Give no-shows the heave ho

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With no-shows on the rise again, Olivia FitzGerald, chief sales and marketing officer for EPoS provider Zonal, shares her advice on how to encourage guests to turn up for bookings

The number of customers not turning up for bookings has doubled from 6% in September 2022 to 12% in 2023, costing the industry an estimated £17.59bn per year. With the Christmas season just around the corner, operators need to be looking at how to minimise the risk of no-shows during this key trading period.

1. Send reminders

Staying in touch with customers once they have booked is an effective way to prevent no-shows – previous research in partnership with CGA by NIQ, uncovered that among consumers who haven’t fulfilled a booking because they forgot about it, more than a third (36%) said they would be more likely to show up if the venue reminded them.

Key to this approach is timing, with just over a quarter of people saying they’d like to be reminded on the day, while 38% prefer a few days in advance and 11% a week ahead. This needn’t become a hugely onerous task, technology can be employed to send automated responses and reminders.

2. Deposits

There is no doubt that a large number of operators remain nervous about asking customers for deposits, but as over half (51%) of consumers say they would be willing to pay to secure their booking, it’s worth at least considering the policy for certain trading periods such as Christmas and Mother’s Day as well as busy Saturday nights and/or particularly coveted areas, such as booths or snugs.

3. Make it easy to cancel

The old school telephone remains important when it comes to customers wanting to cancel a booking, however, the demand for digital communication is increasing with 60% of people saying they prefer to be reminded about a booking via digital channels and 51% preferring to cancel using digital methods which could be via text, email, app or website.

In the fight against no-shows, offering choice is important. It also stands to reason that the more hassle cancelling is, the less people are likely to do it.

4. Adopt an over-booking policy

While standard practice in some industries, such as airlines, it is not in common use in hospitality – but is it time for a rethink?

Like the use of deposits, generally, operators are wary of this idea but there are ways by which risk can be mitigated. By using data and insights from tech systems, for example, businesses can work out exactly how much they might be able to over-book without damaging business.

Combining this with a system in which some tables are always kept free for walk-ins and training for staff in how to handle such a situation will help minimise the risk, as it makes sense to take additional bookings in order to compensate for those that are lost.

5. Take a targeted approach

In 2021, research revealed that of those who failed to show up for bookings young people and parents were the worst offenders – which is bad news as these are two of the most valuable groups to the trade.

When resources are tight, targeting these groups with follow-up messages and making it as easy as possible for them to cancel could reap rewards. Similarly, if you have a bumper booking of young people or parents one evening, perhaps then is the time to consider overbooking or to implement deposits.

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