You’ve got to call and cancel. Not turning up is just boorish

By Nivriti Butalia

Say, it’s the weekend. You’re having lunch out. Maybe you’ve made dinner plans. You’ve called and booked a table somewhere nice — Downtown or DIFC or City Walk or one of the joints by the beach. Something comes up. You don’t feel like dealing with traffic. Or someone wants to go somewhere else. Or Netflix and leftovers seem more tempting (or just cheaper). You end up not going. Nor do you call and cancel. You pull off, what is called, a no-show. After all, how does it matter, right?

In the UK, apparently, there has been a rise in such boorish behaviour, attributed in part to the surge in online booking platforms.

The restaurant critic, Tim Hayward wrote this week in the Financial Times, “What is a no-show? Put simply, it’s when a customer books a table at a restaurant and doesn’t turn up. It’s not “a cancellation” — that’s when the punter phones up, makes an apology and says they won’t be coming. No, a no-show is when the table is laid, the floor staff are standing to attention, the kitchen has factored in the food costs of each of those seats and prepped for a full service, the barman has iced down extra house white, the kitchen porter is planning on ending his shift at 2am instead of 1.30am and… well, nothing. The party of eight just fails to materialise”.

I was wondering how many of us must be guilty of this sort of neanderthal behaviour.

The Japanese restaurant Nobu at Atlantis The Palm doesn’t have too many cancellations. But the hostess told me that if you don’t turn up within 15 minutes, your table is gone — a common enough, fair enough practice. Not the restaurant’s fault if you can’t be bothered to be on time. Dubai sounded good when she informed me that “80-90 per cent of people always turn up. Some even come early”. But while they may not have much of a no-show problem, I’m not sure that applies equally to less, shall we say, ‘Nobu-esque’ places.

In his piece in The Guardian, Tony Nailor, taking off from Tim Haywards’ piece, said, “Booking platforms have been blamed for fuelling no-shows by making it easier to make multiple bookings, then not turn up.” No human interaction (on the app) is partly to blame.

I checked with someone I know, a Dubai resident constantly availing brunch offers, and who routinely uses ReserveOut. “I try to not be late. If plans have changed, I always cancel — on the app.” Apparently, I am keeping the company of the considerate.

Common courtesy apart, there has to be a link between discourteous no shows and getting away with it, no money docked from card, no rap on knuckles. In the UAE, it doesn’t work like that — thankfully?

A few months ago, a friend was going to be in town (Dubai layover on her way back to the US) and wanted me to book an appointment for a facial for the two of us — no food involved. I booked. But after I booked, she asked if I had been to this salon before. She wanted a testimonial that no dodgy products would be used, nothing that would cause her skin to breakout. I told her not to sound like a paranoid American. Her doubts didn’t subside. She now wished we didn’t have to go. We don’t, I said, grumbling, but there was no compulsion. I could cancel. Friend wanted to know, how much do they charge to cancel? Nothing, are you mad? I don’t see people here being comfy sharing credit card deets. Relieved that no money was going to be deducted, I cancelled the appointment. She was happy. If this were NYC, she said, she would have had to show up because what’s the point of wasting that money on cancellation. There, they charge. Here, there isn’t a price to pay for being uncouth.

Jessica Robert, the hostess at the Indian restaurant Tresind Dubai at Nassima Royal Hotel told me, “If guests don’t arrive on time, we call them. Sometimes they don’t answer or respond to messages.” That happens 20-25 per cent of the time. Their table holding time is also 15 minutes. She says “public holidays are the worst because people tend to book at more than one place and then they don’t show up” — without bothering to cancel. Of course, it affects the restaurant. “It’s a matter of turning someone down,” she says, a tad dramatically. But point taken. Refer to what Hayward wrote about food and kitchen prep.

In the comments section under The Guardian piece, someone called Bayman65 shared this priceless nugged: “The owner of our favourite restaurant — now sadly closed due to his retirement — insisted on a phone number which he’d verify. No shows would be called at home at 3am when he’d say: “Can you confirm you’re still coming because the staff are hanging around waiting to serve…” It had 132 upvotes.

In the first week of September, here in Dubai, I wanted a table for five at Calicut Notebook in Barsha. When I called to book, the gentleman sounded amused. They didn’t take bookings. He said, “Madam, just come.”

Nivriti likes it when people are considerate. Manners are everything

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