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reservations and charging

this happened to friends of mine at a Chinese restaurant in NYC. They made a reservation for 30 people and only 22 showed up on the night. The restaurant however, told them at the end of their meal that they would have to pay for 30 places and that this was their policy. They were not told this on booking the table but only after the meal.

Is this valid and has this happened to anyone else? They all coughed up the extra money but were obviously not happy with the arrangement and would not return.

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  1. I think it's valid but only if they were advised beforehand. It's common for hotels and caterers to do it for banquets, and for very popular restaurants to charge a no-show fee for reservations. It's not unreasonable, either the food has been prepared and will be wasted, or there are empty seats that could have been filled, Either way it costs the establishment money.

    Charging without advising beforehand is likely not enforceable, your friends could probably have refused to pay it, but maybe they recognized that they were inconsiderate to reserve for so many more than they really required.

    11 Replies
    1. re: hsk

      I am starting to wonder. There is another thead on this same thing happening at a sushi restaurant. The consensus seems to be that the fish was bought and prepared with the original number in mind and, caveat emptor, they had to pay for the original number of people, even though some didn't show.

      Now you're saying it happened at a Chinese restaurant? I'm not so sure I can accept this one. This just sounds like highway robbery to me. The only difference with the Chinese restaurant is that the food not eaten but forced to be bought could be taken home as leftovers.

      Wow, is this yet another question that has to be asked in advance of a reservation?

      1. re: dolores

        If it was a banquet than the food would have been ordered and some of it would have to be prepared in advance so it makes sense that the customer has to pay.

      2. re: hsk

        "your friends could probably have refused to pay it, but maybe they recognized that they were inconsiderate to reserve for so many more than they really required"

        That seems rather harsh. They had 22 people show... only 8 short of the reservation which is modest. Yes, they could've called ahead and adjusted the reservation # but really... it's not that big of an offense and they still brought alot of money into that restaurant w/ their party of 22. I don't get the impression this was a high end fine dining establishment where the table real estate is extremely costly.... b/c if it were they surely would of advised of their policy at the time the reservation was made. Quite honestly, the restaurant should have taken the name & tel. # of the guest making the reservation and then confirmed the # in the party that day. That's what we do at our restaurant.... to avoid this issue.

        I, personally, would've refused to pay it. That's just poor management b/c now most of you will not return. They basicly cut off their nose to spite their face.

        1. re: lynnlato

          Yup. The key here (and with the other situation) seems to be to immediately make a scene and then refuse to pay for the attempted robbery.

          Amazing and amazinger. I imagine that restaurants aren't doing so well these days, when they have to resort to this type of chicanery.

          1. re: lynnlato

            I think it was a similar situation to the other post, they didn't know that some wouldn't show until the reservation time had come and gone. You know how it is, a large group agree to get together, someone makes a reservation, then a few people can't make it for whatever reason and don't bother to let anyone know.

            1. re: lynnlato

              >the restaurant should have taken the name & tel ... then confirmed ...
              >
              perhaps it would have been smart for the resto to do that, but it
              doesnt make sense for that to be the rule. see e.g. "(Learned) Hand Rule".

              the obligation should be on the party in a "better position" with an eye to
              efficiency ... meaning lower cost or more information. obviously the patron
              has better knowledge of the changes to his RSVP. should the restaurant
              call twice ... once one day in advance and again for any last minute changes?

              on the flip side, say a restaurant "has a problem" and cannot honor the
              rsvp ... obviously they ought to call the customer and say "they are closed
              due to emergency". it is not reasonable for the customer to call and verify
              "you guys havent been hit by a landslide, right" [see SF: Helmand].

              advanced law and economic analysis:
              since the RSVP charge is usually less than what a typical patron would
              run up, they may face some cost for not reallocating the table space
              for those guests who dont appear, so presumably they still would rather
              have you honor your rsvp than hope for no-shows and to collect the
              penalty fee ... so the incentives are reasonable on both parties and it
              is not unreasonable for the restuarant to call, but it is also clear that is
              not where the obligation should be. now of course it is true that if a resto
              stiffs you, there is nothing you can do ... i.e. you cant say "if you seat me
              +30min after my RSVP, you will have to give me a free dessert" ... although
              you can bad mouth them in the via the Google Cache.

              Coming back to this case: i think this 100% turns on whether their "policy"
              was adequately disclosed or not. So it turns on issues of "contract formation",
              before getting into issues about obligations to mitigate damage or the amount
              the resto can concsionable charge for each no show. you could in the pathological
              case find n people on the street and offer to buy them a plate of fried rice :-)

              It sounds to be like it was not disclosed ... and in that case I suppose my view is
              "the obligation of the patron to call is a moral one, not a legal/$ one". So OP's
              associate is a "bad person" but not liable for money damages.

              But he in turn may have a "moral claim" on anybody who flaked without notice.

              ok tnx.

              1. re: psb

                "perhaps it would have been smart for the resto to do that, but it
                doesnt make sense for that to be the rule."

                -It makes perfect sense for a resto to do that. They will then have a clear idea of what to expect and will not be faced w/ a situation like this: pissed off guests that did show for the large party and now will never return b/c of an unreasonable and undisclosed policy. It's a sensible business practice to confirm large party reservations. Besides, that's what hosts do. Particularly with large parties.

                It makes perfect sense.

                1. re: lynnlato

                  but this is not always possible. You know how it is, an informal gathering on an evening, possible work colleagues or club or sports friends, someone says let's all go out for a meal, 30 say yes and only 22 show. Even if they had all replied in writing things come up, someone doesn't feel like it, someone can't get a sitter, someone gets a date instead and suddenly your numbers are down.
                  And then the poor person who said they would make the reservation gets stuck with the charge on her credit card.

                  1. re: smartie

                    Bottom line, this entire thread is a helluva 'caveat emptor' to anyone making a reservation for a certain number of patrons at a restaurant.

                    Hoo boy.

                    1. re: smartie

                      Yes, I know... but it's the nature of the beast when you're business involves the public. Good customer service is what drives this industry and the ones that fail in that area, fail period. I watch time and again an owner kiss ass, apologize and give away gift cards to folks, many of whom don't deserve it. But in town which is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., he's got a very successful restaurant where so many have failed b/c of the competition. It b/c people like him and he bends over backwards for them. Don't get me wrong, I hate how inconsiderate folks can be... drives me crazy. But knowing how to finesse it pays.

                    2. re: lynnlato

                      >-It makes perfect sense for a resto to do that.
                      >
                      what is smart business ... like maybe making an unhappy customer "whole" ...
                      is not neccessarily what should be the legal liabilty.

                      i didnt say it didnt make sense for the resto. i said it shouldnt be "the rule"
                      aka obligation.

              2. How do you pay by "places"? Do they have a set price for each "place"? I think it depends on how the food was ordered. If they ordered three tables worth of food (10/table), regardless of how many showed up, they still owe three tables worth of food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: PeterL

                  Here's a thought. What if the patron had called the restaurant ahead of time, either the sushi place or the Chinese restaurant, and informed them that the number of people was being decreased?

                  What would the restaurant do? Tell the patron on the phone, 'oh sorry, we already ordered ahead for you and you have to pay for the original number'?

                  Then what would happen if the patron, as I would, told them to go fly a kite and that they weren't coming to dinner at all?

                  Would the restaurant send the bill to their house for no food eaten?

                  Nah, I'm not buying any of this.

                  It's highway robbery and I wouldn't stand for it.

                  As someone said, don't hold a reservation with a credit card and don't pay for food not requested.

                2. When I owned a full service Korean Rest the only time I would charge for "no-shows" was if the party had ordered in advance and then failed to reduce the order prior to the reservation.
                  The reason I would charge in this case was that the food for XX people had already been prepared.
                  If it was a simple reservation with no pre-order, no charge for the "no-shows" because I could re-arrange seating to have the tables available for other guests.

                  1. this is an interesting topic that has been coming up with some frequency lately.
                    i have some general comments about the assumptions being made by customers.

                    when you make a reservation, the restaurant organizes the restaurant around you, especially if you are a large party. when you have less people than you said you would have, it's no big thing to you, but to the restaurant, it represents chairs that could have been sat with paying cutomers, but instead were waiting for you. it's disrespectful not to call. having a third of your party not show up is a big deal for the kitchen, the dining room, the staff. it costs them money. they offer reservations as a convenience to you, and then you abuse this by not honoring the reservation you made. if the restaurant is busy, you're costing them table space that could have been used. if they're slow, you're costing them food they prepared and now can't use, as well as extra staff they kept on, uneccesarily.

                    they should warn you, of course. but you should honor your reservation, or call ahead - it's really not that hard to do.

                    it's not a grocery store, you're not just paying for food - you're paying for service, preparation, atmosphere, dishwashers, blah, blah, blah. and it's not your living room, you can't just invite a ton of people and not concern yourself with how many will actually show up.

                    1. For a "normal" dinner reservation of 4 or 6, I would say that this policy is atrocious. However, I think for these large parties it really depends on the situation and the restaurant's policy. For example, I have planned many private parties and also handled events when I used to do PR. In the event of large parties, be it a Bridal/Baby shower, B-day party or a corporate event I have had some restaurants tell me I needed the final count in anywhere from a few days in advance, to just charging for whomever showed up. Another policy I often encountered in these situations is the restaurant will give you a leeway of 10%. In your friends case that would mean that if you reserve for 30 and 22 showed up you would still be charged for 27.
                      Given the fact that a cc was given in advance, I think the hostess should have verified the restaurants policy on cancelling/no shows when she gave the cc info. At the same time, I think the restaurant should have been very upfront about their policy of charging for no shows and if they did not, then that shows very poor customer relationship strategies on their part. .
                      Unfortunately, as in the case of the sushi restaurant thread I think this is another example of the cliche that "hindsight is 20/20".

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: SweetPea914

                        Exactly true, it's a matter of communication up front.

                        And all this is understood in the case of a large party IF the restaurant informs the patron, when the reservation is made, 'oh by the way, if any in your party do not show, you will be charged for the original number'. IF that were the case, I would move on to a restaurant that didn't have this highway robbery policy.

                        Mr. dolores organizes a brunch for his club friends every year, and has moved away from restaurants that either expected him to sign a written agreement or informed him that the original number would be charged in the case of cancellations. It had gotten so bad that he had to get advance payment from all the people in order to 'encourage' them not to cancel.

                        But guess what? There ARE restaurants out there who don't practice this kind of robbery without a gun.

                        Caveat emptor.

                        1. re: dolores

                          What a horrible business decision. They are effectively trading the incremental cost of preparing 8 meals for the lost future revenue from everybody in the dinner party and their friends! I can't comprehend how this restaraunt can be so short sighted...

                          1. re: dolores

                            Actually, when planning such an event I'm a big fan of getting a written agreement or a banquet event order. I think they are for my benefit as well. For example, some places will give you a menu to choose from for a largish event. At the bottom of that menu it almost always is written that prices are subject to change. So does that mean they can change the price on me if they wanted to? If I have a BEO I have the cancellation policy and prices in writing and don't need to be bothered with such things the week of the event.
                            With that said, there are many restaurants that are very laid back and will only charge you for the people that attend such an event and those tend to be the restaurants I will go first for planning a party.
                            The other side issue is that if people RSVP for an outing at a restaurant, they should show up barring an absolute emergency situation, as your husband must well know by now!

                        2. I don't know the full facts but I am guessing they asked for some kind of set meal at $x a head. This was a phone reservation and they were not told the policy.

                          I know when I had large parties at my restaurant, the customer used to come in, we would discuss the menu, I would tell them the inclusive price per head and take a deposit, asking for final numbers 2 days before. However they always knew they would be charged for numbers if they had no-shows. It was on the booking form which they had signed.

                          1. One more attempt to voice my opinion on this subject, as I do not think it out of line:

                            Hooray for the Chinese Restaurant!

                            They were told to prepare to accomodate a group of 30 people. I am assuming that they had to then have staff ready to serve that large of a group and assemble a table large enough to accomodate 30 people. Tough Tacos that only 22 showed up!

                            I advocate all restaurants take Credit Card info and enforce a policy to charge $50 - $100 for no-shows.

                            Don't like the policy eat elswhere, you will not be missed!

                            1. It may be that the charge was for the amount of food served, regardless of the number of diners. I've shared many Chinese "dinners for six" with seven other people; the price is for the amount of food; the number of people eating it is irrelevant. If eight of us can share a dinner for six, it stands to reason that your friend's 22 guests should pay full freight for the 30-person banquet they were served.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                "If eight of us can share a dinner for six, it stands to reason that your friend's 22 guests should pay full freight for the 30-person banquet they were served."
                                Think your 'reasoning' needs a little work.
                                It makes NO difference what style of food was being served.
                                The issue is that the restaturant was told to be prepared for thirty and only 22...almost one third - were no shows.

                                1. re: NitroGen

                                  You miss the point. Many Chinese restaurants will serve a dinner for x people at y price. Ordering dinner for six will get a certain amount of food. It doesn't matter whether there are four, six, or eight of us eating; the amount of food served is the same.

                                  By the same token, a restaurant that's instructed to prepare a banquet for 30 diners may serve a certain menu. The amount of food may be fixed, and the number of diners may be completely irrelevant. In that cast, it makes no sense to charge less because some of the guests were no-shows.

                                  Not to say that this was the case for the OP, just pointing out that there may have been a legitimate miscommunication.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Alan.. I agree with your premise of a fixed amount of food prepared for a group of 30 people has a certain food amount.

                                    However, the more important point is the Hostess/Host getting their underwear in a knot when presented a bill for 30 people that they said would show up and eat, when almost one-third of the people were no-shows.

                                    What chomps my butt is that a person, hopefully of average IQ, would call the credit card company because they felt violated being charged for the amount of people that they said would show up.

                                    Heres hoping that when the Host/Hostess eat out in the future each eating establishment horribly fails the health inspection on the following day.

                                    1. re: NitroGen

                                      she did query it with the credit card company they finally agreed to split the difference after a credit card investigation.

                                      1. re: NitroGen

                                        If I am charged for food for 30 but only 22 showed up, I would expect mucho leftovers, and since I paid for that food, I expect to take it with me.

                                        I may also be paying for extra dishwashing, supplies, etc that I cannot take, but to the greatest extent possible, if I paid for it, I want it. Why not????

                                        1. re: NitroGen

                                          I wasn't weighing in on the greater question of whether there should be a charge when dinner isn't prepared for the no-shows. That's a question that's way above my pay grade, and frankly I don't think there are enough facts here for anybody to give an authoritative answer to the question.

                                          My post was just an observation about the way food is ordered, served, and charged for at a handful of my favorite Chinese restaurants. Given that the OP's situation arose in such an environment, it might shed some light on the situation. Or not.