Did This Restaurant Go Over the Line?

It happened a couple of weekends ago, and my foodie friends in Southern California are still talking about it.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a restaurant called Red Medicine—which specializes in upscale, Vietnamese-inspired cuisine — had about seven reservation no-shows. Seven groups of people (the size of the groups was not disclosed) who made reservations, and then failed to honor them without so much as the courtesy of a phone call.

No-shows are the bane of the restaurateur’s existence. Empty tables go right to the bottom line. For many restaurants, the weekends represent make-or-break time, just as the Christmas season is critical for retailers. When tables sit empty in “prime time,” the financial health of the restaurant is threatened.

It’s not known whether this is a recurring problem for Red Medicine, but on that particular weekend night, with so many customers disguised as chairs, management apparently had had enough. Using Twitter and Facebook, the restaurant shared the names of the no-shows with the world.

My foodie friends, to a person, were aghast by the restaurant’s action. Their reaction is understandable, considering they are considerate diners who hardly ever fail to honor a reservation, and when something comes up, they call the restaurant immediately.

It’s also easy to understand the restaurant’s point of view. But to set out to publicly humiliate people? I think that’s taking things a bit too far.

What the management of Red Medicine seems to be forgetting is that they are not in the food business. They are in the people business. If I were one of the people who got called out in social media, I would never return to that restaurant. And I’d probably use my own social media outlets to tell the world about how I’d been treated—even if I were the offending party to begin with.

There are other, less confrontational ways for a restaurant to handle no-shows. Among them:

  1. Maintain a “do not reserve” list. If a person fails to honor a reservation, their name goes on a list that is quickly scanned by the reservation taker whenever the phone rings. Names could be removed from the list after a period of time, at the restaurateur’s discretion.
  2. Sell tickets. Red Medicine offers a multi-course tasting menu that commands a premium price. For those dinners, sell tickets in advance. When someone calls in to make a reservation, charge the credit card immediately and explain the no-refund policy. Should a guest with a ticket have an emergency come up, allow them to re-schedule—as long as they call in.

After giving this matter a great deal of thought, I have one question for the management of Red Medicine: Do you seat each and every party at their appointed reservation time, without fail?

If the answer is no, you should not be attempting to publicly humiliate customers who do not honor their reservations.

Dealing with the public can be an exercise in frustration, but that’s true of almost any business. Restaurants earn our loyalty just as much through good service and proper treatment as they do through what arrives on our plates.

Unfair as it may seem, it’s not a two-way street. Restaurateurs who want to stay in business must treat their customers better than their customers treat them.

That also extends to the restaurant’s wine list, by the way. Red Medicine charges $55 for a bottle of Au Bon Climat Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay for which the winery charges $30 at full retail. With a mark-up like that, a restaurant should be able to withstand a few no-shows.

Did Red Medicine handle its no-show situation properly or poorly? We’d love to read your thoughts and opinions in the “Comments” box below.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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