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The debate: should restaurants take a deposit?

07 Apr 2016

Twitter has been chattering away this week discussing the interesting issue of restaurants demanding deposits from diners before they accept bookings.

It is becoming increasingly common for customers to book more than one restaurant for a particular evening, deciding at the very last minute which one to go to and leaving the others with empty tables which they are not always able to fill.

According (via Twitter) to La Mouette owner, Mari Vigar, she received a group booking for her restaurant which was duplicated at a nearby one. Apparently the group was intending to stand outside both and then decide which one they preferred, leaving the other with empty tables, over-ordered food stocks and under-utilised waiters.

What does this mean for restaurants?

From a customer’s point of view, I can see the attraction in this – after all, you don’t always know whether you’re going to fancy steak or seafood on Friday night, particularly when you have to sometimes book quite far ahead in order to secure tables. But it’s ruining restaurants’ bottom line and costing all other diners more money in the long run.

If a restaurant has a no-show, this can often equate to most of the profit for the night when food wastage and additional staff costs are taken into consideration and a restaurant which doesn’t make a profit won’t stay in business long.

However taking a deposit doesn’t seem popular according to many restaurateurs. According  to two Gauteng restaurateurs – Charl Coetzee of Capeesh and Savvas Themistocleous, franchisee for Life Grand Café – people are very reluctant to pay a deposit, preferring to cancel their table and go elsewhere if required to pay an amount up front.

They both say they have no-shows on a regular basis – including at busy times of the year such as year-end functions and Christmas parties. Their answer is to keep track of people who book and don’t arrive and then blacklist them for future bookings.

So is taking a deposit a good idea?

I don’t actually have a problem with it – if I want to go to a place, then I’d be happy to hand over the money to secure the table. I also enjoy the feeling of having a reduced bill on the night although I always tip on the full amount as otherwise the waiter loses out.

My one reservation is handing over my credit card details over the phone when I have no idea how they are recorded and stored. I think you would have to have a great deal of trust in a restaurant in order to do that – mind you, these days it seems that restaurants have to have just as much trust in their customers, with the faith that they will actually arrive on the night.

It’s a tricky conundrum whichever way you look at it.

What are your thoughts?

Tweet me and Food24 (@cathymarston | @Food24)

- Cathy Marston


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