It is one of Scotland’s most prestigious restaurants which has been garlanded with awards since opening at the turn of the decade.
But now, one of the country’s leading chefs is to introduce penalties for diners who reserve a table only to fail to show up, describing their mentality as “lunacy.”
Mark Greenway, whose eponymous eatery in Edinburgh holds three AA rosettes, said that as of next month, he will require customers to provide their debit or credit card details to confirm bookings.
If they do not show up for their lunch reservation, parties will be charged £30 per person, with the penalty rising to £50 a head for so-called ‘no-shows’ at dinner.
Mr Greenaway, one of a growing number of Scottish restaurateurs to introduce the penalty, said he had been reluctant to do so, but said it was essential in order to “safeguard the future of the restaurant.”
“It’s something we’ve been putting off because we’ve never wanted to do it,” he told The Scotsman. “We’re a small restaurant and the credit card companies will charge us for doing it, but it’s reached a point where we have no choice.
“It’s not fair on us, it’s not fair on the staff and ultimately, it’s not fair on those customers who are trying to a book a table but can’t get one.”
Mr Greenaway, who has twice represented Scotland on the BBC television series, Great British Menu, said that in some instances, as many as 22 customers have failed to show for a dinner service. In December, traditionally the restaurant trade’s busiest month, there were no fewer than 51 no-shows, a trend that has persisted.
“Last night we had a table of six and a table of two which didn’t show up,” he explained. “We phoned the table of six an hour after they were meant to be seated, and they explained, ‘Oh, our friends aren’t coming anymore so we decided not go out’. There wasn’t an email or a phone call. It’s just crazy.
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“We’ve only got 11 tables, and all week we’ll tell people that we’re full for the weekend. Then Saturday night comes around and we can be left with three, sometimes four empty tables. That’s the difference between us making money that week or losing it.”
It is not the first time Mr Greenaway has tried discourage no-show diners. For the past six years, he has asked tables of six or more guests to pay a deposit of £5 per person to secure the reservation, but that measure, he says, is not working.
Instead, from 1 March, all diners making a booking will have to confirm their card details via Stripe, an online payment processing service widely used by online businesses. Customers who do not turn up will have their accounts debited, with the full terms and conditions made clear on the restaurant’s website.
However, the restaurateur stressed that he would be “flexible” about the changes, adding: “If two people turn up when a table of four has booked, am I realistically going to charge the two diners double price? No, because I’m not trying to annoy my customers. I’m trying to stop the no-shows.”
Restaurant Mark Greenaway, runner up in Observer Food Monthly’s best restaurantg contest for the past three years, will not be the first upmarket restaurant in the capital to penalise no-show diners.
The Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin charges people £80 if they fail to appear for a reservation at his Leith waterfront restaurant.
Aizle in St Leonard’s Street, which is recommended in the latest Michelin Guide, charges those who fail to show a “100 per cent penalty fee per person.” That means a party of four who book for a five-course tasting menu at £55 per head face a fee of £220 if they do not take up their table.
Mr Greenaway said he hoped other restaurants would follow suit in an attempt to tackle what he described as an industry-wide problem.
“If you book to go to a concert, a movie, football match, or even a train ticket, and you don’t show up, you don’t get your money back,” he added. “If you book a table at a restaurant, why should it be any different?”
Andrew Fairlie, whose restaurant at Gleneagles is the only one in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars, said the question of whether to charge no-shows was partly one of location.
“No shows always have been an issue for most restaurants and everyone has different systems in place to deal with it,” he told The Scotsman.
“We take as many contact details as possible and phone guests on the day of their booking to confirm, so we have very few no shows. The only time really is when hotel guests decide at the very last minute to dine at another restaurant.
“But I think there are legal implications to asking for credit card details and all the rest of it, and the administration attached to it is so onerous.
“We have considered it in the past but we haven’t yet gone down that road. I can understand why it may be more of an issue for a city centre location where there are more restaurants.”
Just last week, the Cauldron restaurant in Bristol named and shamed customers who had booked for Valentine’s Day but failed to turn up, adding that they were now barred.
And The Restaurants Association of Ireland (recently urged its members to start taking non-refundable deposits from customers booking tables to tackle the problem of no shows.