(Image courtesy of Tock)
Dimmi lit up our Facebook feed last week after announcing that 38,000 diners had been ‘blacklisted’ from Australian restaurants via their bookings platform. It’s all part of their strategy to combat restaurant no shows ― a phenomenon that they reckon costs our industry around $75 million a year.
Restaurant no shows are indeed a massive problem for the hospitality industry ― so we’re delighted to see a business as large as Dimmi (a TripAdvisor company) take action on it. See, some diners don’t realise what far-reaching effects it can have when they don’t turn up for a restaurant booking. It lowers staff morale, it creates environmental wastage and ― in the long term ― it puts the venue at risk of shutting its doors.
For fine dining venues the problem is amplified. So much work goes on behind the scenes in preparation for a guest’s booking, and it starts pretty soon after their reservation is made. For instance, when you make a booking at Lûmé, our chefs begin preparing for your meal about a week before you arrive. Our front of house team take time to look at who’s made the booking, and find out if you’ve dined with us before, whether you have any favourite wines we might need to order in, or whether you have dietary requirements we need to adjust our menu for in order to accommodate. Depending on the night and the number of bookings we have, we may also need to put extra staff on. If it’s a busy Friday or Saturday, we’ve most likely had to turn down a lot of diners who would have liked to make a booking as well.
So you can see that it’s not just about filling a table on the night, but the various resources ― including labour, special orders and supplies ― that are paid for in advance by the restaurant…all in the lead up to a guest sitting down for a tiny slice of time to enjoy their meal.
Over the years, some restaurants have adopted the ‘walk-in only’ system as a way of protecting themselves against no shows. But these venues factor the walk-in model into the style of food they offer, the efficiency of how it’s prepared, and the type of service they provide in order to make it work. This model best fits venues with higher numbers of covers per night, and those who offer a more casual service with greater economies of scale in their food preparation (perhaps by using an off-site kitchen to service multiple venues, or cooking many dish components in advance so that they can be stored and reheated more easily). However, it’s not a suitable business model for a fine dining venue, where service is highly personalised and menus are prepared in exact quantities for the number of guests dining that night.
We don’t think Dimmi’s blacklist is the right answer either. Since it was first introduced just over a year ago, the list of customers blocked from making restaurant bookings has risen from 3,159 to 38,000. In that time, no-shows have only decreased by 25%. While it’s great to know that Dimmi have committed to eliminating no shows by 2020, three years is a long time to wait for restaurants who are struggling with the issue now.
At Lûmé we know the problem well. Back in 2015, we’d started losing around $3000 a week in no shows. That’s not just money lost in labour and overheads, but food wastage too (we order produce in exact quantities in order to avoid wastage, and aim to minimise environmental impact by taking only what we need of local foraged ingredients). The fact is that if we were using the ‘blacklist’ solution to combat no shows, our restaurant would be closed by now.
Instead we looked to the US, where the growth of hospitality tech startups has been accelerating rapidly. That’s where we found Tock ―the online reservations system developed by Nick Kokonas (Alinea) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Google), and backed by stakeholders including Thomas Keller (The French Laundry), Dick Costolo, ex-CEO of Twitter and Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp.
Tock use a prepaid ticketing system to manage restaurant reservations ― much like way you’d book a flight through an airline, or tickets to a concert. It’s different to taking a deposit then charging a guest if they fail to rock up. Instead, everything is done up front. If a guest needs to change their reservation, they can still do that as well with prior notice – but tickets are not refundable for unexplained no shows.
Within a week of switching our bookings over to Tock, our no show rate dropped dropped down to 0.013%.
It might not be the answer for all restaurants, but for us it definitely was.
Pre-ticketed dining ― avoid if you’re a technophobe
Last year, John Lethlean wrote a pretty scathing and ill-informed article about ticketed dining. We saw it and immediately cringed to think that it represented the opinion of Australian media. It read like the collective opinion of those who fear technology, hate change, and want everything to stay the same way it’s always been because, err…that’s how it’s always been. But with Worlds50Best arriving on our shores this year, the article did our restaurant and tourism industries no favours in positioning Australia as an innovator, global leader, or even legitimate player in the international dining scene.
Seriously, it was just embarrassing.
In the article, John was specifically referring to our use of Tock. This was our response at the time, which we originally posted on Facebook in May 2016. With Dimmi firing up the no show debate again, we think it’s a good time to revisit these little chats.
— Chef Shaun Quade