The table is set, the wine is opened and the food is prepared; only the guests are missing. Restaurateurs fear this scenario, especially in the luxury sector, because it represents an irreplaceable economic loss for them.

According to the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga), so-called no-shows, that is, not showing up despite a reservation, or cancellations at very short notice, have increased.

According to Christian Heller of the German Etiquette Council, the obligation is balanced by the “fear of a better option.” People are afraid to commit and keep all options open until the last minute.

That's why more and more restaurants in Germany charge a no-show fee if customers don't come despite having booked or cancel at short notice.

“At some point it will stop being economical”

One of them is the star restaurant “bi:braud” in Ulm. “It is increasingly common for people to make reservations at several restaurants and decide at short notice: we will go there in the evening,” says sommelier Holger Baier.

There will also be no cancellations in the rest of the restaurants. “If people have reserved a menu, at some point it is no longer economical,” he explains. After all, there are some high-quality dishes and foods that make it to the table in luxury restaurants. Whether a café can immediately refill a reserved table with walk-in customers is a different matter.

“Diners who do not use a reserved table without cancellation are often not aware of the economic and organizational effort involved in planning the capacity of a restaurant,” explains a Dehoga spokesperson.

“Empty tables are particularly annoying, especially in restaurants with a small number of tables, with a particularly high-quality menu, that is, with a high cost of products, with long reservation times and with a lack of customers.” It is not possible to give the empty table to other guests.

Some restaurants require guests to deposit a credit card.

According to lawyer Alexander Rilling, the price can be influenced by the fact that the guests have also ordered a menu. “The innkeeper prepares specifically for this and makes specific purchases,” says Rilling.

You could charge a portion of what the meal would have cost if they didn't show up, as a kind of flat-rate compensation. It becomes more difficult for an innkeeper if you make a reservation without a menu.

Although you can estimate what guests have consumed, you don't know as precisely as you would with a menu. In any case, something like a no-show fee should be included in the general conditions. Guests should also be informed about and confirm rates.

At “bi:braud”, guests receive information about the price according to sommelier Baier in an email, as well as other details of the desired reservation. Therefore, they must reconfirm the reservation on a reservation portal and also provide their credit card.

Ulmer restaurant has introduced a no-show fee

Additionally, information about fees for no-shows or late cancellations appears as a pop-up window when booking. Some restaurants call their customers back on the day of their visit and ask if they will come. With such a personal conversation, simply not showing up becomes more difficult.

There has been a no-show fee at the Ulm restaurant for two years, but according to Baier, it was actually only charged twice. “Fortunately, we have trustworthy guests,” he says. And good will always influences.

“If someone gets sick, they get sick,” says the sommelier. According to Baier, the fact that more and more restaurants in Germany are charging this fee is a process that has been going on for more than ten years and is, in fact, the new norm. “This is normal in fine dining and in other countries.”

Heller of the German Etiquette Council says the same. “In the US, it is already common in some cities for guests to have to purchase a meal ticket when making a reservation.” Economically, it's a complicated debate, Heller says.

“People are not offended by us”

“At the German Etiquette Council we talk about the fear of breaking up a relationship, which leads many professionals to forgo paying fees.”

“The general recommendation is not to extend a reservation at a given time by more than 15 or 20 minutes,” says Heller. “It is also recommended to call in case of delays.”

And if something really comes up, you should cancel it as soon as you know it won't work, Heller says. “But it should definitely be cancelled, it's common decency.”

Sometimes it's hard to keep the commitment in everyday life, Heller says, but emphasizes: “As we discussed at the last Etiquette Council meeting, setting boundaries leads to appreciation. This applies to both guests and hosts.” Holger Baier confirms this when it comes to no-show fees. “People don't take it the wrong way.”

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