Reducing no-shows

What do you do when someone makes a reservation and then either fails to show up or cancels at the last minute? It’s a problem which is having a significant impact on the pub and restaurant trade as it comes out of lockdown.

At a time in which table numbers are limited due to social distancing requirements and yet venue and staffing costs are fixed, every empty space could potentially tip a venue into a loss making situation. And when not just one or two but a hundred people fail to turn up over a weekend, as one pub reported to the BBC recently, then it’s easy to see why the problem of no-shows is hitting the headlines.

In response, an increasing number of venues are starting to take credit card deposits at the time of booking.  Talking to the BBC, one pub owner commented that: “The taking of the card details has been exceptionally effective. Our no-shows have gone to virtually nil and our late cancellations have evaporated.”

Encouraging people to only book tables if they are reasonably certain they will attend the venue, or at the very least to cancel in good time, not only helps the hospitality industry it also helps fellow diners who otherwise would be turned away. So it is a win-win situation for venues and their customers.

It’s also a lesson which other sectors can learn from. In the health sector which has its own no-show problem, various approaches have been taken in recent years in order to encourage people to attend booked appointments. And with some fifteen million no-shows each year at GP practices, representing some 5% of all appointments, the problem of individuals failing to attend appointments is one which definitely has an impact on the health of the nation.

 Perhaps the method which people are most familiar with nowadays is the sending of an SMS text reminder. It’s a fairly simple approach, but can prompt people to cancel and rebook if they are no longer able to make the appointment.

Currently there is no option for NHS practices to charge patients who fail to turn up for appointments. Nevertheless, that doesn’t prevent other health practices which do charge for their services from charging for no-shows. By taking credit or debit card details at the time of booking, health practices can, in accordance which their advertised procedures, debit those cards with a fee in the event of an individual failing to turn up for an appointment or cancelling at the last minute.

Here again, the process of handing over card details and knowing that a charge will be made in the event of a missed appointment can help to concentrate people’s minds and encourage them to cancel in good time if they are unable to attend. And of course practices are still free to waive the charge in the event of extenuating circumstances. The charge should be viewed not as a way of penalising customers but as a way of encouraging attendance; thereby optimising appointment times and ensuring the maximum number of people can be seen in the time available.