Independent restaurants are losing thousands of pounds a week because of a growing trend in the town of ‘no-shows’ where people book tables and then fail to turn up.
The Times of Tunbridge Wells has revealed that one in five tables sometimes stay empty costing individual owners hundreds of pounds. Jean’s Kitchen on St John’s Road said it could lose up to £600 in one night.
The revelation comes at a time when the hospitality trade is under increasing pressure. Even national brands such as Carluccio’s, Frankie & Benny’s and Prezzo are suffering badly and fighting for survival.
Hard-pressed restaurateurs in Tunbridge Wells are calling on customers to end the no-show practice and sup-port independent eateries by honouring reservations, or at least cancelling in advance.
They have also warned of another growing trend where people reserve tables at different places and then decide on the night which booking to honour.
The Times initially talked with five well known restaurateurs at Soprano Wine Bar, in the High Street, which is co-managed by the brothers Ivan and Mauro Di Santo, who also own the nearby Coco Retro on Vale Road.
The others were Franco Biscardi, co-manager of Il Vesuvio, Jason Fanti, director of Don Giovanni, Mark Harper, owner of Rendezvous and Martin Haymes, owner of The Warren.
Mr Fanti [Don Giovanni] said Tunbridge Wells is beginning to follow a ‘London trend’ with customers looking to offer their friends a choice of two or three restaurants.
‘The practise hurts morale, profit and the economic position of the business. You go into business to make money and feed your family – other-wise what is the point?
‘People go to a restaurant because there is a vibe to it, ambience is a massive factor and that is lost when there are less customers because of no-shows.’
The group agreed that 10 to 20 per cent of bookings can end up as being no-shows. It is generally accepted that the average spend for a meal with wine is between £20 and £39 per head.
Mr Haymes [The Warren] said that on one recent occasion 20 out of 68 reservations were no-shows although some of these did phone ahead and cancel.
Mauro Di Santo added: ‘We can’t survive like this, it is eating into the profits. We would like to raise awareness.’
Mr Fanti also said: ‘Everyone says they love independent restaurants, but if these things continue we could have to start cutting costs, getting rid of staff or having smaller portions.”
While some restaurants take a deposit for large bookings, Mr Harper explained that it’s not always a viable option:
‘If a customer has a choice of two restaurants, with one that charges a deposit, they will go for the one that doesn’t.’