No-shows—customers who make reservations and then never show up—can chip away at a restaurant’s profits. Here are some ways to deter no-shows and boost your bottom line.

Confirmation, please

Confirm reservations to help ensure customers honor them.

  • Put it in writing. Consider sending an e-mail confirmation. Online reservation systems like Freebookings, OpenTable, Urbanspoon’s Rezbook, Savored and CityEats automatically send a message confirming all the details.
     
  • Make the call. A brief phone call the day before the reservation can help jog the memory of diners. Use the call to enhance the dining experience by checking on customer requests, such as dietary needs and seating preferences, and whether the party will be celebrating a special occasion.
     
  • Facilitate cancellations. “Make it easy for people to cancel,” says Sherri Kimes, professor of service operations management at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. “Diners find it frustrating when they call to cancel, and the phone just rings and rings.” Consider using an outsourced reservations service like Table Maestro to help you handle phone calls, says Kimes, or invite customers to text you with their cancelations. An online reservation system also makes cancelations a breeze.

Make it your policy

A clear reservation policy can help reduce the cost of no-shows.

  • Give them their 15 minutes. It’s customary to hold tables for 15 minutes before declaring the party a no-show. If guests call to say they will be late, some establishments will hold the table longer.
     
  • Show me the credit card. Some restaurants require deposits or credit card numbers when diners make reservations and charge for no-shows. Establishments may choose to waive these fees if they can seat another party. Even if you don’t routinely ask for deposits or credit card numbers, you might choose to for holidays and for parties of six or more. You can also sell advance “tickets” to special prix-fixe meals on occasions such as New Year’s Eve.
     
  • Come another time. Consider applying any no-show charges to a gift certificate so that customers will be encouraged to try your establishment at a later date.
     
  • Stop repeat no-shows. OpenTable automatically sends an e-mail to patrons indicating that they were no-shows. A customer’s OpenTable account is terminated after four no-shows in a year.

     

    Keep your end of the deal. Credit card reservations may drive away some potential customers. If you require a deposit on a reservation, be sure to seat guests promptly when they arrive, or you could lose valuable repeat business.

Fill your tables

  • Have a backup. “Some restaurants overbook slightly to protect against no-shows,” says Kimes. Consider factors like your no-show rate and weather conditions when deciding how much to safely overbook.
     
  • Reward reservations. Consider offering perks to customers who honor their reservations. For example, OpenTable awards Dining Rewards points that can be redeemed for dining certificates valid at any OpenTable restaurant.
     
  • Offer incentives for off-peak times. For example, on Savored, restaurants promote discounts of up to 40% during slower times.
     
  • There’s an app for that. When cancelations leave you with empty tables, take advantage of smart-phone technology to contact customers in the proximity and offer them last-minute deals. The Leloca app, which is free for users, charges restaurants about $1 for each customer it brings into your location. With the Foursquare app, restaurants can encourage diners to “check in” within a certain timeframe by rewarding them with perks like a free appetizer. Rezbook’s “Right Now” feature also allows you to spread the word about immediate availability.