The emails have been coming in since Sunday morning. More than a few restaurants had problems with over booking that caused some dining room commotion on Saturday night. And, a few owners wanted to know how to handle the situation.
There are two schools of thoughts on overbooking, and more on how to deal with it. I am a firm believer in booking as many reservations as you think the kitchen and dining room staff can handle, allowing for approximately 20% no-show reservations. That number comes from experience in restaurants that have been located in both tourist towns- where people’s plans frequently change, and on a large
Yet recently, there have been a few other factors to consider when taking reservations. As of last week,
I have grappled with my partner, Kranston, for years about over booking. In Minneapolis I would do it on purpose, making sure those waiting would receive complimentary drinks, appetizers, and even on occasion, a boat tide in our Classic 60′ Antique Canal Boat. My thoughts on this practice were simple- a couple is out for an enjoyable evening. What better way to make it enjoyable than to offer them complimentary cocktails while they wait for a table.
This is not to say that the practice didn’t backfire, on occasion. All practices eventually do. In that case there are a few tactics and strategies that need to be taken. Of course, you should already have an overbooking policy, but if you don’t you should develop one.
First off, all customers who are in your restaurant need to be eventually served. If you can’t accommodate them while they are there, it is time to get out the gift certificate book and start writing.
If you are writing certificates, do it in private, place them in an envelope and let the customer discreetly know the certificate is for future visits. The last thing you want to have happen is for a customer to make a reservation, have to wait, complain about it, receive a gift certificate and use it the same night.
If you have the names and phone numbers (always take a phone number when booking a reservation – it’s a great future marketing tool) of the customers who were over booked don’t hesitate to call them, apologize for the situation, and express your desire to send a gift certificate. Depending on the customer and the irate-displeasure meter, the certificate can be for as little as a few drinks, a bottle of wine, or a complete dinner. The choice is yours.
If you do not have a customer’s phone number, but have joined the marketing genius of the newsletter and blogging ranks, don’t hesitate to address the overbooking problem within those written or emailed words. Customers know you are human. They also realize that mistakes happen. And, I believe that if word of mouth really works, when they tell the story they will add that they received a call and a gift certificate, making you one of the few people using that almost extinct ingredient – customer service. Any time you can add a dash of that it works to take off the bitterness of the meal and keeps them coming back for another try.
Finally, don’t beat yourself or your staff up over the over booking business. Just think how awful you would feel if your competition down the street overbooked and you sat there, in your empty restaurant, waiting for a call from anyone who wanted a lonely reservation.