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Requiring credit cards to confirm resos: is this common in SF? [moved from San Francisco board]

I'm not sure if this topic is appropriate here but I'll give it a whirl since it happened when I tried to book a resto in SF last night. I was told that I had to give a credit card to hold the reservation. Nothing would be charged to it unless I failed to honour the reservation, or cancel it within 24 hours. I know that people do not cancel resos they can't make (which makes me pig-biting mad!), but I still passed on the restaurant and booked elsewhere. I have neve had this experience before. Is it common in San Francisco? Was I wrong not to give my cc? Other thoughts?

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  1. It is not common, but a few upper-end popular places are doing it; ususally smaller places that can't easliy afford empty tables from cancellations.

    1. I think you responded in a completely appropriate way. My experience tracks with what Paul H wrote: it's not common but its also not unheard of. So long as they're upfront and straightforward about it and I have the option to do just what you did (say "no thanks" and move on to a different place) then I don't have any problem with the policy. Sometimes I make the reservation anyway if my wife and I are particularly keen to eat there.

      1. Chez Panisse instituted that policy because they were getting such a high percentage of no-shows that they had empty tables.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I can't recall ever being asked for a credit card number at Chez Panisse. I haven't been there in a few months. Is this new?

        2. I'm wondering if this is also a defensive mechanism due to a couple businesses that have opened online that are selling restaurant reservations in SF, in addition to trying to curb no-shows. I haven't got a problem with this at all and would gladly give my credit card number as long as I understood what their cancellation policy was. If it curbs trafficking in reservations and no-shows, that is better for all of us.

          1. I really don't like this policy. Partly because I always call if I cancel a reservation. But I also know that's not common practice from diners. But like you, I have given in for a special occasion restaurant from time to time.

            As Paul mentioned, it's more common at some of the higher-end places. But it can get rampant at so called big restaurant holidays: Valentine's Day, etc. Then you start encountering totally different (and less high-end) places that require that. I generally refuse to participate and it's contributed to why I often travel away from the area if I want to have a simple dinner out on one of those holidays.

            1. Definitely not common, but becoming increasingly so as people flake on their reservations.

              It's difficult for restaurants to manage tables when they don't really know how many covers they will have based on the booking list, so they have resorted to show up or pay to cover themselves. Sad that they have to do this. How hard is it to cancel a reservation people! with OpenTable and the like, you don't even have to talk to a human!

              1. Also common if you're making reservations for large parties (more than 4, more than 6, depends on restaurant), like Incanto.

                1. If a person does not cancel their reservation and does not show up, is it legal for the resto to charge their credit card? Could the charged person fight it with their credit card company? I always cancel, just wondering.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: anndillman

                    I'm going completely on gut feeling here: I expect that one could dispute the charge and perhaps the credit card company would press it with the restaurant and the charge would be removed. But I also expect that would only really work once or twice and then the credit card company is likely to ask why exactly the same scenario continues to occur.

                    You'd also clearly not be able to make another reservation at that restaurant under the same name, I'd think.

                    1. re: anndillman

                      Why would it be illegal? If you are advised there will be a cancellation charge and you give your credit card number, you have implicitly accepted the terms of the contract.

                    2. >>Was I wrong not to give my cc?

                      Nope, absolutely not. I forgot where the original thread on this originated, in terms of geography, but you won't catch me giving my credit card to hold a reservation.

                      With all the restaurants out there, it makes you wonder who would do this.

                      1. If this practice is not common, it is certainly not uncommon.

                        1. I don't think it's just a San Francisco thing. I've had to do it in NYC as well. I really have no problem with it because I understand that a lot of people (perhaps not a lot of people on this board) do cancel without warning and the restaurant and other people who want reservations are SOL. While you may think it's common courtesy to cancel a reservation, apparently a lot of people don't feel that way. But it is certainly your prerogative to dine elsewhere if you're not comfortable with the policy. There are tons of great places to eat in SF.

                          1. Any place the requires a credit card for a reservation is someplace I decide I do not want to eat.

                            Open Table wanted one to reserve at table @ Saloon Steakhouse in Chicago, I called up Saloon directly... no credit card needed for the reservation, imagine that.... That was the last time I even tried to book a table with Open Table.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: swsidejim

                              To be accurate; the restaurant wanted a credit card for the reservation if it were to be made on OpenTable, presumably because they found a higher level of no-shows from those reservations, OpenTable is a conduit for the restaurant's policies in that case.

                              I'm not arguing that you should use OpenTable; only that it wasn't OpenTable that required a credit card.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                whoever it was, it was unacceptable.

                            2. This happened to jfood for the first time tw weeks ago in NYC at Balthazar. Jfood called for the reso and the lady asked for a credit card. So far no big deal. Then after the card was given jfood was told that unless he canceled 24 hours ahead the card would be charged $25 per person and if the number of people was less than the reservation, then the no-shows would also be charged the $25. Jfood was shocked. It would have been more appropriate to explain the policy BEFORE the card information was asked for.

                              Jfood guesses this would stop the people on the other thread about lying about the number of people in their party and then changingthe number when they arrive.

                              17 Replies
                              1. re: jfood

                                Totally concur. What Balthazar did wasn't ethical at all. I'd be pissed as well. I'm curious -- what were you thinking when Balthazar asked for your CC info?

                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                  jfood knew something was up, duh, but he played along, seeing where the reservation person would take him. He thought maybe it would be a total no-show with no courtesy call maybe a couple of hours ahead. In the past Balthazar has told jfood that the best time to call is mid-afternoon on the desired day because of cancelations, so worst case he thought he would hear maybe a 4-hour window, not 24 hours. Then the less-than reserved numbered was a complete shocker.

                                  At around noon the day before jfood received the following voice mail. "This is Tony at Balthazar. You must call us by this evening to confirm your reservation or it will be considered canceled." I called at 20pm and canceled, who needs this stuff.

                                  Interesting query is what if jfood did not call until 10am the day of the reservation. Which would he have been told:
                                  1 - we left a message on your machine yesterday and since you did not call back we are charging your CC
                                  2 - we left a message on your machine yesterday and since you did not call back we canceled your reservation but since you called we are not charging your CC
                                  3 - we look forward to seeing you tonight

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Interesting - I've never had them ask for a CC there - is this new?

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      probably the 203 area code that popped up on the caller-id machine.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Ah - that makes sense - I guess they figure there's more chance you won't make it to the city. It's funny, b/c we tend to use our 212 home number when making certain reservations, rather than my husband's 914 cels ....

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          just a thought but perfectly understandable. And jfood's cancelation adds to their database of 203-types that cancel. Guess they understand self-fulfilling prophecy theory.

                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            Yeah, I wonder how much area codes and things like to play into factor. I wouldn't be too surprised. I remember I went to Artisanal last minute with grocery bags (demonstrating that I live in the neighborhood) and made a large reservation for a Saturday night as opposed to just calling (totally booked on opentable). I'm thinking that restaurants may make certain allowances if you live near them, thinking there would be a lot more repeat business. Don't know if that always holds true, but you never know.

                                          2. re: jfood

                                            You can always block caller ID by dialing *67 first. But then they may not answer when the information is blocked. But I'm using *67 more and more these days. Your number gets into some business' data base, and they pass it around or sell it and pretty soon you have more junk calls than you can handle, even if you are on the National Do Not Call list!

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              Do you guys really think the area codes matters to these restaurants? I don't think they have time to care or look. That's why they have the CC policy in the first place...so they don't have to care.

                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                How important your area code is depends on the restaurant. The "higher end" they are, the more they care. New York, Las Vegas, any truly famous restaurant, even if out in the sticks (relatively speaking) like The French Laundry, will all care. Chances are a local area code will indicate a repeat (now or future) customer, whereas there is absolutely no guarantee with an area code that is far far away.

                                                But Burger King probably wouldn't care... '-)

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  The French Laundry books every table 60 days in advance. There's not much incentive for them to worry about where their customers are coming from.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Except The French Laundry DOES require a credit card number when you make your reservation, and they require a 72 hour REconfirmation prior to your booked date

                                                    You're right. They don't give a damn about area codes.

                                                2. re: ML8000

                                                  I think we were just speculating as to why jfood and I have had different experiences at the same place. Also, I usually call the morning of to make a reservation at Balthazar, so that may be a factor. And, my husband seems to recall having given a cc for larger parties (though, he'd be calling from 914 - suburb - rather than 212, where we live).

                                        2. re: jfood

                                          This just happened to me this week for the first time too, in Rockland County at Restaurant X. I wanted a reservation for Mothers' Day and they took my card number, and then said that unless I cancel one week before, I will be charged $25/ person if we don't show. I understand why they do it, but I thought the week in advance was a little excessive.

                                          1. re: marmite

                                            one week in advance seems excessive.

                                            1. re: jes

                                              For Mother's Day maybe not so much. The resto probably had previous bad experience with cancelled M'Day reservations.

                                          2. per se, keller's place in the time-warner building, asks for a cc number when you make a reservation. seemed reasonable at the time.

                                            1. The first time I had a restaurant ask for my credit card info was at least ten years ago, and it wasn't in San Francisco. I can understand a restaurant wanting some sort of insurance against no-shows, but...

                                              Maybe if they simply said we'd like your credit card number, and if you don't cancel within such and such a time and fail to show up, we will assess a fifteen dollar fee to your card, I might go along with that if it was a restaurant where I really reallyt really wanted to eat, but just a credit card number and they charge whatever they like? No, thank you.

                                              On the other hand, hotels and motels do that as a regular practice and no one seems to bat an eye. hmmm... Need to think about this some more.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Oh, I agree with your hesitation about giving out a credit card number without a specific policy. I'm much more comfortable with places that will fax/email an authorization form that spells out the policy. Then I can decide whether I want to agree to it and they can get a form with a signature. (Granted, this also makes things difficult for people who don't have a fax machine at home.)

                                                I'd definitely not just give my card number to a restaurant without knowing under what circumstances they'd levy a charge and how much that charge would be.

                                              2. I don't think it's common in SF. Chez Panisse is the only place I can recall doing that.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  CIA Greystone in the Napa Valley has this CC policy. I am sure they have it because of all the tourists who don't show. I had no problem giving the card info there. But not sure I would like it at regular restaurants in the Bay Area.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Range requires one for reservations on OpenTable, I'm not sure whether they require one if you call the restaurant directly.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Downtown, in Berkeley. And my parents mentioned that the Montclair Bistro asked for the CC number as well. I think it's started happening recently.

                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                        Downtown? Seriously? Bizarre, I've rarely seen that place full.

                                                    2. The general consensus is that you can probably successfully dispute any charge--you have neither signed an agreement nor received any goods. Beyond that, if you called nicely and apologetically cancelled within 24 hours, they'd probably not charge you.

                                                      That said, I have no problem with it--people who habitually cancel with no notice, no show, or make multiple reservations for the same time period should be held accountable for their antisocial behavior. It should--in the end--lower costs and increase availability for people who behave responsibly.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: xanadude

                                                        Your first sentence is true if you book by phone, but actually they do have an electronic paper trail if you book and give the credit card via Open Table... and while I love OT this may be one argument gainst using them in this circumstance, or may even be why some restaurants require it for OT (ie they'd like to do it for all reservations but may find it less hassle to do it for OT where they do have a record that they clearly informed the customer of the policy)

                                                        That all said, it it is a restaurant I really want to dine at, I will give the number (at Chez Panisse specifically). It did deter me from making a reservation once at Range, (via OT) but I wasn't sure I was going to be able to keep the reservation, and while yes, I would have cancelled (I always do!) I guess that means that from Range's point of view the policy was effective in keeping the table for someone more likely to actually use it...

                                                      2. The world would be a nicer place if this wasn't required but if you look at it from the POV of a restaurant...people ditch, all the time.

                                                        For high end places, a no-show at a 2 seatings a night place, with limited seating could start to cost you. 3 dropped tables in one seating seems like it could happen and it would start to be costly. I don't like it but I'm hardly offended and the 24 hour rule reasonable, it's not like there's no "out". If you're responsible up to 1 day ahead...it's no cost.

                                                        The latest thing I've experienced was $50 per/person cancellation, NO advanced cancels (i.e., 24 hours) BUT a gift certificate for that amount would be sent to you. At first I was like WTF but when I realized at least they would send you a gift certificate, that seemed reasonable. They're not just taking your money but saying come back.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                          To clarify, the resto in question was Range, as noted by ccbweb, but I was talking to a staffer directly. It was also for a Saturday night, FWIW. Thanks for all the responses. I'm going to think hard about this as I can see the pros and cons...

                                                        2. and then there are always the jerks that book 4 retaurants and decide on which at the last minute.

                                                          I've met them.

                                                          1. Mille Fluer in Rancho Santa Fe requires a credit card and will charge $50 for a no show. No need to contact them to confirm your reservation, but be prepared to pay if you no show. I don't know exactly how this works, as I have never tested the system they use by no showing.

                                                            7 Replies
                                                            1. re: Paul Weller

                                                              >>and will charge $50 for a no show.

                                                              Wow. And they get people to go there???!!!

                                                              1. re: dolores

                                                                If you actaully stick to the reservation you make not a problem. I don't really see the issue.

                                                                1. re: jes

                                                                  Agreed. If you're not one of "those people" (which D, I know you're not), I don't think it's a problem at all and is done as much for the benefit of other diners as the restaurant itself.

                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                    invino, even though I'm not of those people, you're correct, I object to the policy in principle and will vote with my wallet.

                                                                    1. re: dolores

                                                                      What is the "principle" you are objecting to?

                                                                      I agree the "implementation details" matter [how much are you
                                                                      charged, by when must you cancel etc] but I dont see why this is
                                                                      ipso facto objectionable ... the extra cost imposed on everybody
                                                                      [giving your CC] is small, and the high cost imposed on some,
                                                                      is ostenisbly deserved [the flakes].

                                                                      I'd be insulted if a resto asked for my CC or a cash deposit
                                                                      before letting me order but I dont see any insult here ... they
                                                                      have no way of knowing if you are a flake or not. Do you want
                                                                      them to try profiling ... based on area code or whatever? ... now
                                                                      if they are profiling, that might be grounds to "object on principle".

                                                                      If you order a case of wine with a wine store and they ask for a
                                                                      deposit, does that offend you on principle?

                                                                      I'd rather deal with a resto that requires a CC for an RSVP
                                                                      than one that doesnt take reservatrions at all.

                                                                      Presumably the restos that are doing this can "afford"
                                                                      to have some people "vote with their wallet" ... or will
                                                                      change their policy down the road if it turns out to be a
                                                                      bad deal ... but I'd assume they are in a better position
                                                                      than you are to know if they are more adversely affected
                                                                      by flakes or other "estranged wallet voters".

                                                                      ok tnx.

                                                                      1. re: psb

                                                                        The principle, as previously stated, of holding my credit card hostage.

                                                                        >>I'd rather deal with a resto that requires a CC for an RSVP
                                                                        than one that doesnt take reservatrions at all.

                                                                        And I wouldn't. That's why there's vanilla and chocolate.

                                                                2. re: dolores

                                                                  Yes people do go there. It's pretty awesome, food service, and atmosphere is the total package, pretty close to dining perfection. Not somewhere I go more than once or twice a year, just a really special occasion sort of place.

                                                              2. I don't know about SF, I've never had to do it there but it's been a few years since I've been. Only places I've had to give a cc# was small high-end places with limited seating, usually in big cities. Cancellation policy and charges were clearly stated at the time I gave the cc#. I've never had an issue with it, the terms were ones I could live with.

                                                                IMO you're never "wrong" to go elsewhere if you don't care to agree to whatever is being asked of you to secure the reservation.

                                                                1. I don't see it as a big deal and understand why some restaurants would have the policy (more than I understand the reluctantcy to give the cc number as long as there is a reasonable cancelation policy). I liken it to giving a hotel a cc number to reserve a room.

                                                                  1. I've had to put down a CC number several times in Las Vegas as well.

                                                                    1. My concern is with the security of my CC info. After the 1st time I was asked for a CC#, I was quite upset to see it written in the reservation book by my name. I have since given my info only by fax. I need a record of who has my info.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: hipquest

                                                                        What's the big deal? The only people who could see it are the staff, and oh yeah they can see your cc info when you use your card, too. If you have an unauthorized charge on your cc all you have to do is call the cc company and challenge it. Any establishment that charges your card without a signed authorization takes a risk, anyway - if the cardholder challenges it and they can't produce a signed sales draft or authorization they will get a chargeback (other than hotels and car rental companies). If the number was just taken over the phone, it's likely they take the cc # as more of a deterrent to no-show than because they're actually going to charge you if you cancel.

                                                                        1. re: hsk

                                                                          The big deal is I could clearly see the book as could any other patron. And keeping up with who has a hand written number of my card helped AMEX find and prosecute the person who stole my number last year when we were in California.

                                                                        2. re: hipquest

                                                                          hipquest, do as I do. I won't have anything to do with restaurants that want my CC for a dinner reservation. I can understand an 'event', but for dinner? Yeah, right.

                                                                          1. re: dolores

                                                                            dolores, I agree with you but I frequently set up client dinners for my husband and they do deserve some consideration, as you pointed out, for an event of 10 to 20 people.