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Credit Card to Secure a Reservation

It seems like more and more restaurants (especially small, chef-owned places) are asking for credit cards to secure a reservation, especially when it's for 6 or more people. I understand why they do this -- to help recoup some of the expense if you're a no-show -- but I'm curious about the process. When I give my card number, where does it go? Is it penciled into the reservation book? Is it put into a computer somewhere, and if so, is it ever deleted? I suppose what I'm really worried about it the security of doing this... if some creep manages to steal the reservation book, then what?

Can someone who works in the industry fill me in on what exactly happens to my card number once I provide it?

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  1. There are no 'standards' for this kind of thing. I think you are going to have ask each place. I am pretty sure that all legitimate credit card processors have stiff penalties for "excessive charge backs" too -- that means that if more than a handful of folks protest a "service charge" that establishment is going to end up looking for a new processor. My hunch is that if you were to supply them with a CC number that was one digit off of your correct number you'd quickly find out whether they try to pre-input the number or just pencil it in somewhere to have a little fear hanging the hands of wafflers....

    11 Replies
    1. re: renov8r

      Exactly what I was thinking. Don't give them the real one.
      My guess is it won't matter.


      1. re: Davwud

        On Mother's Day, we ahd 1/3 of the tables not show up or cancell with less than an hour's notice. What is the wnswer? Either overbook, take cc #'s or have lot of folk not get served andmy staff not get paid... We take numbers and we charge if there is a no call no show. Not the full amount, but it cuts downon the problems.

        1. re: deangold

          do you worry that you will get chargebacks if you put through an amount on a credit card for a no show? Since nothing is signed the customer hasn't agreed anything.

          1. re: smartie

            Well nothing is signed in any over the phone transaction, thus a signature isn't needed to place a charge.

            1. re: smartie

              About chargeback: we gave that a lot of thought, and decided what did we have to lose, especially if the table was going to be empty, and that was a major loss.

        2. re: renov8r

          People are more likely to show up or call and cancel if they give a credit card. Unfortunatley some people view a reservation as an idea, rather than a definitive, and just don't bother to follow-up after the call. By giving a credit card guests are given responsibility for making a booking. If you are indeed truly hesitant to give the credit card number, talk to the manager to possibly have it waved, or give the number of an expired card. As far as I know it is against the law to charge for a "no show".

          1. re: JSchwo7

            It is not against the law if the no-show charge is explicitly stated when making a reservation.

            1. re: mojoeater

              Exactly, its not against the law at all. The restaurant I just took a group to required a signed, faxed form with a specified no-show charge. Seemed fair enough to me. If I gave them 24 hours notice, no worries.

            2. re: JSchwo7

              I booked a private room for my birthday party, and gave the restaurant a cc # to hold the booking. I called a week later and cancelled, as my party had grown and we wouldn't fit in the room. A month after that, the day of the party, I got a phone call to confirm my reservation. Whoever took my call didn't bother to cancel my res and I was still booked for the evening. I had to speak to both managers and the owner to avoid having my card charged, a long process I didn't particularly want to deal with on my birthday.

              Giving the number of an expired card is a great idea, I hadn't thought that such complications could arise and I could have easily avoided all the hassle!

              1. re: hrhboo

                The other problem is, well, its lying and its deceitful. If you don't like the policy and don't want to give a credit card number, then have the decency to decline to make a reservation and decline to dine at the restaurant. There's no inalienable right to eat at a particular restaurant much less to eat at a particular restaurant under every exact condition that we'd choose. They're being up front about what they need for the reservation, do the same or don't make it.

                Apart from that, if you do make a reservation with a credit card (or if you're a restaurant that requires one) then a cancellation number would seem to me to make a great deal of sense so that the exact situation that hrhboo ended up in doesn't happen, because that's just unacceptable as well. As a restaurant, if you're going to require the credit card for a reservation then you incur a greater responsibility to take care of that information and to be even more careful about cancellations and (in my mind) about making sure you've got the table ready at the appointed time.

            3. re: renov8r

              The problem with giving an invalid card number is that you risk losing your reservation. Some places will input a small charge to see if the card runs, then reverse the charge if it goes through. The reversal can be done "offline" and will never show up as a transaction. But they will know if the card is good or not.
              I routinely did this with call in orders.

            4. if the restaurant uses opentable, there is a special place for cc#'s and a password is required to access that area. opentable then automatically deletes your number 7 days after your reservation has passed, or if the restaurant cancels your reservation.

              special event days like valentine's, graduation, etc., often bring no-show counts as high as 30% because guests multi-book. that revenue cannot be recouped, with tables sitting empty.

              1. Jfood is concerned about the number of fellow CH'ers who would give expired cards (why do so many people have them anyway). If the resto tells you their policy for cancellation either you accept or decline the reso. if the resto places a "hold" on an amount and the CC company comes back expired the resto has everey right to cancel the reso, but should call the custo just in case it was an honest mistake. (little jfood just made jfood re-up on i-tuns, so fairly normal).

                Once again it is all about communication and honesty. the resto needs to tell the custo their policy and the custo can decline, but if the custo accept the custo must give a "live" credit card number.

                4 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  Wow! I was not aware that we have devolved to this level of distrust and chicanery. The no-shows who precipitated this source of friction should have been smothered at birth. The chance of me giving a credit card number over a telephone is zero. BTW, what is a fair "charge" for a no-show? I hope it hurts.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    At Bar Americain in New York, the charge was listed at $25 per person. Its pretty clear that the incentive is to have the reserver call and cancel, not to make serious money. It is far better for the restaurant to know they have the table and to be able to sell the table, especially if its a larger party.

                    1. re: ccbweb

                      Seems like a reasonable "stupid tax" for being inconsiderate or forgetful.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        I thought so...and I certainly would have remembered to cancel if we'd needed to cancel. Granted, after dinner, we sort of wished we had...but that's a whole different thread.

                2. I also think that a reservation should get bumped furthur down the list if the party is more than 10 minutes late. It's just rudeness.

                  1. I owned a New York City restaurant for twenty years, and we had our share of no shows, It hhhurts like hell when your people have knocked themselves out to make a holiday like Valentins'e Day special for our guests only to see empty tables when hundreds of others were turned away. The only time we charged a credit card was for the holidays when people would book reservations at several places, giving them the option of deciding late, and keeping several restaurants from using their tables. So we asked for card numbers, but as it always turned out, people showed up, and the ones who didn't, well I figured they had a good reason for not coming, and I never charged a single credit card.

                    It's a way of keeping people honest. It only bugs the would be bad guys.

                    1. Here's one to make all of you restaurant owners scream. Last New Year's Eve my husband and I were out and about, and we overheard a woman say she had SIX dinner reservations for that night, and was trying to figure out which one to keep! SIX!! It's people like that who cause restaurant owners to institute policies like taking cc numbers. I do have to say, I'm rarely asked for a credit card number, what's more common is the reminder call the day of or the day before.

                      1. Restaurants have been forced into the position of requiring a Credit Card to secure a reservation, especially on holidays.

                        They have been forced to do it by the same kind of people who advise giving phony CC information or expired CC info. These are the people who make a reservation for a table, and then don't show up, don't take the two minutes it would take to call and cancel.

                        It is because of the rudeness, bad manners, and irresponsible behavior of more and more diners that the rest of us have been penalized. It is becoming more and more common that diners are no show. It isn't fair to the owners, or to the other people who would have loved to have that reserved table, but were turned away because the restaurant was fully booked.

                        If you make a reservation, honor it by showing up, or by calling and cancelling as early as possible.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Fleur

                          I just sold my restaurant where we did not have a reservations policy in season as it was impossible to monitor. A 7pm booking for 8 people meant all sorts of things to the customers - some would arrive at 6.15, some at 7 and there would always be one or two who would show at 7.45. Miraculously the numbers would either shrink to 5 or grow to 14 and they would expect to be accomodated at the earlier time and the larger number.
                          so the policy was no seating the party until all members were present. Even this was often hilarious, our hostesses being told that all the people were there, leading the party to the table to find 4 of the party not present. On inquiring we would be told they other guests were in the bathroom, just parking, gone for a walk etc. half an hour later it transpired these people were just leaving Miami (an hour away) or not going to show. So many ruses to find a way to get a table and sit, totally unconcerned that the restaurant is a business and could have turned the tables over again.