Let’s say you finally got an advance reservation to that hip new restaurant down the street. Several months later, a few days before your big culinary night out, you get roped into a business meeting out of town. Not only will you miss out on your fine-dining experience, but you might have to pay a hefty chunk of change — as much as $200 — to give up that dinner reservation.
Pete Wells, New York Times restaurant critic, has observed an intriguing trend in the restaurant reservation business: It’s become a serious commitment. Whereas a decade ago only the very top tier of restaurants would require a credit card to make a reservation, now cancellation fees ranging from $30 to a couple hundred dollars are increasingly common. Some restaurants — like those that use Nick Kokonas’ Tock ticketing system — require customers to pay the entire meal in advance. OpenTable contends, however, that only 1 percent of New York City restaurants have cancellation fee policies.
Wells defends the restaurants somewhat, explaining that the new cancellations policies reflect a desire to avoid the rude no-shows: “the real culprits are people who make reservations, confirm them a day or two ahead, probably even get a reminder by email or text — and still don’t show up. Some of them may suffer from genuine memory loss. The rest are just small-scale sociopaths…By threatening to charge for missed reservations, restaurants are trying to pierce the veil of obliviousness in which these people live their lives.”
The bottom line is, in Wells’ opinion, most restaurants that implement cancellation fees hate doing so, and aren’t trying to pull one over on their customers. New York City restaurateur Keith McNally, of Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, even says he tells parties of five or more that they will be charged for not showing up, but does not “have the heart to do it.”