre-booking has perhaps changed consumers' behaviour such that instead of, say, walking in to a restaurant and taking their chances of securing a table, they now prefer to secure their possibility of eating there by booking online with the intention of making their full decision later. This is not the same as the restaurant securing the booking – by not showing up, the customer is perhaps just choosing to metaphorically walk on by. 

Whatever the reason, fuelled by the shift towards online behaviour, no-shows are costing restaurants dearly. Without a significant change in the way restaurants handle no-shows – and solidifying their approach as the new norm – restaurants, pubs and café bars will continue to suffer.

Here are our five simple steps to mitigate the impact of now shows, or avoid them altogether.

Take deposits

Although not traditionally a feature in the sector, a sure-fire way of reducing the chances of a no-show is to request a deposit at the time of booking. This can be done online or by telephone and customers genuinely intending to arrive won't mind stumping up the cash. Restaurants are advised to make public a written payment policy, which should explain the deposit regime's non-refundable nature.

Take full payment

Going a step further, many restaurants now require full payment in advance. Clearly this can become rather complicated when the customer has not chosen their menu items at the time of booking, but there are technologies available which allow them to do exactly that. 

Leave the door open

This may sound counter intuitive, but reaching out to no-shows and inviting them to re-book is a great way to capture their trade, eventually. Many no-shows will be suffering from no-show remorse: that is, they feel guilty about not showing and actually want to put things right. However, their embarrassment at being a no-show may prevent them from ever coming back. An open invitation, coupled with genuine concern for them missing their slot, is likely to retain them as a customer for the long term.

Be honest

Social media is a great way to give customers a glimpse of the challenges restaurant owners face, with many no-shows simply not fully understanding the impact their negative behaviours have on the sector. That being the case, there's nothing wrong with restaurateurs pointing this out on websites and Facebook. 

We're not suggesting aggressive tactics, but a gentle message outlining the knock-on effects may significantly reduce the problem. Couple that with positivity and a genuine desire to serve all customers and they might get the message. The £17bn fact we opened with might be a good attention grabber. 

Invest in the right technology

Technology need not be difficult to implement, or create extra administration. Web-based reservation software has the ability to take deposits and pre-payments, and is designed to be easy to use right out of the box. While getting used to a new system takes a bit of effort, in reality the end result will be far more accurate than using pen and paper in a frantic pub or restaurant. Customers may actually love it (not to mention technology-native staff, too).

Wrapping up

In the words of one survey responder “No shows are still going on, and they hit hard – independents like us are at particular risk but there’s not much we can do because you don’t want to alienate any customers”. 

We don't agree with the idea that little can be done. Sure, there is a balance to be struck between heavy-handed policies and customer alienation, but the fact is no-shows are impacting the sector like never before, right at a time when consumers have gotten used to an online economy. 

If no-shows are here to stay, then so should be deposits and pre-payments. Restaurants just need to ensure they handle the issue sensitively, and invest in an online reservation system capable of doing the work for them. 


favouritetable is the leading provider of easy to install, easy to use restaurant management software, designed to make owners' lives easier and more efficient. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and commission-free systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue and create seamless workflows which make owners, staff and customers happy.

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