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Canceling a Reservation

This past weekend, I had a friend with reservations at a restaurant here in town. She had to cancel last minute, because the couple she was planning on dining with couldn't make it. When she called to cancel the reservation (it was for that night), the person on the phone said that there was a $50 per person late cancellation fee. My friend protested, and the person on the phone said that it was stated on Opentable when they put their credit card info in to secure the reservation. MY friend is quite upset with this policy, and plans on disputing the charge with her bank. Is this something that happens often?

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  1. MY friend is quite upset with this policy, and plans on disputing the charge with her bank. Is this something that happens often?

    What happens often? The policy of having a cancellation fee, or people being upset about the policy?

    3 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      I meant restaurants charging the cancellation fee

      1. Yes it does happen. I would most absolutely ask the couple to pay their portion of the fee especially since they're the ones who cancelled last minute.

        6 Replies
        1. re: letsindulge

          But the couple did not know about the cancellation fee. The one who made the reservations should have, especially since she did it via opentable. I've made reservations through opentable where a credit card # is required to secure it. They don't make their cancellation policy a secret. It's pretty apparent (not like fine print in a huge legal document).

          1. re: Miss Needle

            If I was the couple, I'd offer to pay the $100 for us as a good faith gesture. I'm more amazed that the OP's friend didn't ask/look for a cancellation policy when giving her credit card number than I am that the restaurant has a cancellation policy.

            In a perfect world, when the OP's friend made the reservation she would have conveyed to her dining partners what the policy is.

            As the one who ALWAYS makes the dinner reservations among out friends and family, it's a thankless task..but that's another thread for another day.

            1. re: Janet from Richmond

              And if you were the one making the reservation -- well, you'd probably have known better and realized the cancellation policy and convey it to the others.

              If I was making the reservation, I would absorb the entire fee because it would have been entirely my fault. If the couple was aware of the cancellation fee and then canceled, I would have asked them for the $100.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                I agree with you :-) If I had made the reservation and didn't check the policy, I wouldn't mention to my friends when not checking backfired.

                If I was the friend and made aware of the policy, I'd pay my share.

                Hope that makes sense :-)

                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                  Perfect sense. I think you're just a very nice and accommodating person. : )

                  I think it's going to be a bit difficult to try to collect the fees from the couple, especially as they had no knowledge of the policy. Asking for their share may cause some ill will. I would think it's better for the OP's friend to just absorb the losses herself and chalk this up to being an expensive lesson for the future.

                2. re: Miss Needle

                  If the other couple was aware of the cancellation fee and still cancelled, they should pay the entire $200 unless a hospital or funeral home was part of the reason for their cancellation.

          2. Nothing at all unusual about cancellation charges (always presuming that a declaration of that policy was made clear at time of reservation - which the OP seems to indicate that it was, through OpenTable).

            1. What is her dispute? I would guess there was a cancellation policy (as there are with hotels, etc.) if reservations required a credit card as guarantee.

              The only people she should be upset with is herself for not reading the policy and her friends for cancelling at the last minute. The restaurant did nothing wrong.

              I make reservations on Opentable all the time and have not been asked for a credit card, so if a place required it I'd definitely check out the policy and let my friends know what it is as well.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                Yeah, I guess I just wondered whether Open Table has my credit card in there somewhere (I don't think it does) and if so, then just having some pop-up or fine print wouldn't necessarily be enough to warn me. But if there's an extra step on OT to enter a credit card (just for this restaurant) then it's more obvious. Is it possible the OP was a first-time user of OT and didn't realize that the credit card entry was an extra (not usual) step? I've never run into a cancellation policy at OT, but then again, I've never dined at Per Se :)

                1. re: DGresh

                  From Open Table's website.....seems to me it would be obvious when entering one's credit card info.


                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                    yeah, I agree, that looks pretty straightforward, and obvious.

              2. Having a cancellation fee at restaurants is most definitely a new thing and I wouldn't say happens "quite often".

                It has recently become more common with higher end restaurants because of the ease of making online reservations through multiple channels - and the subsequent increase in no-shows. In restaurants that don't have a large walk-in business these reserved tables can end up going unseated, thus impacting the bottom line - and thus the cancellation fee.

                I very much dislike these policies but have come to understand them and now look for this policy when making online reservations. If a restaurant is able to seat my table then there should be no charge, if the table goes empty well . . . but often then can re-seat the table so there really is no loss.

                1 Reply
                1. re: thimes

                  I would guess it is "quite often" when a credit card is required to make a reservation. At the very least, it should prompt a person to check out the cancellation policy.

                2. If your friend is upset with the policy, she should not have made a reservation at a restaurant with such a policy. Disputing it after the fact because the restaurant had the nerve to enforce their stated rules is ridiculous.

                  1. When one gives a credit card to secure a reservation, it's pretty obvious that there would be a consequence for a late cancellation. It happens with hotel rooms and dr. appointments all the time. No surprise.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: wyogal

                      I think we all assume the person involved is familiar with these new policies. Restaurant cancellation policies are a new thing as are apps like Open Table. If you didn't know to look for the cancellation policy it could easily be overlooked when making the reservation.

                      I'm not saying the fee should be waved but I do understand how you could be surprised by it - especially if this is your first encounter with the policy (which is really only been around for a few years and only in a small number of restaurants).

                      1. re: thimes

                        But, if one goes through the process of entering a credit card number, then one really ought to have figured it out. One doesn't just give those numbers out for no reason. That would be my point. You give a credit card number, be prepared to be charged. Why else would a credit card number be required ahead of time?

                          1. re: wyogal

                            I agree that it's a new-ish thing. I can only remember being asked for cc data twice. (l'Etoile in Madison and Manresa in Los Gatos) However, I also agree that being ASKED for a credit card should have been a big red flag that more investigation was needed.

                            In that situation, I would have either found a new restaurant, or called the other couple in advance to say "hey...they'll stick me with $150 is we don't show...is there ANY chance you guys might not make it?"

                            1. re: danna

                              This is not new; it's just a revival (whether that is "newish" is debatable). The only thing that's new is OpenTable as intermediary (which costs the restaurant money, btw). But, a generation ago, it was very common to guarantee a restaurant reservation by credit card; then, in the boom-boom years, it became less common. Bad times have revived it.

                              1. re: Karl S

                                thanks, i had no idea. I suppose I never ate anywhere in that league until the 90s.

                        1. re: wyogal

                          Per my earlier thread I'm with you wyogal, and at that time I would have relayed that message to the "couple" that cancelled last minute. Maybe she didn't let them know so she certainly can't expect them to pay for something they had no knowledge of.

                        2. If it was an upscale restaurant on a weekend, I think some type of cancellation fee is fair. If you were getting hit with a fee and the couple was cancelling, why not show up and get a meal out of it?

                          1. I think its pretty common. I also think your friend is stuck. If it was indeed stated on OT then its your friend's fault they weren't aware.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: HoosierFoodie

                              Credit card guarantees are increasingly common. What is not common was the requirement of a place in Rome to make an upfront payment of €100, via PayPal, to secure the table.

                            2. Unfortunately, I have had to cancel too many restaurant reservations.

                              When I do, I often expect to pay cancellation fees, depending on the timing. That is just life. Even if it means a dozen international calls, I will cancel every reservation, and am prepared to pay any fee.

                              On two trips to Hawaii, I had to cancel everything. All restaurant reservations were fine, but I lost the payment for 4 tee-times, due to the lateness of the cancellations. Such is life.


                              1. never happened to us but I'd never, well I say never, reserve a restaurant by credit card. if they require that, red flag is all I can say. unless its for a rehearsal dinner or something that special where many are involved and I really want "that" place.

                                oh h€][ yes I'd dispute it. if I lost I'd bad mouth the establishment...gr€€dy bastids ;:~€

                                1. This is an unfortunate new trend and thankfully not one I've had to experience, but agree with those who have said asking for the CC when securing the reservation should have been the tip off. I would definitely just keep the reservation for 2 people and try really hard to get another couple last minute to join me - FB post, a couple of quick calls, and would be honest about why it's so last minute - hey, we are headed to XXX and our friends had a family emergency and can't make it, so we wondered if you two haven't eaten yet, maybe you could meet us up there? I wouldn't cancel it all together and have to pay for all 4 people; no reason 2 of the 4 can't go and even if you can't find another couple to fill in, save $100 in fees.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                    If I was the OP my first question would have been, "If you knew that you would have to pay $200 to cancel the reservation, why didn't you just call me to go with you?" Followed by, "If you knew that you would have to pay $200 to cancel the reservation, and you couldn't get another couple to join you (even for just dessert), why didn't you just ask if you could change the reservation to 2 people or to another night?" The friend took the risk and knew (should have known) the stated policy when she booked, so she needs to just accept it. It reminds me of Newt protesting the VA primary rules.

                                  2. Unfortunately, it's what some places have to do in response to no-shows. Hotels and airlines do it as well. I've had one restaurant (and one small hotel) tell me that if they're able to fill the table, they'll waive the fee which happened on both occasions which I appreciated. I understand where they're coming from but if it's a popular place and fills the table anyway, I think in that case they should waive the fee as opposed to simply padding their bottom line when they've lost nothing. I've also seen the "fee" given to the offending customer in the form of a gift certificate - another less painful punishment for a late cancellation.
                                    The offending couple in the original post is probably off the hook as they were out of the loop altogether. The friend should have been called and told the situation if only to have the opportunity to dine as a two top. If I felt I was being "wronged" I might go myself and hang out at my $200 table for an hour and a half eating bread and drinking water (tap please) but I'm kinda wrong in the head sometimes.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: bobbert

                                      But when the policy is stated and it's done over the internet, one takes their chances. It has nothing to do with padding their bottom line, it has to do with their standard operating procedure, A computer is not making subjective decisions. A reservation comes in, with the policy stated, credit card info is given. A reservation is cancelled after a certain time, it's probably rather automatic.
                                      Lesson? Don't make reservations that ask for credit car info unless one is sure that they will be able to follow-through.

                                      1. re: wyogal

                                        I agree with you and I've paid for airline tickets and hotel rooms that I never used and never complained as I was aware of their policies. I had the two instances where I was told over the phone (even though I had made reservations via internet) that if they filled the table or room, they would waive the fee. They didn't have to do it and I certainly would have eaten the lost money (almost a thousand bucks for the hotel) but I thought it was a nice gesture on their part and nice gestures bestowed on me seldom go unrewarded - I go out of my way to do business with them in the future.
                                        I do believe that if a restaurant has no problem filling that cancelled reservation, they are padding their bottom line. Anything done automatically by computer can just as easily be un-done. If it were my place and I wanted to keep my customers happy, I would not charge them the fee unless that table sat empty during that time slot.
                                        But as you suggest, for restaurants anyway, a rarely make reservations. I get shut out a lot or dine late or at the bar but hardly ever have to cancel.

                                      2. re: bobbert

                                        Why not invite three street people to join you for your bread and water? To be fair, maybe you really should buy a cup of soup too...

                                        1. re: svnirvana

                                          That did cross my mind but the dress code might preclude such a move. I'm not saying the OP was wronged or that I would have felt wronged myself. It would have been determined by the phone call with the restaurant. If I was satisfied with their explanation of why the fee would be imposed and they were polite about it, no problem, it was right there in black and white when I made my reservation. OTOH, if the conversation came across as a "tough shit, nah, nah, na, nah, na" type of thing then I might just clean up some homeless people and splurge for dinner.

                                          Just because a business "can" do something doesn't always mean they should. I know many successful businesses that will take returns without the receipt when their "rules" say you need one. I've had a car dealership take care of a tire for me even though the tires were specifically not covered by the warranty. I know of many restaurants that will give a patron a new steak because in their mind their perfectly cooked medium rare steak was overdone. All part of customer service and making the customer happy.
                                          With the OP, my guess is that she will never go back to this restaurant and maybe the place is OK with that but if they were able to seat that table (not lose any money), and called the OP to tell her they're waiving the fee or were sending a $200 gift certificate I'm thinking that might be a better long term business move. Maybe I'm not only a little nuts but a bit naive as well?

                                          1. re: bobbert

                                            Well, yes. The question that this brings up is, "How long do you have wait past the time of your reservation before the they owe YOU $200?

                                            Someplace that has that kind of a policy better not make anyone with a reservation wait for a table....

                                      3. I work in a doctor's office and the patients sign an agreement to pay a $25 fee for same day cancellations or no shows plus there is a big sign in our waiting room. I can't start to tell you how many of them complain they didn't know the office policy. We do waive it for a true emergency (we know our patients well) but stand our ground when the excuse is pretty pathetic.

                                        If you click yes or sign your name to terms and conditions then it's your responsibility to cancel in good time according to the agreement. Hotels have the same policy - I don't see why a restaurant or business shouldn't charge.

                                        I would agree with others here, if they were going to charge she might as well have gone and eaten the $200 worth of food.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: smartie

                                          I've had to pay that fee for missed dental appointments but I've also had the doctor/dentist cancel on me for the same "good" reasons I've had - one doctor's flight got cancelled and he was stuck in Hawaii. When this happens does the office send a check to the patients?

                                          Let's say I show up for my 6:00PM dinner reservation and, for some unforeseen reason they can't seat me until 7:00PM but I have to be somewhere at 8 so I leave. Does the restaurant in some way compensate me?

                                          I know, there's a difference when I sign something or read something that is conspicuously posted (which is why I pay without complaint) but I always wondered why a doctor's time or dentist's time, or for that matter, a mechanic's time is so much more valuable than my time as with these places, the next time I an serviced at the time of my appointment will be the first time it's happened. By the way, if my dentist can fit someone in that slot which they often can do as they schedule 6 months out, they waive the fee.

                                        2. send the couple that cancelled on you this thread.