Beating no show is possible. Here’s how

A meeting between TheFork-Identità Golose and trade associations and great chefs. The solution is online...

07-02-2017

There were many important chefs at the meeting in Milan. Left, Roberto Cargangiu and Lino Stoppani, behind them Enrico Cerea, Claudio Liu and Alessandro Pipero. Right, Claudio Salder and Cristina Bowerman, behind Ciccio Sultano, Davide Oldani and Enrico Buonocore

No show is a very common custom that heavily affects the Italian restaurant industry, especially fine dining, which seats few people and offers every service. «A few years ago I calculated yearly damages amounted to around 35K euros in my case», said Claudio Sadler, one of the (many) participants this week at the meeting organised at Arte del Convivio in Milan, by TheFork and Identità Golose. The conclusion: there are many concrete tools to win this approach, or at least to limit its negative effects. The main one is creating an online platform – TheFork is a candidate – to handle reservations, create client profiles (which offers even further advantages), ask for the credit card number when confirming the reservation in a totally legal way. Plus, if it follows cancellation policy conditions, it is also legal to draw money as a penalty in case of a no show: a possibility which is in fact minimalized once you follow the above mentioned steps.

Giuseppe Giulio Luciani, professor at Università di Parma, guaranteed this during his speech when he explained the legal framework of the issue to an audience including representatives of trade associations: on top of Sadler (president at Le Soste) there was Luca Marchini (president at Jre Italia), Cristina Bowerman (president at Ambasciatori del Gusto), Marco Sacco (president at Chic), Rocco Pozzulo (president at Fic), Lino Stoppani (president at Fipe), Ciccio Sultano (president at Le Soste di Ulisse), Roberto Carcangiu (president at Apci). And there were some of the most important chefs and restaurateurs in Italy: Enrico Cerea, Antonio Santini, Davide Oldani, Angelo Sabatelli, Alessandro Pipero, Claudio Liu, Enrico Buonocore, as well as Cesare Battisti and Seby Sorbello. As Paolo Marchi said when introducing the debate, «it’s nice that we’re all here together, to solve a problem».

Everyone was interested in listening to the professor because, as we wrote in the past (Sabatelli, guerra al no show, Fare i conti con i clienti cafoni), there’s lots of uncertainty when it comes to the legal framework. He reassured everyone: «Asking for a credit card number during a reservation doesn’t imply legal issues: of course you must do it in the right way, and in this sense technology can be of great help. Penalties must be proportionate and as of this year “Iban to Iban” transactions will also be admitted, which will allow to transfer money without passing through a credit card: a turning point».

Almir Ambeskovic, Italy’s country manager at TheFork, presented the tools a platform like the one he represents can offer chefs so that the incidence of no shows is be reduced to a minimum: «We’ve been here for two years now. We work with 40K restaurants around the world, 8K in Italy. We’re growing fast. This is why I can assure you that online booking is the future. We support restaurants in sending emails and text messages confirming and recalling, allowing those who made the reservation to cancel in an easy way and in time, with a simple click. This way there cannot be multiple reservations, clients are profiled so that a manager knows if the guest is trustable or not. So you can focus on running your business without further worries. With TheFork there’s a minimal occurrence of no show: 2.8% in December 2016».

Almir Ambeskovic of TheFork speaks. Beside him, Elena Collini and Paolo Marchi

Almir Ambeskovic of TheFork speaks. Beside him, Elena Collini and Paolo Marchi

These last few months TheFork tested the system by introducing the obligation of indicating the credit card number when reserving at Sadler’s via their platform. The result: a high volume of reservations, zero ghost clients. The limits of the system: 1) it only works for restaurants with a particular profile, not for pizzerias and taverns round the corner; 2) it’s more effective (because it eliminates any potential discouragement) if every one or almost every fine dining restaurants adopts it in Italy. In this way, it turns into a sort of rule, a new cultural setting, and as such it must be accepted in Italy too: because the paradox that many noticed is that abroad procedures against no show are widespread – for instance in Northern Europe or in Anglo-Saxon countries – while in Italy it’s mostly foreigners who don’t show up. Yet it is in fact mostly those who come from newly rich countries, such as Russia, China, Brazil, who often pass through concierge in the big hotels where they’re staying asking if a table is available in a famous restaurant.

It was fun to hear how many great chefs, restaurateurs and industry professionals approach the issue and manage the relationship with the person booking the table. Here’s a short summary.

Davide Oldani: «I introduced credit cards at D’O in July 2014, when the law obligated me. I have a doubt this no show issue can only be solved through a specific law» (Luciani replied that rather than a law, what’s necessary is a shared approach in the sector, that can act as a standard contract to be given to clients when they reserve online).

Filippo Cervi, CEO XDeers: «Since 1997 I’ve experienced the same problem in my field, with hotel reservations. You need to change mentality and convey this to your clients: today many of your colleagues find it hard to give up on a large paper diary just like hotel managers did thirty years ago. Instead, you must accept the technological challenge, which will also help you with your relationship with the client, as with marketing automation».

Cristina Bowerman: «It’s been two years since I successfully introduced an online reservation system. I ask for a credit card number especially with foreigners who are more used to it and don’t really know how things work in Italy. I use a penalty only on nights when the place if fully booked, when I overbook because I know that some tables will be cancelled at the last moment or there will be a no show».

Digital tools against no show

Digital tools against no show

Antonio Santini: «We have also introduced online booking. My son Andrea, who graduated in Law from Parma created it with the help of his professor. Today 80% reservations are managed this way. Giving the credit card number is not compulsory but almost everyone does. So basically in seven years I’ve never had a no show. I had to use a penalty just once».

Ciccio Sultano: «I’ve been doing the same thing for 16 years: at first it was a bluff, just so as to make the client responsible, now I ask for a credit card number for reservations for more than 4-6 people. I ask the person who made the reservation to call for confirmation. It they don’t do it, we call them. If they don’t show up, we tell them we’ve taken a certain amount of money but that it will be available when they’ll dine at our place. Plus every year I organise a dinner with concierges from the most important local hotels, I tell them my projects for the future and thus stimulate them to take care of the guests who made the reservation».

Alessandro Pipero: «Yes, we must create good relations with concierges, perhaps even give a few tips. I arrange with them so that when guests arrive at the hotel they receive a business card as a memo of the reservation. Then if they reserve via telephone, I ask for a mobile number, save it and look it up on WhatsApp. If it hasn’t been active for ages, it surely is a scam».

Enrico Buonocore: «What’s important is that we set certain rules, we all adopt them and then respect them ourselves. I went to a restaurant in Miami without booking, they told me I had to wait 90 minutes for a table. I sat at the bar. After 6 beers and two dishes of fried seafood they called me: exactly 91 minutes later».

Enrico Cerea: «It is a good thing to introduce these tools. I’ve lost count of how many fake reservations I’ve been subjected to by colleagues-restaurateurs who wanted to put a spanner in the works».

Claudio Liu: «We created our new booking system two years ago. We ask for confirmation: if this doesn’t arrive, we send an automatic message in which we don’t say that the reservation waas cancelled but that the table is no longer guaranteed».


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