Restaurants in Dubai are cracking down on diners who fail to show up for bookings by fining them up to Dh300 ($81) a head.
The National spoke to restaurant owners and industry experts who said it was now common practice to take credit card details from customers when they make bookings, in the event of a late cancellation or no-show.
The problem of guests failing to turn up for reservations has become a hot topic for restaurateurs in the emirate, as the latest Covid-19 restrictions mean capacity is limited to 50 per cent.
“It’s very important that guests understand that we have businesses to run, our rent has to be paid and so do our staff,” said Nicolas Budzynski, global operations director of French restaurant LPM, which has an outlet at Dubai International Financial Centre.
“Guests making last-minute cancellations and not turning up is obviously even more of an issue now, as we are limited to 50 per cent capacity at the moment.”
Under new restrictions introduced by the Dubai government at the start of February, restaurants were toldto reduce their capacity by half and suspend all brunches.
Restaurants and cafes are also required to close by 1am.
Mr Budzynski's restaurant is among those that takes credit card details from customers when booking.
Diners who fail to show up or call at the last minute to cancel, face a penalty of Dh200 for each person.
But, he said, the fees would apply to late cancellations only if the restaurant was unable to use the table for other customers.
"If a table is taken, then we don't apply those charges. We try not to charge those who make cancellations because we understand there are genuine reasons why people might make last-minute changes to their plans," he said.
“A no-show is different because it means they didn’t even take the time to let us know they couldn’t make it.”
Mr Budzynski said taking credit card details is common practice at many restaurants in Dubai.
“Even if we charge Dh200 per person for not showing up, we are still making a loss.
"We make an average of Dh450 to Dh500 from each guest for dinner," he said.
“Restaurants can’t afford to have people not show up and leave us with empty tables when capacity is so limited.”
LPM is not the only restaurant in Dubai to take credit card details from guests in case they fail to turn up.
Popular Peruvian venue Coya, at Jumeirah, charges Dh100 per person for no-shows and late cancellations if the group is just two or three guests. However, that goes up to Dh200 for each person for larger groups.
Fees are waived if the restaurant is notified at least 24 hours in advance.
Diners who cannot attend a booking at Greek restaurant Opa, at the World Trade Centre, can expect to be charged Dh80 if they do not cancel by 3pm on the day of their booking. If they fail to show up, the charge is Dh120.
Japanese restaurant Zuma, at Dubai International Financial Centre, asks for credit card details if the booking is for seven or more people. No-shows face a charge of Dh300 per person, while it is Dh120 each for last-minute cancellations.
Mediterranean restaurant Nammos, at Jumeirah, asks for card details if the booking is for more than seven people – who would require two tables under current restrictions. Unless a cancellation is made 24 hours or more in advance, there is a fee of Dh250 per person.
Greek restaurant Gaia, at Dubai International Financial Centre, also expects diners to cancel bookings at least 24 hours in advance. Late cancellations and no-shows are expected to pay Dh250 a head.
But not all restaurateurs in Dubai believe asking for credit card details is the way to go.
“We would only take that approach on special occasions, like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, but we have found it is a practice that customers massively reject,” said Naim Maadad, chief executive of Gates Hospitality,.
This is the parent group of several Dubai restaurants, including Bistro Des Arts, at Dubai Marina, Folly and Publique, both at Souq Madinat Jumeirah,
“Our venues are heavily reliant on a repeat clientele base and people find it insulting to be asked for credit card details.
"We tell customers we will hold the table for 30 minutes before giving it to someone else. There are also issues though with the likes of Souq Madinat, where it can be tricky to find a parking space," Mr Maadad said.
"If it takes someone a long time to find a parking space only to then be told their table has been given away, can create another problem."
Mr Maadad called on the public to show more consideration for the staff at restaurants who face continuing difficulties owing to reduced capacity levels.
“People not having the decency to even cancel a booking, and then simply not showing up, is a huge challenge for the business and there’s little we can do,” he said.
“The message we are trying to get across is simple; when you make a booking, take a minute or two to tell us in advance if you can’t make it so we can sell that table again.”
Another industry expert said the number of late cancellations is on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic.
Restaurant bookings make up about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of all our requests per month,” said Thea Kearse, marketing and partnerships manager for luxury lifestyle management company Quintessentially.
“Although the number of cancellation requests we receive is relatively low, since the pandemic we have seen a slight increase, which was to be expected due to the uncertainty of the circumstances.”
Ms Kearse, whose job often involves helping clients make reservations at exclusive restaurants, said venues have no choice but to pay more scrutiny to no-shows and late cancellations because of the pandemic.
"I have noticed that asking for credit card details is becoming more and more common," she said.
“It’s just a case of restaurants becoming savvier about confirming guests.”