Toronto restaurant scolds diner after missed reservation
For small Toronto restaurants, the reservation system, no matter how you dice it, is not without its share of problems.
It's true. Dinner reservations are one of the few things in Toronto we can commit to and pull a no-show with no repercussions whatsoever, financial or otherwise. Life happens. That's a given. Flights are delayed, meetings run late. What small restaurant owners want us to know, though, is that reservation no-shows take a real bite out of their business.
Some, bluntly and without apology, are "calling people out" for pulling a disappearing act when their dinner is served, in hopes of changing a long-standing philosophy that it's no big deal to miss a reservation without a phone call. They say that if a dinner reservation was treated more like an appointment it could make the difference between success and struggle for their business.
Frank's Kitchen on College Street in Little Italy, run by husband and wife team Frank Parhizgar and Shawn Cooper, is one of them.
Cooper stands by this philosophy, she says, because no-shows are hurting her business, and her focus is to cultivate repeat business. "I wish I could say they are a rare occurrence, but I think the consciousness is changing because people like me and other small, husband and wife run places are gently educating people," she says.
"Larger restaurants can afford to lose a table or two but the new crop of tiny chef-owned and -operated restaurants simply cannot. The type of restaurants that are now opening and becoming popular have changed over the last couple of years, and the reservation policies have had to change as well, so that we can all stay afloat."
It can get tense, when a restaurant calls guests out and makes it a point to let them know that no-shows do have repercussions. For diner Matt Tummon, a self-described avid restaurant goer, that kind of philosophy is too strict.
"Comparing a dinner reservation to a doctor's appointment is ridiculous," he argues. "There are three meals a day every day of the year. You go to the doctor once a year."
He missed his reservation at Frank's Kitchen recently due to a meeting running late and says he was browbeaten for it. "I was wrong for not calling to inform them I would be missing my reservation and the voicemail they left me that night was more than sufficient. It was the second voicemail that was left two days later that was almost two minutes in length that is the real issue here in my opinion."
From the restaurant's perspective, a small establishment without financial backers has a razor thin profit margin, so asking guests to be more aware of reservation commitments ultimately means a more enjoyable meal, bought and prepared with a specific number of diners in mind.
"At first I know people are like, 'Why do I have to give notice? Why are they making a big deal about it?' And I get it, how would they know? They wouldn't," Cooper acknowledges. "It's just about education. So I've spent years talking to people on the phone telling them, 'Here's why it's important to us,' and people are very cool."
Whippoorwill owner Shawn Creamer doesn't as avidly follow-up with guests who miss their reservation without notice, but says if it was up to him he would do away with reservations for his intimate, 43-seat restaurant.
"But we do them because it's necessary," he says. He uses online booking software ResBook, which is the only way people can make a reservation at Whippoorwill.
"But truthfully, 20 to 30 percent of those people don't show up... With a small restaurant it's so hard to make money in the first place. I'll phone people while we are saving the table when they are 20 minutes late and never hear back. It's such a kick in the teeth. I do think it's true that it's just not thought of."
The question seems to be then, how far should the restaurant go in asking people to change their philosophy as well? A voicemail? Two? A scolding? Telling customers they are no longer welcome? Tweeting the names of guests who don't show up?
"People will make a reservation at three or four different restaurants and then pick the one they want to go to that night and ignore the other ones," Creamer says.
"Some people don't see that they are hurting a small business, but I think it's important that people know, and I think it's worth educating them."
It can get tricky though, because a diner like Tummon feels like he was unfairly taken to task for an oversight about which he already felt guilty. Striking the right balance is food for thought for Toronto restaurant goers, as small restaurants are ready to bring them into the conversation, however boldly that entry may be.
What should restaurants do when diners don't show for reservations? Add your 2 cents to the comments below.
Writing by Erin O'Bourn