Stung by No-Shows, Some Restaurants Charge People who Fail to Cancel
May. 02, 1996
CHICAGO (AP) _ It's Saturday morning, and you want something special for dinner _ Thai, Greek, or that corner restaurant with peach linen napkins. You're not sure, so you make reservations for all three and decide later.
Boy, do restaurateurs hate you.
And some are striking back by taking credit card numbers to guarantee reservations on busy nights and charging people who don't show up for dinner _ just like at hotels and rental car companies.
``This is not a way of trying to earn extra money,'' said Henny Santo, owner of the 130-seat The Sign of The Dove in New York City. ``We just want people to make reservations they plan to use.''
Credit-card companies, most of which haven't approved the charges, will remove them from bills. But American Express started a pilot program last summer that allows about 34 restaurants in 20 cities to bill a card _ $10 to $25 or more. American Express spokesman Marcos Rada said only seven cards have been charged since the test began and that no one has complained.
The company is due to finish its test at the end of the month and will decide whether to expand it.
``All indications right now point to a positive response,'' said Lloyd Wirshba, the general manger for restaurants at American Express.
Wirshba said he didn't know of any restaurants that had dropped out of the test program.
Americans do not realize how much their duplicate reservations can cost a restaurant in extra food and extra staffing, said Wendy Webster, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association in Washington.
``Most Americans probably just assume that if they don't show, the table fills up with walk-in traffic. That's less and less true the higher the check average is, and those are the restaurants likely to be hurt,'' Webster said.
Many patrons are willing to go along with strict policies and some are even on the restaurateurs' side.
Chicago lawyer Michael Tepper gives his credit card number to guarantee tables at Gordon, a swank Chicago eatery that has been charging no-shows for five years.
``It's self defense,'' he said. ``It's really an expression that they're serious about seating. It's a commitment _ `We have your table. You be here.'''
Gordon owner Gordon Sinclair said no-shows at his 39-seat restaurant used to cost him $960,000 annually _ enough to wipe out a year's profit.
In the five years since Sinclair has been taking credit card numbers, he has only charged four or five cards _ $10 a head.
``When you have something at risk, people react differently. They call and cancel,'' he said.
The Sign of the Dove's Santo charges no-shows $25 per person on Saturday nights, holidays or special occasions. She said some people bristle at giving a credit card number but that no-shows have decreased from 15 percent to virtually none.