During tough times and a surge of COVID-19, some restaurants say they face mass cancellations that end up hurting business during the slower months of the year.
Now some are trying to crack down on people labeled as ‘careless diners’ – those who recklessly book to save a seat during prime booking times – for canceling at the last minute.
Steven Hartenstein, owner of Lucca Osteria & Bar in Oak Brook, says he faces hundreds of cancellations every weekend. In fact, on a recent Saturday night, it had over 200 cancellations.
“When people cancel, it really hurts us,” he said. “They lock those reservations in early which prevents anyone else from doing that.”
The service used to make the reservation, such as OpenTable, charges the restaurant thousands of dollars per month.
Hartenstein says each person in a reservation costs the restaurant $1.25. This is in addition to a fixed monthly fee. It’s not uncommon to spend more than $3,000 a month on this service, according to Hartenstein.
Meanwhile, the cancellation problem comes during the slowest months of the year, according to Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.
“We are coming out of the holiday season, it is very cold [and] we don’t have conventions,” Toia said. “If you cancel reservations at a restaurant… especially during the pandemic, especially during the vaccine mandate, it really messes things up at a restaurant.
Last year, OpenTable launched a four-strike policy against careless diners. User accounts are now flagged and could be suspended after four “no shows”.
Toia reminds customers to be “respectful” of reservation systems, especially if you want to prevent more establishments from closing during difficult pandemic times.
Some restaurants, like Lucca, still offer reservations by phone. Reservations made over the phone help restaurants avoid third-party app fees.
Some restaurants require a deposit, but not all establishments like to require this deposit, fearing that it will drive some customers away.
“It depends on each restaurant owner/operator,” Toia said. “I don’t know what works on the Gold Coast or River North will work in Rogers Park, Chatham or Little Village.”