It’s a nightmare for any restaurateur: lots of empty tables on Valentines Day because of no-shows. The notoriously busy holiday, when everyone wants to wine and dine their sweetheart, is regarded as the second busiest day for the restaurant industry (falling just short of Mother’s Day). And no-show reservations cost big money.

But Valentines Day 2018 did not go so smoothly for several restaurants in Chicago. A rogue OpenTable employee had been using their rival, Reserve’s, reservations service to make hundreds of fake reservations at 45 restaurants across the city, culminating on Valentine’s Day. As soon as the fraudulent activity was noticed and tracked back, the employee was fired, but much of the damage had already been done.

While it seems the two reservation systems are ready to kiss and make up, the restaurant owners who bore the cost of this ill-advised campaign may not be so forgiving. Every no-show reservation means a table that sits empty. In some restaurants, it only takes a couple of empty tables to kill profits for an entire shift.

But what can you do when your reserved tables are handled by a third party? Overbook and hope nobody notices? Just take the hit? It’s a conundrum restaurateurs have dealt with for years.

An Alternative to Reservation Systems

Walk-in only restaurants never have to deal with no-shows. But of course, there are other issues that can cause them to lose money. Paging systems are expensive to purchase and maintain. Long lines and crowds near the door can turn away diners before they even make it out of the parking lot. But there is a better way.

With a restaurant waiting list app like NextME, hosts can give guests the freedom to wander, the ability to communicate, and all the info you like, right at their fingertips. Customers receive a text that includes a link to see their place in line. There, they can also view restaurant specials, browse your menu, engage with your social media, and feel more connected while they wait. No need to bother the hostess to see what place they hold in line — the link does that too. And if they want to spend their wait time visiting nearby shops or taking a stroll around the neighborhood, they’re not tethered by the limits of a paging system’s range.

In today’s constantly connected world, it just makes sense. Plus, the app can mean a reduction in walkouts of up to 25%!

Customers love it too, especially since they can use NextME without downloading a separate app! All they have to do is show up at a NextME restaurant, give the hostess a phone number, and wait for an SMS notifying them that their table is ready. Being able to check their place in line means they’re free to hang out at the bar around the corner, go to the nail salon down the street for a quick pedi, or spend some time browsing through their favorite boutiques and still make it back in time to be seated.

And your staff is going to appreciate how quick and easy it is to notify customers that their table is ready and keep track of the whole wait list at a glance. In fact, the app can help improve service speed through the whole dining experience as guests have a chance to peruse the menu and decide on their orders before they are seated.

But High End Restaurants Need to Take Reservations

While waitlist apps are wonderful for most restaurants in the full-service casual category, they may not work for others. High end restaurants may still need a way to book tables in advance. It needs to be user friendly, technologically relevant, and most of all, reliable and affordable for businesses.

Enter Tock. Founder Nick Kokonas found himself dismayed over some of the practices and policies of Open Table and other reservations systems, so he decided it was time to come up with an alternative. But how to balance the restaurant’s need for reliable reservations with a customer service oriented approach?

He found the answer in pre-paid reservations and deposits. The system allows restaurants to manage the way they handle their own reservations. On slow days, reservations are often free since there is minimal impact to the restaurant if they no-show. On busier days, diners may pay a reservation deposit up front, so the restaurant gets paid something even if they don’t come. Finally, for the busiest time slots, or big restaurant holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, restaurants can sell pre-paid reservations to ensure those tables won’t lose money, no matter what happens. And best of all, restaurants can choose the balance of these booking options themselves, to optimize their table turns based on their own specific needs.

But does it work? Tock has achieved what was once considered impossible. They boast a 0.03% no show/no pay rate. That’s a dream come true for many high-end eateries!

The Bottom Line

Restaurants live and die based on their ability to quickly turn tables. No show reservations can cause major problems and with modern reservation systems, the power is completely out of your hands. When something goes wrong, whether it’s corporate manipulation, a mean-spirited prank, or simply guests being flaky, it can cost big money.

If an app like NextME can help you turn tables quicker, retain customers, and make life easier for your front of house staff, can you really afford not to give it a try?