As our local restaurant and bar scene continues to suffer, it’s imperative diners show up for their reservations

As our local restaurant and bar scene continues to suffer, it’s imperative diners show up for their reservations

ALMA, Geelong
Words by Talia Rinaldo

It's never great, but ghosting on tables is hurting our restaurants more than ever.

If you’ve ever been stood up for a date, then you know how bad it feels to be all dressed up and ready for the night ahead, only to be left high and dry with no date in sight.

Believe it or not, this is exactly how restaurateurs and cafe owners feel when people who made reservations fail to claim their tables.

Alongside the emotional toll on any given day, it’s the effect on the restaurant’s bottom line that truly devastates, impacting everything from that night’s profits all the way to changing how much food restaurants order from farmers.

And it’s something that has never been more important than right now when venues can only serve a limited amount of customer per sitting.

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You would think it goes without saying; that the right thing to do is either show up for your booking on time or cancel the booking if you cannot make it. However, it seems this concept is still lost on some, despite everything local businesses have suffered over the past 18 months.

As regional Victoria emerged from the circuit breaker lockdown that is still taking hold of Melbourne businesses, restrictions were imposed upon restaurants, pubs and cafes allowing them to open for dine-in service with only a density quotient of 1 person per 4 sqm and a maximum of 50 people per venue and a maximum on group bookings of 10 people. And in order to keep bookings flowing, most venues are enforcing a two-hour limit on groups.

According to the DHHS, the limit on customers for seated, dine-in service is in place to ensure everyone can keep 1.5 metres distance.

With restaurants serving only a fraction of what their venues can cater to, no-shows are costing businesses crucial dollars in a time where every single dollar counts.

Now in a time where we should be seeing venues celebrate the return of their customers – has instead seen venues reminding customers about the importance of showing up or cancelling bookings so they can serve as many people as possible.

Emerge Geelong, one of Geelong’s premium and contemporary restaurants, suffered a massive blow on Saturday night when they experienced no-shows and bookings that arrived with less guests.

“After now four lockdowns and further density restrictions back in place, it is so disappointing to have ‘no shows’ and bookings that show with less guests. The hospitality industry has been through and continues to go through so much. It’s surprising and saddening to us that this still happens,” the venue said in a post to social media.

Sadly, we’re sure Emerge weren’t the only ones to suffer from no-shows on the weekend.

This brings us back to last October when Victorian businesses welcomed diners back with open arms, only to have multiple venues suffer from no-shows. Venues could only open with a cap of 10 people seated indoors per space – with up to four spaces per venue (for a maximum of 40 customers) – and the four-square metre rule must be applied.

With venues petrified of having half-empty restaurants on a Saturday night, the majority started introducing late cancellation/no show fee for all bookings where to secure your booking, customers must enter their credit card details, or venues chose to take a deposit from customers upon booking, which is removed from your bill on the night.

While it’s the last thing they wanted to do, who could blame some venues for taking these precautions to protect their livelihoods and that of their staff until restrictions ease further?

Speaking from experience, it’s been near-impossible to get a booking anywhere at the moment, with most sittings across the region booked out well in advance, which is brilliant. However, when patrons decide not to rock up, there are detrimental effects on our favourite restaurants.

Joel Taylor of the Taylor Group (Barwon Heads Hotel, Grovedale Hotel and Torquay Hotel) summed this up perfectly last year when diners capacities were originally introduced.

“One of the main issues we are facing in our pubs at the moment is bookings where only a portion of the group are showing up, or not showing up at all.

“As our capacity is limited to around 10% of our usual capacity, this has a disastrous effect on the trade for the day. We are desperately trying to make ends meet with these highly restricted trading conditions and a few no shows per service can be the difference between covering costs and losing money.”

No-shows have always been a plague of the restaurant industry, messing up everything from staff workload to cooks’ prep work. But in ‘normal’ times, it was easier to fill that gap with walk-ins or shake off the missed revenue.

Now when capacity is limited and businesses are STILL fighting for survival, more than a year later, they are far more damaging.

Of course, sometimes things happen and you just can’t make your booking, which is fine. There are legitimate reasons to cancel and it’s not going to be the end of the world if you give a restaurant the heads up that you will not be able to make it. In current times, it’s likely the spot will be filled by another eager diner who might try their luck booking for dinner a day prior.

When you think about the amount of money these venues have lost over the past year with four lockdowns and copious amounts of restrictions, operating at such limited capacity isn’t exactly going to be making them a lot of money to begin with. If anything, these restaurants are just opening to keep their venues afloat and staff paid.

So, stick to your booking, call ahead if numbers change and just cancel if you’re not going to make it. Remember that a restaurant isn’t some faceless machine; it’s a business, often a small business, run by human beings with feelings. Don’t be the person who stands someone up.

If you need some dining inspo, check out Visit Geelong and The Bellarine’s list of local gems here.