11 Battle-Tested Ways to Reduce No-Shows at Your Restaurant

Restaurant no shows Restaurant no shows

There’s one thing that gets restaurant managers sweating and shaking in their boots.

Something even scarier than the coronavirus.

Do you know what it is?

I’ll give you a hint – it is connected to reservations.

That’s right – no shows!

Fun fact: Did you know that 20% of all reservations end in no-shows. For a restaurant, that’s a lot of money on the table.

Before we go on, let’s define what no-shows are so that we all have the same picture.

What is a restaurant no-show?

No shows are patron or diners who make a reservation and don’t show up.

There are any number of reasons why people don’t honour their reservations. Perhaps they changed their plans at the second. Maybe they got sick and decided to stay back. Or their date called and cancelled on them and they turned around and did the same to you.

Whatever the reason, no shows are terrible.

It’s even worse now.

With the threat of the pandemic barely gone, many restaurants are mandated to operate solely through reservations. Imagine what would happen if people make reservations and don’t honour them.

A nightmare, right?

The good news is that no shows can be reduced using the right techniques. In this article, we’d be looking at 11 battle-tested ways to reduce no shows and maximize your tables.


  1. Use Reservation Software

Long gone are the days when people took reservations through phone calls and recorded them in log books. Asides from human error, it is the surest way to lose track reservations when lots of bookings start to pour in.

A reservation software is designed to handle all the processes of taking reservations and automatically, too.

Hence, it can efficiently manage as many reservations as you get. If you do not have your own reservation platform, you could collaborate with a third party platform.

However, be sure that your partner platform has the most important features. Such as:

  •         Collect and manage customers’ contact.
  •         Allows customers to book reservations from several channels e.g. website, Google, and mobile app.
  •         Automates the booking process for customers. It should allow you to program processes like SMS and email reminders for customers and one that syncs with their calendar.
  •         Allows for two-way communication between you and your customers. Letting you reach out to them in real-time to whether they’d confirm, cancel, or come in late.

And a few more.

Compare and contrast different reservation software to find the best fit for your restaurant. And, more importantly, help you reduce no shows.

2.     Make It Easy For Diners To Cancel

What? Is this a joke?

No it’s not.

I know we are talking about reducing no shows and this sounds cuckoo crazy, but hear me out.

There are 2 major reasons why you should make it easy for diners to cancel.

The first reason is the safety of your staff. Imagine a customer is sick and because he/she is unable to cancel easily. They may show up and put the health of your customers in jeopardy.

The second reason you should make it easy for diners to cancel is time. If it’s difficult for diners to cancel, you never know for sure if they’d turn up. You may only find out that they didn’t turn up when they don’t actually turn up. Making you lose the opportunity to sell that table to someone else.

The most effective way to do this is to open up multiple cancellation channels. This gives your customers options, and options bring freedom.

Bottom line is this – the easier it is for diners to cancel, the quicker you are aware the table is available for booking.

3.     Offer A Little Reservation Window

People show up late to work where they get paid. Imagine what they’d do to a restaurant reservation.

You should prepare yourself for this.


By offering a grace period.

Sometimes, you may cancel a reservation just because the diner is late. This not only cost you money, but would displease the customer as well.

You could offer a 15- to 20-minute grace period for diners who may be caught in traffic or attending to an emergency. To top this up, ensure you include email or SMS reminders or calls to let customers know you are waiting for them.

Just be sure there’s adequate communication.

4.     Follow Up With Defaulters

Again, this is not a joke.

You are probably thinking, “Why should I waste my time with diners who didn’t show up?”

Well… think future business.

Diners don’t fail to turn up because they want you to suffer, even though it often feels that way. There are a number of things that could have stopped them from coming.

They may not call you to explain why they didn’t show up. But you can be the bigger person in the situation and reach out to them.

Send them an email or SMS saying how you missed them and would love to have them come around soon. This will make them know their absence was noticed and felt and will make them feel special.

Though that doesn’t guarantee they’ll return, it significantly increases the chances of that happening.

5.     Courtesy Calls And Reminder Messages Go A Long Way

Create a system that sends a reminder message or places a call to diners 24 hours ahead of their reservation. This way you get to know early on if they’d turn up or not.

This also gives you the opportunity to discover if the customer has additional needs you can meet ahead of time. Furthermore, it starts the dining experience early on and gets them extra excited about honouring their reservation.

You could as well remind them of any extra safety protocols you have put in place to keep them safe while they dine at your restaurant.

6.     Take Customers’ Credit Card Details

Okay, I know it sounds like I’m asking you to go on the offense, but you will understand why in a sec.

Taking credit card details offers you a way to monetize your no shows.

How, you ask?

By charging a cancellation fee.

The trick behind this is that people do not like to lose something. And so, if your diners know that they’ll get charged for dishonouring their reservations, they’ll most likely show up.

This way you win anyhow, whether they show up or not.

This method is guaranteed to improve your no show numbers. But watch that it doesn’t begin to impact actual sales negatively.

7.     Ask For An Advance Fee

Much like the preceding tip, this works like a dream.

You could ask your diners to make a deposit in advance of their reservation. The catch here is that you get to keep this advance fee if they fail to show up.

I’d call this a commitment fee. It helps keep your diners at the edge of their seats with regards to their reservations. And also increases the chances of them honouring it.

In fact, when customers commit to their booking with a small fee, it gives them a sense of responsibility.

You want to assure them that if they show up, the advance fee would be added to their bill.

You don’t want them thinking you are trying to cheat them, do you?

8.     Know Your Regular Offenders

If someone keeps doing something over and over again, it makes sense to pay attention to that person.

This is important if you want to flatten the no show curve.

Pay close attention and you’d find out that most of your no shows will come from a small set of people. You want to make sure you keep a record of these diners. So that whenever they book again, you’d be there to address them.

You could give them an incentive to make them show up the next time they book.

Alternatively, you can create a policy that allows only a number of no shows from one individual. When that number is exceeded, you can choose to refuse them a table with explanations for your refusal.

9.     Celebrate Those Who Do Show Up

There’s something that works better than fear – reward.

The human brain is wired for reward for effort. You can use this to your advantage.


By openly celebrating diners who honour their reservation. You can give them extra toppings, drinks, mustard – whatever! You could even (possibly) roll out a red carpet.

Oh, here’s a crazy idea – post them up on your social media and praise them.

That will get people to honour reservations like crazy so they too can be rewarded. This is an inexpensive but pretty effective way to get those no show numbers down.

10. Avoid Overbooking

Are you in the practice of overbooking tables to keep no show numbers down?

If yes, you may want to avoid that.

Here’s why…

You run a huge risk of pissing off loyal customers who may have to wait for their tables or get turned away. That is bad for your business, especially now you are trying to get back on your feet after the pandemic.

In the case where you unintentionally overbook, inform other diners ahead of time. As a result, you will minimize disappointments.

Additionally, you want to offer a sort of incentive to ‘apologize’ to them for any inconveniences. One good idea would be to offer them a huge discount on their next reservation. Yeah, you may lose a little money, but you get to keep the customer.

What this does is that it shows them that you value their time and business. Customers like that!

11. Let Them Know You’ve Got Their Health Covered

And no, I don’t mean insurance.

One of the biggest reasons for no shows in this period would be fear. Sadly, as restaurants reopen, some customers may not be as excited to eat out as they were prior to the pandemic.

And for good reason.

Everyone wants to be safe. Therefore, if you want to get the business of a nervous customer, you should assure them that it’s safe to dine at your restaurant.

Let them know what health and safety protocols/policies you have in place for your restaurant. You can go as far as sending them photos of your staff wearing personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.

In sum, you need to do what’s necessary to make them feel confident about dining at your restaurant.

In Conclusion

Will all these great tips completely eliminate no shows?

Unfortunately, no.

However, they will help to significantly flatten the no show curve and see you grow as you reopen.

Every single customer will be important to your business in the post covid-19 era. You want to make sure no shows are kept down a minimum if you hope to recover financially.

You know what else can help you reduce no shows?

Offering free Wi-Fi!

That’s a no-brainer, right?

You can offer higher speeds or more internet surfing liberty just so diners are incentivized to visit.

For you, offering guest Wi-Fi gives you the tool you need to collect valuable customer data. Data that will help you make informed decisions, increase marketing ROI, and to take your business to the next level.

To do this, you need a Wi-Fi marketing software like SpotOn Wi-Fi.

SpotOn Wi-Fi helps you collect data like customer demographics and purchase history which you can totally link up to your POS by the way.

Furthermore, the data is displayed on a robust dashboard and represented in formats that are easy to interpret. It is also stored for safe and easy access.

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