Picture this: You’ve just travelled from Jurong to Tampines to meet your friend for a long-overdue dinner. As it’s the weekend, you had to brave the crowds on the train, all the while lugging a heavy handmade gift for your friend which you painstakingly prepared the night before.
Of course, you’re excited to catch up with your friend after not meeting for so long. It’s why you turned down dinner with your parents, and even declined to take on a lucrative work assignment which would have helped greatly in paying for that holiday you’ve been saving up for.
You arrive five minutes early at the place where you two have arranged to meet. You wait, eagerly, as the meeting time comes and goes.
15 minutes of waiting soon becomes 30, then almost an hour. Worried about your friend’s no-show, you call him only to have him pick up and say: “Oops, I forgot, and I’ve made plans to catch a movie with my colleagues instead.”
Now, how do you feel? Angry? Upset? A little betrayed, perhaps? Why couldn’t your friend have informed you earlier to cancel your meetup?
All that travelling, along with the effort you took to prepare and carry your friend’s gift, down the drain. Not to mention the opportunities you passed up on in order to keep the appointment.
If you can understand the injustice of a last-minute cancellation, then you’d be able to empathise with chef and restaurateur Bjorn Shen.
The 35-year-old, who runs Middle Eastern restaurant Artichoke, was left enraged on March 24 when his 100-seater establishment was hit with “32 last minute cancellations”, resulting in a loss of “1/3 of (the restaurant’s) revenue” for the night.
In an impassioned post on his personal Facebook page, which has since been shared more than 400 times, Shen lamented that he had to decline reservations and enquiries from other potential customers throughout the week prior to that as he thought his restaurant was, on paper at least, fully booked that day.
He added: “It’s every week that this happens. All these wasted seats, all the wasted food, and all the over-rostered staff. All this wasted effort and money.”
In a subsequent interview with Channel NewsAsia, Shen said he estimates that the cost of no-shows and cancellations at his restaurant last year amounted to around S$300,000.
The cancellations on March 24 – which included two large group reservations of 12 and 20 pax respectively – proved to be the last straw for Shen. He has since imposed a new restaurant policy that will penalise anyone who fails to show up for their booking. Those who cancel less than 24 hours before their booking will also have to pay a penalty.
However, Shen’s grouses over bad restaurant reservation etiquette have not gone well with some.
Several netizens have commented that this issue is just one of the many “risks of business”, and that Shen should learn to accept it as a restaurant owner. Others have expressed their uneasiness over having to provide sensitive information like their credit card details to the restaurant.
Shen himself has admitted that his new restaurant policy to safeguard against last-minute cancellations and no-shows could see him lose customers.
Mrs Marianne Tan, who operates a Thai restaurant here, believes that most customers view reservations simply as an “option, rather than an agreement”, and as such, do not think there is “a necessity” to keep to it.
She explained to The Pride: “If they (customers) don’t lose anything for failing to keep to their reservation, then it does not become a priority for them. For many, making a reservation is simply a way of guaranteeing that they will have at least one eating option available during the peak lunch or dinner hours. It’s also an easy way to beat the queue.
“But, the moment you impose penalties on customers for no-shows on reservations, or require them to pay a deposit, they get turned off because then that ‘option’ suddenly becomes a commitment which they are now under pressure to keep.”
Mrs Tan, however, added that she understands some customers are genuinely unable to keep their reservations due to emergencies or urgent engagements.
Admittedly, I too, am guilty of having cancelled my reservations at the last minute. Frankly, I never did think about the sort of inconvenience that I was causing when I did that – until I read Shen’s post.
However, bad reservation etiquette applies not just to restaurants, but to other services, such as medical appointments at hospitals, sports facility reservations, and even taxi or private-hire vehicle bookings.
Sure, you might be charged a token fee for failing to show up for your appointment, or in some cases, have your booking privileges curtailed. This would not, however, cover the time, effort, and sometimes financial costs that establishments have to bear due to the cancellation.
Making a reservation also means you’re potentially taking up someone else’s opportunity to enjoy, or utilise, an establishment’s offerings and services. So, instead of treating our bookings flippantly, we should recognise it as a benefit that should be appreciated, because not everyone may have been able to snare a reservation themselves.
And, if we should need to cancel a reservation, do it as early as possible – it just takes a phone call, a text, or the click of a mouse. Cancelling early will allow establishments a chance to find someone else to fill that vacancy.
Essentially, it all boils down to respect.
Respect, to the promise you made when you confirmed your reservation.
Respect, for the effort and time that each establishment puts into ensuring they’re ready to serve you when you turn up.
So, if we don’t want establishments like Artichoke to implement penalties and deterrents, then perhaps we should start showing them the respect they deserve.
Because, it is only when they feel like we are trustworthy patrons that they’ll be able to truly welcome us into their establishment – and have no reservations in doing so.