2018 has been a year of extremes. We’ve either been mad busy or fallen victim to cancellations and no shows. We’ve never experienced anything like it and we’ve been caught off guard.
We’re often criticised for our business model being too rigid, in London everyone paid in advance and just paid for drinks on the night. You could count the cancellations on one hand.
We altered the model when we relaunched here in Devon because our offering and set up were very different. We had a very clear cancellation policy in place and in year one there was never a problem.
2018 saw a big change in people’s attitudes and we had a spate of cancellations and no shows. I think the thing that struck me the most was the laissez faire attitude of most of the people cancelling, their inability to recognise the impact of their actions.
People who cancel have usually not been to the restaurant, they have no idea how their actions affect our business and in all honesty they're not really interested either. La Petite Bouchée is a very small business. There are literally 4 of us. Me, in the kitchen, two front of house, and one kitchen porter. They all have to be paid. So do our suppliers. There are not endless pots of money and we have never borrowed against the business. Like our recipes and food everything about this business is built from scratch. but it's ours and we're very passionate about it. It's our world, a way of life and as the many accolades attest one which we are very proud of.
To give you a couple of examples:
One party had a table of 8 booked that’s just shy of 50% of our dining room. All the food and drink had been ordered as per our business model, our team booked in. Mid morning on the day I received a call from one of the party stating that they wouldn’t be returning from London in time for supper and that was that. When I reminded them about our cancellation policy they laughed and said I could try but I wouldn’t get anywhere, they then slammed the phone down. That persons selfishness cost us £600
Strangely, the party concerned tried to book again later in the year and were refused.
There are sadly several other stories similar to the one above People who have never been to La Petite Bouchée, who have no grasp of the impact their actions have. Then there are the people who have been and who do understand the consequences of their actions.
A party of 5 booked almost instantly for a special event we were holding as well as a Christmas. The party have been several times before. They had also cancelled at short notice before. Again, the food was ordered. An hour into evening prep on the night of the event we received a call saying there was illness. An hour before service 1/4 of the restaurant gone. There was a “ if I have to pay then so be it” conversation. I said I’d come back to them. I was super busy and not in a position to be having that conversation when guests were about to arrived. There had been hints about illness, why on earth did they not see fit to cancel there and then within the deadline?
By the time this episode happened our new deposit policy was in place but for new bookings only. According to our terms and conditions anything outside our cancellation terms will be charged 100% of the table. When I wrote the party concerned I asked them to pay just a nominal amount rather than the full amount. I also asked for a deposit against their future booking. We didn’t receive a response to the mail, we didn’t receive the money we requested and in a second email we again voiced our concern at the lack of understanding of our position and regretfully gave notice of their table at Christmas being cancelled.
They never responded. The cost of their actions that evening £400.00
The total cost of late cancellations and no shows from June-Dec £4320 and just under half of that in the proceeding 6 months that is a substantial hit for a business of this size. It has a huge impact on us and our ability to meet our commitments. If someone cancels their reservation within the stated period then that is fine, it gives us time to advertise tables and trigger our late table offers.
What people fail to realise is that we are not a chain (although doing it to anyone in my book is way off the mark) we all do at least 5 jobs each. For example, I am Chef, Cleaner, Marketing, Social Media, Office Manager, Web Master... the list goes on ... We run a tight ship and we make no apologies for our tightening up our business model.
We will continue to ask for deposits. When new diners book at La Petite Bouchée. We hope that this will deter people from cancelling or just ‘not fancying it” - ( Yes, that was another fabulous no show excuse this year)
We are loathed to charge big deposits or to charge 100% pre-payment of the food bill in advance, but we will, if we have to to protect our business. Lets see what the wind blows in in the first quarter.
What are your thoughts?
Is acceptable to treat small independent businesses in this way?
What are your experiences ?