Before You Complain About That Restaurant Cancellation Fee, Read This

In the universe of restaurant complaints there’s a whole galaxy dedicated to service fees. Recently, a Boston restaurant made waves on social media after one of their customers canceled at the last minute, citing health issues, and had to swallow a $125 per person cancellation fee. The restaurant is very small, with communal tables and one seating per night. Each person pays $125 and eats the same seven courses at the same time. The website is very clear that canceling less than 48 hours before the reservation will incur the full charge. Harsh words and screenshots of harsher DMs were shared, and the internet was abuzz about cancellation fees. “Why should anyone have to pay that much because they changed their plans?” people cried. On behalf of restaurants, allow me to explain.

Restaurant Fees Are Spiraling Out of Control
Restaurant owners aren’t being nefarious jerks for charging a cancellation fee. Restaurants operate with a notoriously narrow profit margin and every dollar counts. The venue in question had already prepared the food and expected that someone would be paying for it. When there’s a cancellation, it’s not like the host has a Star Trek transporter that will instantly beam up a new customer to take their place. Even if there’s a waiting list, it’s not always a guarantee that someone can be there in the next 20 minutes for a 7:30 reservation. The fee is there so that restaurants don’t lose money.

And it’s not just for the restaurant, it’s for the staff too. If someone makes a 7 p.m. reservation for 10 people, the restaurant has to ensure that the table is available at that time. A server’s section will remain empty until the party arrives. Other customers might show up at 6:15 and see four gloriously empty tables, but they can’t sit there because there’s no time for them to order, eat, and leave by 7:00. Meanwhile, the server is making no tips, and maybe you’ve heard this before, but tips are the bread and butter for a server. 

Here's the Number One Excuse People Use When Cancelling Restaurant Reservations
7:20 rolls around and still no party of 10 which means even more time without earning tips. By 7:30, the tables have been pulled apart because it’s obvious no one is showing up. That means 90 minutes have passed by where the restaurant wasn’t making any money and neither was the server or the support staff. That’s when a cancellation fee becomes necessary because at least some money was made even though the tables remained empty. Whether or not any of that fee goes to the staff depends on the restaurant, but at least it wasn’t a total wash. 

By the way, when that happens it sets off a chain of events that can ruin a server’s shift. It means they now have a completely open section and will likely be triple seated and in the weeds for the next hour. 

How to Get a Reservation When It's Impossible to Get a Reservation
Customers don’t like cancellation fees when it comes to restaurants but they probably accept them more easily when they order plane tickets. Maybe that’s because they’re used to them when traveling because fees have always been there. It’s possible to purchase a flight that doesn’t have a cancellation fee, but it's something everyone looks out for. It seems only recently that restaurants have begun enforcing the fees for a canceled reservation and maybe it’s because restaurants are tired of being taken advantage of. For decades, they allowed some customers to walk all over them by mistreating staff, leaving undeserved bad reviews, and showing up late or not at all for reservations. 

Restaurants are mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. If a customer can’t respect a restaurant enough to show up for a reservation, they need to be OK with paying a cancellation fee. Look at the cancellation policy and either accept it or go elsewhere. The restaurant deserves that. Going out to eat isn’t rocket science, but reserving a table and not showing up for it makes a restaurant want to send you to the moon.

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