Canceling Reservations

French menu

I’d arrived early this weekend at one of the “hot” restaurants in Paris, where I was meeting a friend for dinner, so I chatted up the barman while having a glass at the bar. Since it’s one of my favorite restaurants, I asked him how things were going because I want them to succeed and continue. He replied, “Well, we just had three groups of people who had reservations at 7pm, who didn’t show up.”

For a place that has fewer than a dozen tables, that’s a substantial percentage of places that could have gone to someone else. Many restaurants in Paris are small and it’s hard to absorb the loss of not having all – or most of – the tables filled, when they could be. And because costs to employ people are extremely high in France (higher than you might imagine), only the fancy places can afford to have a dedicated reservations person to keep track of who is coming and who isn’t. The rest rely on waiters or the bar person to answer the phone and write reservations in the book. So when you call and they seem harried, it’s usually because they are talking to you while serving customers or welcoming people walking in the door.

Le Temps des Cerises

It seems incomprehensible to me that someone would reserve a table, especially at one of the highly coveted tables, then simply not show up. True, there are emergencies. But I know from working in restaurants and talking to hosts, the impact that “no-shows” have. Some people have said to me that they feel nervous about canceling a reservation. Maybe it’s because they made a commitment but can’t make it. Restaurants, especially “hot” ones, can always find people to fill tables, even at the last-minute. So call and cancel.

The situation got so bad for three-star restaurants, which are usually booked far in advance and tables are at a premium (in spite of the lofty prices) that I was told that the reservation agents would call each other that day and if someone had a reservation at several of them, they would all cancel them out.

So if you’re not going to be able to use your reservation – even if it’s two minutes before you are supposed to be there – call the restaurant and cancel. There are invariably walk-ins that would love one of those spots, and most places can instantly fill an empty seat.

105 comments

  • I saw an article about Cocoa Nibs, your name was in the article. It is always nice to know there are men out there that know and love to cook and bake. I certainly raised my sons like that. Being 50 years old says alot. I think it’s a compliment. I feel that way and I am 60 years old. I was impressed to see a recipe for Tu B’Svat. I would like to share a wonderful recipe with you, its is a Chocolate Crumb Cake, which I made up. If you are interested in this cake let me know or send me an email.

  • Well, high end restaurants call you to confirm a day in advance. Plus why not function like american restaurants which generally don’t take reservations. You just show up and get a table or not! Yes reservations is practical for the customer but not for owners of famous restaurants. It is a compromis and never the best one. Then you must accept the pitfalls. (bad sides of it). Yesterday we had to eat at the bar of a good burger restaurant in Switzerland and believe me, we were happy to do so, to eat a good burger there.

    • I didn’t quite understand the canceling reservation article? You ate at a burger restaurant in Switzerland and did you make a reservation there or didn’t you?

    • Some restaurants require you to call the day before (or of) to confirm your reservation. I think the problem of not taking reservations in small places is that a lot of people would just show up (such as places like Frenchie) and trying to figure out who is next and who arrived in what order would be problematic for the staff to deal with.

      And for customers as well as the places in Paris that don’t take reservations haven’t adopted the “Put your name and number of diners on a list, on a clipboard” strategy, so it’s often a scrum to get a table. And if you’re waiting, you need to keep a sharp eye out as others often jump in front of you in line.

    • Would love recipe for crumble choc cake.

      Gilly

  • Well said David. I have nothing to do with the restaurant trade, but I too find it incomprehensible that anyone wouldn’t have the basic courtesy to call and cancel having made a commitment to a table. Would those people just not turn up for dinner at a friend’s house? – surely not.

  • David,
    it seems to be same problem everywhere. I recently read an article about some restaurants here raising the possibility of charging no-shows a certain fee. The letters to the editor were enlightening: people simply are not willing to consider a reservation a contract between two parties that needs, necessarily, to be honored not only by the restaurant, but the patrons, too. It seems almost impossible to teach certain people that a table at a restaurant is a valuable commodity.
    Love the idea of those restaurant that cancel the reservation when they find out that there have been made more than one on the same night.

    • A while back, some restaurants were taking credit card numbers (and/or deposits) for reservations, to curb the number of no-shows, but I think there was some question about the legality of charging people for something they didn’t actually receive if the deposit was non-refundable. But am not sure how that ended up.

      At Next in Chicago, the chef/owners (who also own the hard-to-get-into Alinea) decided that instead of having a group of people sit by phones and tell people all day long that the restaurant was full, he decided to sell tickets. They are sold online and a ticket is for a reservation & payment for dinner. (Kind of like theatre tickets!) And if you couldn’t make it, you could sell your ticket to someone else. It spawned people trying to snatch up tickets and reselling them online, but in general, I think it’s a good idea for places like that.

  • The problem of reservations in Paris has gotten so bad that when I called to make a reservation for my visiting sister they said they’re not taking reservations from Americans because too many don’t show. It’s just not civilized to no-show. From what I’ve heard this started with New Yorkers. Don’t know if that is true.

    • On behalf of New Yorkers, I’m offended. New York is a hub of restaurant culture. It’s largely tourists who blow off NYC restaurants, not we natives.

    • I’m particularly fond of OpenTable – I can make and cancel reservations from my smartphone with a few taps of a finger. :) It rewards me for making and keeping my reservations – and penalizes me for missing one without canceling! Incentive to good behaviour…

  • I usually do not comment but do try the places you recommend… This has nothing to do about making/ cancelling reservations but about le temps des cerises. I’ve been there once (I live up the street) and was not too crazy about that place or the service we got. I do like chez margot right around the corner…

    • In the past, Le Temps des Cerises was known for low prices and forgettable food. A bit back, it was taken over by someone else and it got some positive reviews, so we went for dinner a couple of weeks ago. The dining room was (very) loud – due to groups of people shouting and carrying on (and for once, they weren’t Americans!) and the food was just so-so..although the staff was really friendly and nice, and ernest. But since the dining room is so small, my ears hurt after a while and it was hard eating there with the noise and the tables (and diners) so close together.

      (Btw: The places shown the photos here are not necessarily recommended or places that I’m discussing in the post. I used the photos because they are of restaurants in Paris. You can find recommended places on the My Paris page.)

  • Why don’t restaurants rebook the table after say, a 20 or 30 minute wait? Surely they don’t keep it empty for the entire evening.

  • This is becoming a bit problem in Sydney (Australia)….it’s just bad manners. We all have mobile phones so cancelling a reservation shouldn’t be hard at all.

  • It’s the height of rudeness to make a reservation and not call to cancel if you cannot make it.

  • I’ve had to cancel reservations maybe three times in the last 5 years (here in Paris). On each occasion I was always a bit surprised at how I was always emphatically thanked for having taken the time to call and cancel. Now I know why.

    I appreciate the reservation policy that exists in most restaurants here in France. It seems like a civil way of handling things, IF people are civil about the process. In the US, I hate having to wait for 30 minutes or more to get into some places. But maybe it’s because the restaurants tend to have a much larger capacity and you are waiting around with lots of other people–it seems impersonal and like you are running a guantlet trying to get to the table.

  • I completely agree with that! Bravo for writing about it.

    I think the more people adhere to this rule of cancelling reservations, the less likely restaurants will go the way of, say, Café Constant and Le Troquet, which never take reservations. That’s a plus for consumers because reservations and allotted time slots are a privilege.

    Best
    Milsters

  • Very good post, David – this is a terrible problem for all restaurants that take reservations (also doctor’s surgeries & hospitals here in the UK!) We actually fell out with a friend a few years ago as she had a habit of booking 3 different restaurants in Central London on a Saturday night and not deciding which one to go to until late, then simply not turning up at the others. When we found out, we were horrified…but it didn’t seem occur to her that she was causing serious mayhem and loss of revenue. Really unbelieveable behaviour. Picking up the phone is so easy – I have never been berated on the few occasions when I’ve had to cancel…and when I’ve worked in restaurants, we were always really careful to thank people for doing so, however late they had left it.

  • Very kind of you to post this… I always call and cancel a restaurant if I can’t show up.
    Once I cancelled a reservation at one of the nicest restaurants in town and the next day the restaurant owner called me and yelled and screamed at me for not showing up (I was astounded by this). I told him that I had in fact called and cancelled — obviously his staff hadn’t relayed the information. A few months later the restaurant closed — guess it was just bad timing for everyone involved.

  • In NYC, Opentable (online reservation service that accepts reservations at most of the NYC restaurants) only allows you to make ONE reservation in your name for that evening, so that helps with the multiple res thing………

  • Stacey and Rob: Open Table hasn’t been adopted much in France for a variety of reasons (places are wary about giving up their reservation book, and the fees, etc.) but I know that a lot of people like to use it. And it’s easy to make, and cancel, reservations. I’ve heard that if someone has three no-shows, they are blocked from the system.

    Jenn: That’s pretty crummy, although generally, bad service and attitudes in restaurants begins with the management and/or owners, at least in my experience working in restaurants. (Fortunately I’m mostly worked for great people …) I had a terrible service experience in Paris at Le Repair de Cartouche, and another patron got up and stormed out as well. I was going to stop in the next day and tell the chef/owner, since the food was spectacular. But figured he probably knew the service was like that as the waiters had obviously been employed their awhile. It’s too bad, because I’d love to go back..

  • I know it’s extremely rude, but I bet people would be surprised just how often it happens. I spoke with a woman a few years ago who was in the process of making reservations at a third reservation for a Saturday night in Chicago. She explained that her mother was coming to town and they had no idea where they wanted to go. They were going to decide that night as the mood suited them. I asked if she planned to cancel the other reservations and she shrugged her shoulders, “If I remember,” she said. I was shocked, but she told me all her friends do that sort of thing.

  • As someone who has worked in the food industry for years, I agree that a call makes all the difference to a restaurant, and is simply common courtesy.
    A good solution seems to be to tell people that their table will be held for 15 minutes after the time of the reservation. If they are going to be later than that, they need to call. It still disrupts the flow of dinner service a bit, but it’s not devastating (for most places) and everyone is on the same page.

  • Open Table does make it SO easy to cancel or change a reservation. I also can tell you that, upon trying to make a reservation at Daniel on Open Table, I was notified of the terms of their reservation system and did have to give a credit card number.

  • Thank you for this! I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life, and people not showing up for reservations is the bane of my existence at times (no, I’m not being overly dramatic with that statement :) ) I’ve worked in Europe, where it’s just obnoxious and a hit to the owners, and I’ve waited tables in America where it eats into my paycheck. If someone has a res for 7, then the table is held from at least 6 or 6:30, and when the table is finally sat with a party other than the one that didn’t show, it could be two hours with no customers. That can be a huge portion of my tips.
    Just call, people! What do you think will happen, that the reservationist will yell at you?

    (whew!) Thanks for letting me rant a bit, David!

  • Reservations are a good way on revealing how you think of yourself.

    If you think of yourself as a civil, courteous person respectful of others then you make reservations, honor them, call if you need to cancel or notify the restaurant if you are running late.

    If you are a narcissistic, uncaring person who thinks me, me, me and does not respect others, then calling to cancel reservations is what the little people do, not you, you are too important.

  • I got food poisoning at Les Temps des Cerises in 2009 – wonder if that was before or after the change in management. It certainly put a damper on the rest of my week in Paris! Our Parisian friend who lived in the neighborhood said that because their menu is so limited, there were probably many diners that evening who got sick, too… (assuming it wasn’t a single piece of fish that was off)

  • US readers might also not know that in Paris, in general, you have booked the table for the entire evening. A no-show in NY is bad but not as dire for a restaurant since NY restaurants expect multiple seatings. In Paris, it generally is not worth showing up and hoping at a popular restaurant that thinks they are fully booked, since there won’t be time for another seating after.

  • I agree that it is the epitome of bad manners to double/triple reserve or make a reservation and just not show up. However, it is equally inconsiderate for a restaurant to take a reservation and then make you wait 30 minutes or more for your table after you have arrived on time. This happens a quite a lot where I live (not Paris). A reservation time should not be an aspirational goal. It goes both ways.

  • Hi David, I’m in Paris and just went to BOCO for lunch. Thought it was divine.

  • Can’t imagine getting ready for a big crowded night then end up looking at the empty chairs! Wish people take their commitments more seriously.

  • It never ceases to amaze me that people do that kind of thing! In this day and age of cell phones there is absolutely no excuse to not call a restaurant to cancel a reservation if you cannot make it. Like some of the other posters, I’ve been surprised by the response I’ve received when I’ve had to cancel reservations – in one case the person I was speaking with offered to re book the reservation for another night which I did. We had a great meal and then the waiter brought dessert – compliments of the house! Good service, IMO is a two way street….

  • Is that restaurant really called “Cherry Time”?

  • I agree with many comments here, it’s a question of common courtesy – or the lack of it in that case, which is unfortunately a sign of the times. It’s comforting to see that many people still share the same views. I vote for the return of Les bonnes manières ! Who’s with me? :-)
    By the way, I’m not an old and rigid spinster, but a forty something professional translator raising three teenage daughters and trying to teach them courtesy and the love of good food.

  • I agree! Even if it’s the same night, I am sure to call and let them know I can’t come. (With an apology, of course.)

  • It is rude to make a reservation and then not show up. But also agree with Susan, that it wrong for a resturaunt to make you wait for 30 minutes or more when you have a reservation.

  • A story on the opposite/odd spectrum: a few weeks ago my French husband booked a table at a fairly “hot” new place in Paris. When the American friends we were meeting there arrived, they were told that my husband had called to cancel the reservation–which was strange, seeing as how his phone was out of service at the time…
    Fortunately, one of our favorite places just down the street was able to work us in.

  • My husband and I often opt for eating at the bar when faced with no seating in the restaurant. Not only is the service very attentive, but you often end up starting up delightful conversations with those sitting next to you. I realize this is not an option in many places; in others, the bar area is precisely where the clutch of noisy people waiting to be seated, gathers. But it’s especially pleasant during the last seating and the constant flow of expectant diners has all but disappeared and you are left with the bar tender who has less and less to do. Not a bad situation if you are one or two hoping for a seat.

  • This has made me curious. How much time should a restaurant allow for you to arrive before they offer your table to a walk-in?

  • I couldn’t agree more !

  • I recently read about this happening here a lot in San Francisco–it’s plain rude. It takes virtually no effort to call and cancel if you’re not going, and the restaurants really appreciate it. What’s mind boggling is that part of this stems from folks booking reservations at multiple (busy) restaurants so that they have all their preferred options available at that last minute, yet they can’t be bothered to cancel the ones not used. It’s rude!

  • granny annie: I think the it was generally considered 20 minutes, but that may have been shortened since that was before the age of cell phones and people can now be in touch a lot more quickly.

    Susan + Pat: The problem comes when people don’t want to leave their table. It happens a lot in restaurants and although many restaurants can pretty much judge how long a table is going to be occupied, there are some people that just refuse to leave. In those cases, often at nice places, they’re offered a comp’d drink at the bar or something. In France, it was customary to give folks the table for the evening so there was no rush, but because of the economic crunch, they’re now turning tables (much) more than they used to.

  • Just a few weeks ago I reserved a table at L’Epi d’Or for 8pm, their opening time. We arrived on time and watched them casually finish their dinner while we waited outside. They completely ignored us for almost 20 minutes..another group had already given up and left after about ten minutes in, and after watching a server blow his nose and continue to handle glassware, we were both disgusted and furious…they knew we were waiting and made no acknowledgment..even a hand wave would’ve appeased us…so after waiting with reservations made, we left. I hope they didn’t fill the table..serves them right. By the way, I always call to cancel if we can’t make it..anything else is rude..but in this case they were beyond rude, and we’ll never go back. It’s not a great restaurant anyway.

    minutes and seeing a server blow his nose and continue to handle glassware

  • This customer behaviour is so infuriating as to be criminal. It is no wonder that many new places that have limited number of covers just don’t take reservations! And who can blame them! I would suggest to your lovely French restaurant that for tables of 4 or 6 they take the credit card and a contact number, and then also ask the client to call on the day to confirm. If they don’t show then take 50% of what a table of 4 or 6 would spend and charge the card, or call on the morning of the day and confirm their booking and then inform them that if they don’t show the card with be charged with 50% of what would have been spent! The new hot restaurant in London, Dabbous now uses Twitter to let customers know if there is a last minute cancellation because so many people double book or just book and change their minds – the world is full of fickle diners! It is now up to the business to have a proper booking and cancellation policy for their own sake as well as their clients. I know from previous experience when we’ve done our special tasting evenings and not taken the payment prior, there were always no-shows which meant a real loss for us as we had prepared all the components of the meal.

  • Totally agree with your comments, David. However much I disagree with no-shows from the restaurant’s point of view it can work sometimes for the diner……..
    I scored a table at Dabous, THE hot London restaurant, by stopping by every time I passed to ask if they had any no-shows. I stayed in solitary heaven for one of the best meals of my life!

  • David, did you mean to use “chatted up” in this article? I have recently been enlightened by what this phrase really means to those Anglophones on this side of the pond. I had been using the phrase in entirely the wrong context whilst explaining a situation to friends or colleagues. Perhaps to Americans it means something as simple as “Trying to get in with someone by chatting.” To sweet-talk someone through chatty conversation.” HOWever, “faites attention!” for those non-American Anglophones, it doesn’t mean the same thing. Just a word of caution to you and any of those UK readers…Your first sentence might peg you as a bit of a floozy (though I never would) ;-)

    Good article though. As difficult as it is to get into some of these small cafes/restaurants in Paris, it would be nice to give those really wanting to try the venue a chance – but this only works when those with coveted reservations are cancelled.

  • I swear I am not making this up – this was what I heard this Saturday in the Marais:

    “Yeah, a couple of months ago I made reservations for 8 PM tonight at those really cool new places X, Y and Z. But since they all have those new market menus that change every day, you never know if they’re gonna have anything you feel like eating. My girlfriend is really picky anyway. So we can just cruise by and check them all out and if nothing looks good, we can just go find a pizza somewhere. Nah, we don’t need to worry about cancelling or anything. ABC (foodie website) says people are always lined up to get in. They won’t care if we don’t show up!”

    Now you know…

    Le Tenps de Cerises was taken over just a couple of years ago by an ex-manager from Chez Janou. Basically same quality of food, emphasis on period decor and what some consider to be ambiance. You can do better.

  • I wouldn’t DREAM of not cancelling… I even call when I’m ten minutes late! And that’s not for three-start restaurants (I can count those events on… ummm… one finger) but the neighborhood cafe… How utterly rude and inconsiderate not to do so. Grrr.

  • It was nice of you to write this article David, to serve as a gentle reminder that not canceling can have a much deeper impact on the small restaurants than many of us even realize. People who don’t cancel may not give it too much thought, and that’s not to say that they are generally inconsiderate people.

    By the way, you think like a Frenchman… “chatted up the barman while having a glass…”. Got a kick out of that- I love the term “prendre un verre”!

  • Where I used to work, which was by no means a 3-star restaurant, we had constant problems with reservations not showing up. It was almost never the families or couples on dates or groups out to celebrate gramma’s birthday – it was almost always business people. We had a back room which could be flipped into a large, hollow rectangle set up, or several rows, or whatever the customer wanted. To book the back room at least one extra server and cook had to be scheduled (the room could hold up to 40), so when a group didn’t show, it cost us a lot of money. We started needing credit card numbers to book the room with the understanding that a fee of 25$ per hour reserved would be charged if we did not receive notice of a cancellation a minimum of 24 hours in advance (which was a deal when you consider the lost revenue at certain times of the day, and how the weekday morning spots were in high demand). We made “no exceptions” – the only exception being the group of ER doctors who were all called in on their way to the meeting because a bus full of elementary kids had been in an accident – you can’t charge people who didn’t make it because they were tending to hurt kids. Aside from being bad for the restaurant, as a server pulled off the floor on a busy Friday night to twiddle your thumbs for a group that never comes… that can mean you can’t pay your rent on time.

  • I always call to cancel a reservation because it’s the right thing to do. But I realize that there are so many jerks in the world who think only of themselves. What happens is they make the world unpleasant for everyone – for the restaurant owner and the customer who has to be called back.

    I used to experience these callbacks from restaurant owners only in San Francisco. It always irritates me because it’s disruptive. I also feel so insulted — What, do you assume I’m an a**hole? That I am I just not going to show up without calling you in advance?

    It never happened to me in Paris (or other cities), until last week. Last Saturday, I was so shocked to get a call from the people at Le Concert de Cuisine, a tiny restaurant in the 15th owned by Naoto Masumoto who cooks Japanese-French fusion food. I could barely speak except to say oui, we’re still coming, oui, at 8.30pm. After the call, I realised that this obnoxious behaviour of not canceling reservations has now infected every place on earth.

    Le Concert de Cuisine is a very small place (22 people max.) so I understand why they called me to confirm my reservation. But it’s just a sad sad sign of the decline of civility, responsibility and basic manners in the world today.

  • Had a fantastic meal at Pic in Valence a couple of weeks ago. On our way back, we dropped by on the off chance, but unfortunately a large group had block booked, so no free tables. Boo hoo.
    Would have loved if someone had phoned in a cancellation.

  • Restaurants that suffer from no-shows might consider adopting a policy of requiring a credit card number with an understanding that there will be a charge if there is a no-show, absent a cancellation a certain number of hours in advance. Or, they might institute a “no reservations” policy if the credit card requirement is too onerous. Or they could require a “confirmation” call a certain number of hours in advance. It’s a tough call, but somehow the customer needs to know there is an expense to the restaurant for a no-show. These would be onerous burdens on all, but that is the price of rudeness. This column did bring back one pleasant memory–two friends on their anniversary trip to Paris, and I, once got a prime table at the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower due to a last minute, phone in cancellation–we were there in late April, and the reservation had been made in early February. Some stranger’s courtesy in cancelling a prized reservation certainly made for a memorable anniversary meal for me and my friends.

  • In complete agreement with you. In fact, I’ve been one of those people who’s been lucky enough to get a table last minute because of a cancelled reservation and it always makes me super happy. A testament that the restaurants always have people who do want to eat there, even if someone else has something else to do!

  • My son’s restaurant in London takes lunch time reservations because busy people grabbing lunch out of work need to know they have a table. The evening tables are not reservable but are always busy with happy people eating good food. Maybe that is one way forward, but it doesn’t help with boorish people without the good manners to phone in to cancel.

  • Las Vegas has spoiled the high rollers along with those people who use reservations “in case” they want to eat. I don’t give money to the tables but it was a gamble I didn’t expect to lose when I made our reservation.
    Planning a celebration dinner at Shibuya, the high-end sushi place at the MGM, my daughter and I stood waiting for a seat for more than 25 minutes. After another 35 minutes we received our drinks and first course.
    Meanwhile, several obviously high-end customers were seated and served, finishing and leaving as our first course arrived. It was another hour before we were able to finish and leave. Sleepy, exhausted from expectation and the noise, we left vowing never to eat there again, our celebratory mood deflated.

  • It perhaps also should be said that when one dines in Paris, it is assumed you have the table for the whole evening. So when one does not show up, it is possible that the restaurant will keep the table available for a very long while in case you do finally appear.

    Four of us ate recently at our favorite, go-to neighborhood bistro in Paris, arriving quite early — 7 PM. We told the owner when we arrived how tired we were from a long day of sightseeing. We were flattered when she came over at about 8:30 to ask if she could book our table to a 9:30 reservation. We said yes. As it happened, another table vacated to allow for the 9:30 reservation, and we closed the place at 11:30. That’s Paris!

  • I do totally agree with you, David.
    And this is something I’m not proud, in my country. Unfortunately, it happens in many places.
    For example, I took an appointment with a doctor, and finally couldn’t go.
    So I called to cancel and the secretary told me :”Thank you very much, for calling”.
    I replied it was normal and she told me :’No, madame, you can’t even imagine how many people don’t come without canceling before”.
    And this is for doctor !
    For me : c’ets le comble de l’impolitesse !
    Sorry, I did not know to say it in english ;)

  • That is simply unthinkable behavior, but symptomatic of attitudes rather than and anomaly. The sociopathic thought process – if nobody knows who I am and I can get away with it, then what’s the problem – seems to be pretty rampant these days. I am just surprised that it is in Paris (not to say that the Parisians can’t be as proficient sociopaths as the rest of us, but I had imagined a heightened respect for restaurants). I experience it in my business, too. If I am not wrong I believe there is some kind of exchange of names of those who book and do not show here as well.

  • How unbelievably rude to make a reservation and not cancel if you can’t turn up! It is not, however, just restaurants that suffer it. A while ago, selling a house, we often got it nice and tidy for viewings only for people not to show up, or if we were lucky, cancel at the last minute. Not only did we have to alter our plans all the time, but we were having to travel to the house to show it and the potential buyers knew that.
    I don’t see why restaurants can’t charge a booking fee that is refunded when you pay for your meal. Theaters charge to see a show after all, you don’t get your money back if you don’t go!

  • I am disgusted by people and their inconsiderate behavior, but to every problem there is a solution…..

    If I owned a restaurant I would get the client’s phone numbers as they made a reservation. Every day at noon, I would send a text message for all the evenings reservations asking to reply with a definite yes or a no….to be received at least 30 minutes before the reservation. If there is no reply, reservation is null and void. Of course you explain this when they make the reservation so there are no surprises. And for no shows (people who text yes they are coming and then do not show), you have their phone number to call them and harass them at 2am. Also, that client would go on a black list and never be allowed to reserve again.

  • Chatting up the barman, were we? Was he fit? (If you “chat up” someone in my dialect, you are flirting with them).

    Anyway, it is rude not to cancel a table. I have been known (once) to miss a hospital appointment, but that had been booked 9 months in advance, the problem had resolved itself, and I forgot about it! This was in the days before computers so I didn’t have it in a diary.

    And if one could get an appointment at the doctor’s less than a week in advance, fewer people would book and then not show if they were better or dead by then!

  • Agree! At its core, it’s simply good manners. Would you ever ‘not show up’ at a friend’s home fir a dinner invite? To me, it’s the same thing.

    I don’t often cancel reservations, but having worked in restaurants, I ALWAYS call as soon as possible to cancel. And, I always receive a sincere and genuine ‘thank you- we really appreciate you calling to let us know.’

  • I very much appreciate a restaurant that allows reservations, and appreciate even more and am more likely to revisit the restaurants that give their best tables to those that reserved and then showed up.

    While I have on occasion not been able to make a reservation due to emergencies or sudden change of plans, and while slightly embarrassing have always notified the restaurant.

    Personally I feel if the restaurant is willing to commit to holding a table for you, the very least you can do is let them know if you are not going to show. File under good manners.

    The opposite of this did happen to me once – which made for a story retold around the dinner table to this day. We made a reservation for dinner on New Years Eve at a very nice restaurant in Paris. A few days before we confirmed the reservation. On new year’s eve we arrive – two taxi cars worth of us as it was a big party – and surprise, the restaurant was closed!!! New owners had just completed the transaction and had decided not to honor the reservations and close the place for the evening. With the help of an intrepid taxi driver we drove from restaurant to restaurant to find one that could accommodate our party for the evening, and were thrilled when Capucine took us in, seated us immediately at a great table, then treated us like royalty for a new years to remember.

  • I used to own a small, 8-table restaurant, and “no shows” were quite rare. We did ask for phone numbers, and if someone was late, we would call them to find out why, and if necessary, we would try to fill the table from the waiting list.

    But this was a small town, and our restaurant was the best, and no one wanted to be blacklisted there!

  • My experience from travelling to the US on holiday for the last three years and having restaurant reservations every night is that taking your credit card for super high-end places and saying they will make a charge if you don’t show is alive and well. I’ve run into it many times. At e, Jose Andres’s eight-seat “secret restaurant” attached to Jaleo in Las Vegas, they make you sign a contract saying you will pay the full amount if you cancel within a certain period. And I was trying to get a res at Alinea last year when they, too, switched to the ticket system. At which point I stopped trying. I fully sympathise with restaurants making sure they don’t have empty tables, and I wouldn’t dream of not canceling myself if I couldn’t make it, but pre-paying a very expensive meal with no refunds is not reasonable in my book. One delayed plane and I would have been out several hundred dollars.

  • Forget about being embarrassed if you need to cancel a reservation; there’s a possibility that your ‘spot’ can be redeemed, but to not call is to leave the servicer out in the cold. You’ve cast your frigidness of disrespect about him or her, and left the calling card of the ‘client’ that thought more of themselves than that of their prospect. And trust me, what goes around….comes right back around. Bob Dylan says it best in the words of ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’…

  • Of course the other side of this is making a reservation and still waiting 20 minutes or more for the table. I try to tell myself that the restaurant has to overbook because too many self centered idiots just don’t show up. Waiting for a reservation or not being able to make a reservation both make me angry a little but my better self understands why in both cases. The bad punish the good. Did I read that in Madame Bovary?

    • No one likes to rush to a place, then be kept waiting. Some places, I suppose, use that as a ruse to get you to the bar and order a drink. But a good place, if they keep you waiting (which is sometimes because the customers are the table are dawdling…) will offer a glass of wine, which I think is a nice touch. It costs them very little, yet soothes any bad feelings. However often it’s not the fault of the restaurant, but can be the customers. A restaurant in New York City was offering all guests a tour of the kitchen and (free) Cognac at the bar after dinner, as incentive to get folks to give up their tables because people didn’t want to leave. (It was 11 Madison Park, and that story was recounted in an article in the New Yorker magazine. Am not sure if they still do it as some customers felt ‘rushed’ – but others liked seeing the kitchen…and the free Cognac!)

  • Hmmm… almost every time I have called to cancel a restaurant reservation I have received sincere appreciation from the place- It’s just common courtesy! What’s the french term for those who are rude? Mal eleve. ( with an accent somewhere on one of those e’s)
    Jenny

  • I completely agree with your post. If someone can’t make it to the restaurant then they should have the decency to call and cancel their reservation. Even my hairdresser complains of no show …. some people can be so rude, it’s just a phone call away.
    I love opentable as well …. reservations are made online, canceled online and you earn points. But not all restaurants participate with opentable.

  • I completely agree that it’s rude and inconsiderate not to show up when you’ve made a reservation. But I am equally steamed by the practice of restaurants cancelling reservations “exceptionally” as happened to me twice during my last weeks in Paris. Once, even though we had made the reservation at Frenchie weeks in advance, we were offered no alternative date and only the barest apology. Another time, our lunch reservation at Spring was cancelled and only dinner was offered, which of course, was twice the price of lunch. Time was short and we couldn’t rebook for months hence, so we took the dinner reservation. It did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    • Yikes. Both of those restaurants have been hit with an onslaught of customers and reservations and are trying to come up with ways to deal with them. But it’s unfortunate neither worked out for you, especially after reserving in advance. Frenchie is now experimenting with an online reservation system to handle the requests, but in your case, it would have been nice to have been offered another time. Spring had tried to initiate an online reservation system but had some issues with it.

  • I’m continually surprised at the percentage of people who seem not to know that the past tense of ‘to seat’ is ‘seated’.

  • I don’t think there would be legal issues with asking for a credit card and billing it if the person is a no-show. It isn’t true that you would be billing them and they got nothing for it. They had the use of a table for several hours whether or not they availed themselves of it.

    When I book a hotel, I am always asked for my credit card and some of them require a deposit to hold the reservation. If I don’t use the room and don’t cancel, my card will be billed for, at a minimum, one night’s stay and/or the deposit will be forfeited. The same applies to a cruise or a car rental. When these people book an airline or train ticket, they pay the whole thing in advance, sometimes months ahead.

    I spoke recently with a hotel that requires a deposit of 70% of the expected room charge for your entire stay and it must be paid 30 days before you arrive. They explained that the reason is no-shows and fraudulent credit cards.

    I hope that if anyone hears a person making multiple bookings, they would call the restaurants and cancel them or at least alert them. If they had been friends of mine, that friendship would be over rather quickly. It takes only a couple of minutes to call and cancel.

    Perhaps what is needed is a central list of no-shows that posts your name publicly the second time you do it. That way restaurant staff could look you up as soon as you phone and refuse you if you’re on the list.

  • On our last trip to Paris my spouse got foodied out on day five and announced he could not handle one.more.restaurant.dinner.

    Sadly, my phrase book did not offer language for “I need to cancel my reservation” and I fear the young man who answered the phone understood neither what Google Translate told me to say nor my desperate attempts to have him hand the phone to someone who spoke Englsh.

    As a result, I still have nightmares of being the world’s ugliest American. Maybe this is something you could help with in your “My Paris” section?

    • Most restaurants have someone who speaks English on staff (some folks feel that they get seated in “the American” section of restaurants in Paris, but often it’s because that is where the server who speaks good English is) – but “phone French” can be hard, especially if people are speaking back at you rapid-fire. But at least you made the effort.

      In the future, perhaps having the person at your hotel call and cancel, might save some of the stress of having to speak “phone French” ; )

      • Alas, we were in an apartment and our third-party restaurant concierge didn’t handle last-minute reservation issues (it was in the contract). Next time I’ll be better prepared.

  • THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMON SENSE, INSPIRING POSTS AND HUMOR ! I have come to depend on your writing to offset the dull, self-centered and blind behavior we see everywhere. First, I found you through a search for recipes, and then I found YOU, and you are an original gem.

    No need to burden you with another email to answer. I just hope that you see this.

  • I agree it’s common courtesy to cancel a reservation and get annoyed when my husband tells me to reserve multiple restaurants if we can’t decide which ones to go.

    Chez Panisse actually charges $25 for a reservation and can be refundable if cancelled 24 hrs in advance. The $25 is used as credit towards the bill.

  • Maybe time to do what UK dentists do and reserve the right to make a charge for DNA’s (did not attends). This rude habit of phoning to cancel in good time is doubly unforgivable in the recession.

  • Multiple bookings????? Indecisive is the politest response i can give to that. Every time you book a table, you render that table unavailable to somebody who really wants it. Doesn’t matter if you then call ahead to cancel. You’ve caused inconvenience and time wasted at the very least. At it’s most damaging it can result in a restaurant altering it’s staff roster for a night predicted to be busier than it turns out to be if more than one punter makes a multiple. Please don’t do it.

  • Aside from being rude, it can cost the restaurant money. My favorite restaurant here in NOLA is usually booked up a month or so in advance. They know how many people will be there each night based on reservations, and can shop accordingly. We go, and are usually seated within 5-10 minutes (after hugs and a bit of catch-up), and the table is ours until we leave, whether an hour or three. To show such disrespect to people who work hard to welcome us and feed us well would be shameful. I like that reservations are taken too, as I know I won’t be forced to stand around for up to an hour – or longer – to eat. There are restaurants I won’t go to because the wait negates any pleasure I may have had.

  • We had to put in place a policy of taking a credit card number on reservations of six or more. We’re a small restaurant in a college town and around parents weekend and graduation we’ve had the entire place booked but only 1/2 of the reservations show up. This has never happened since we’ve started taking credit card numbers.

  • Here here! I don’t understand how these no-shows sleep at night. I would feel so bad if I did that. I always ring the restaurant -rain, hail or shine.

  • I believe if you took the time to make the reservation in the first place, you can take equal or less time to cancel it if you are unable to make it. It’s simple etiquette. I see this no differently from how one should treat invites for events, meetings or other circumstances where responses are always appreciated.

  • @David: if you mean 11 Madison Park, I was there in July and although the restaurant was full they weren’t offering any kitchen tours or Cognac. So it looks like maybe they’ve stopped that. Dammit! Oh well, it was a fantastic meal anyway.

    • Yes, that’s it. I think it’s a good idea and I know that some restaurants do offer people (comp) after-dinner drinks at the bar if they need the table.

  • Great post, David. We all need to be reminded again and again, because we are all, basically, idiots. I like the idea of having the restaurant ask for a name and a phone number, They don’t need to call to remind people, but the very idea that the restaurant MIGHT call can sometimes push people into being responsible.

    Thanks again for your continuously interesting (and usually delicious) posts.

  • Hear hear! I walked into one of my favourite (and unfortunately, for me, currently hottest) restaurants in my neighbourhood on a whim last Saturday night, and turned out they just had a cancellation. I couldn’t believe my luck :) had a wonderful dinner.

  • This is the same in Singapore too. Some people would call a few places to make reservations and then decide later which one they would turn up at and leave the rest uncancelled.
    I know of hotels which would require you to pay a deposit first when a reservation is made, especially at festive seasons, just so they do not waste their space.
    It’s all a matter of basic courtesy which I do not understand. It’s sad and disgraceful behaviour.

  • I’m surprised by the number of responses to this posting! So many in just three days. My response has to do with probably the best seafood restaurant on the East Coast of the US; G&M’s restaurant in Baltimore. I’m a New Yorker by choice, and when I’m in the Baltimore area, I like to go there for their great crab cakes. Their system is very simple; you do not make a reservation; you turn up at the restaurant, and you’re given an electronic device. When a table comes free for the number of people in your party your device buzzes, you go to the desk and give it in and are seated. System works very well! I guess they got tired of peple not turning up for reservations.

  • Several spots in San Francisco are now requiring a credit card to reserve so that IF you don’t show up AND don’t call to cancel (it has to be both) you will be charged a penalty fee! Makes us think twice before blowing off a reservation :)

    Cheers!

  • Hi, David,

    Totally agree with this, and I’m hoping simple tools for even the smallest restaurants will be widespread soon … automatic texts sent to people with reservations that remind them of their time and ask for a call back or text if things have changed, for example. We tried to go to Les Temps des Cerises on a Paris visit – closed that day. So we hit Baz Arts down the street and loved it.

  • Just a little chime in from me, here in Hong Kong. ;)

    There are places, including high end Michelin starred Chinese restaurants that do not take reservations. You show up, with your group and get assigned a paper ticket with a number (larger places will colour code tickets where 1~2 people get say green, 3~6 get yellow, 7~12 get pink, 13+ get blue, for example). The person assigning tables calls out your ticket when they are ready for you. Really efficient staff can even tell you that said number will be a 1 hour 30 minute wait… so you can go off and do some shopping (this is Hong Kong!) and come back in 1 hour 25 minutes. ;)

    Places that do take reservations (usually Western restaurants, private kitchens aka speakeasies and Chinese restaurants specialising in banquets) will ask for a deposit on larger groups (usually 5+). In all cases, they will call the day before to check if you still want the table. They’ll keep a table for up to 15 minutes in the event of a late show… though Hong Kong is seething with enough people if the table gets a no-show, pretty much any restaurant will fill it that even no problem. Oh, and a recap on the deposit… if you cancel in advance (before they call you), you get a full refund. Just do a no show… sorry, money is gone, as that was the cost to reserve a place. All is fair in life.

    I like how the reservation agents pull together to auto-cancel booking trollers. Easy to circumvent though… just get a different person in each group booking to make a booking. :D

  • I could hardly believe that there are so many no shows… and I also do not understand why French restaurants – unlike any other country I lived in – do NOT take down a valid phone number when a reservation is made. Even if they surely have no time to check back, it gives them something to make the potential customers think that the (maybe coveted) restaurant might not take a second booking when their name and phone number was a no show last time.
    Then I find it extremely impolite to reserve and NOT show up. We always phone when we even have a short delay of say 10′ because we know that places are at a premium and won’t be kept forever. It’s just simply good upbringing – and now ‘bon appétit’.

  • There is no excuse not to call and cancel a reservation. It’s considerate – plain and simple. I hate being late so I call restaurants I have a reservation for if I am going to be late – even five or ten minutes and they are always so appreciative.

  • Not cancelling a reservation is nothing but bad manners. Would these people stand up their friends? Probably not. So why do it to businesses who will lose money as a result? Poor show folks…

  • I had a wonderful French instructor in cooking school, Maurice N., who said that the problem of the customer who would not leave their table was to offer them a brandy on the house in the bar. Not sure this would work these days.
    I always enjoy reading your posts, David. Which is why i have nominated you for the
    Super Sweet Blogging Award. Let me know if you want more info.
    best,
    K

  • I’ve been a server at a downtown restaurant for a few years and it truly is amazing at the number of no-show parties. We’re a large restaurant, so the occasional no-show for a deuce to a four-top can easily be filled by a walk-in. However, it’s those 10-20 tops who fail to show or call to cancel that cause the most problems for the restaurant. Management will schedule extra help in the front and back in anticipation of the night’s business. The server will not only lose sales from the AWOL party, but will also not be sat as frequently before the scheduled arrival so as to not overwhelm them when 15 guests are seated.

    Also I am not sure if anyone has already commented on an extension to this problem. We’ve had many guests book a table for say 30 to celebrate their birthday and only 10 of their friends show up. If you can’t make it to dinner with your friends, call the restaurant and your friend to update them. The restaurant will appreciate the news as they may need to change the table. And your friends may benefit by getting a table with a better view.

  • This is a very interesting piece. Definitely something I would like to look into in my own area.

    I always find the same kind of fear of cancelling reservations.

    Did you find anything out as to why cancellations or no shows have been increasing? Is it universal in Paris, or are there other aspects (area, location, style, etc.) that effect cancellations?

  • As someone who dines out frequently, I always try my best to cancel a reservation as soon as I know I will not be able to honor it. With that said, an earlier comment mentioned that a lot of people just don’t view a reservation as an agreement or contract between the restaurant and patron. My problem with that view is…not sure how it is in Paris, but in the US, so many restaurants make you wait way past your reservation time! If they can’t honor their side of the agreement, it gives patrons less of an incentive to keep up their side of the bargain… I’ve actually stopped making reservations and will just go to restaurants hoping to get a table or sit at the bar, it’s a lot less frustrating than having a reservation and then made to wait another half hour.

  • I would have to be dead. totally w/o power, or in a cell phone dead spot not to call and cancel, or even to say I would be a little late. If I’m going to be more than about 10 minutes late, I ask if they would like me to rebook. I would be curious to klnow the nationality of the parties which just didn’t show up.

    Savvy