This restaurant charged €250 to a dinner for cancellation. Was it the right thing to do? – The Irish Times

Paul and Helen McDonald, owners of Bastion, the Michelin-starred restaurant in the town of Kinsale, County Cork, woke up one recent morning to a one-star review on TripAdvisor. He had been let in by a diner who had phoned to cancel his reservation less than an hour before he was due to eat in the 12-seat restaurant.

The restaurant said they were in the emergency room with their daughter, awaiting test results to determine the severity of an injury. But their credit card was immediately charged €250, the full price of the menu for two people, in accordance with Bastion’s cancellation policy. The restaurant posted the negative review due to what they viewed as the restaurant’s lack of understanding.

Bastion’s response on TripAdvisor went largely unnoticed until it was picked up by a local newspaper. A slew of negative reviews followed (TripAdvisor has since removed them), prompting the McDonalds to explain its policy on Twitter.

The restaurant does not wish to discuss the incident further, but confirms that it stands by its review. The charge on their credit card was refunded when they phoned Bastion with the details of the gift voucher they intended to use that evening, which was then taken as payment for the no-show .

For Paul McDonald, the problem was that the food for 12 diners had already been purchased and prepared, and it was too late to fill the table – a €130 10-course tasting menu is not a last-minute decision , and many of their customers travel from Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland.

With enough notice, he says, Bastion was usually able to fill the tables on his waiting list. But if a reservation is canceled at short notice, moving the reservation to another date is not an option. With staffing issues causing them to work at reduced capacity, they do a single 12-guest session four nights a week. McDonald’s says 12 is their break-even point.

“If someone says, ‘Oh, I’m going to book next week instead. Is that OK?’ next week will be full anyway. It’s here and now that we worry,” McDonald says. “And, you know, everybody’s reason is the best reason, but none of them make any difference when I’m sitting staring at an empty chair. And as cold as that sounds – I know, I get it, it’s cold and heartless – that’s where we are right now. It’s hard.”

No-shows and last-minute cancellations are among the top complaints from restaurateurs, especially in the run-up to Christmas, and many have deterrents in place because a missed reservation is a missed income.. Yet other restaurants are hesitant to endorse the sentiments expressed by the owner of Bastion. Lignum, a destination fine dining restaurant in Bullaun, Co Galway, has a 24 hour cancellation policy, but discretion is applied.

“We don’t want to charge people, but sometimes we do,” explains its chef and owner, Danny Africano. “If it’s a case of something happening, the first thing we do is ask, ‘Do you want to change the date of your reservation?’ We don’t charge automatically. We’d like them to come back. Because if you blame someone, they’re not really coming back in a good frame of mind.

At Liath, the two-star Michelin restaurant in Blackrock, Co Dublin, full payment for the €170 tasting menu is charged at the time of booking, which seems to favor the restaurateur over the diner. Damien Grey, the chef and owner, says that over the years he’s learned to sniff out a spoofer, but when it’s a real emergency, like a sick child, that’s a different matter.

“That’s where your human compassion comes in, and that’s when you really have to weigh the options,” he says. “Bad publicity? Or did you just bite the bullet? Take it for what it is. I think it literally comes down to the authenticity of the person. When something like this happens, all you have to do is to say, ‘I’m really, really sorry. Can we do anything for you? Don’t worry about the booking. Just sort your kid’ – or your sibling, or your mom, or your dad, or anything else – ‘and come back to us. We’ll sort this out later.

“Deposits are a great system if you’re fair in how you work them and are willing to repay at a reasonable price,” he says. “You can’t use a reservation system and just say to yourself, ‘No, that’s it. Good luck. Thank you very much.’ Because it will just hurt you. It will definitely hurt you, because one person is talking to 10 people, 10 people are talking to 100 people.

It’s not just starred and fine-dining restaurants that apply a penalty for last-minute cancellations or no-shows. Increasingly, mid-priced restaurants are using the same tactic, with nominal fees per diner.

Overall, you have to be able to do something to guarantee that people will come. You rely on it. Twenty euros, I think, is a small token

“I think a lot of people have trouble entering their credit card details” when booking a table online, says Morgan VanderKamer, who owns and runs Union Wine Bar & Kitchen, in Waterford, with her partner, Stephen. McArdle. “We don’t charge anything – only if they don’t show up. Life is going to happen. Sometimes people are going to have to cancel. But I think overall you have to be able to do something to ensure that people will come. You count on it. Twenty euros I think, it’s a small token. When it’s for a group reservation, it’s a bit different, because once you have the food for a group of 20 or 30 people, you’ve already ordered it, it happens, so that’s all you have left.

VanderKamer says they haven’t charged any customers for last-minute cancellations or no-shows and hopes that won’t become necessary. “People called us at the last minute, and you can hear in their voices that something happened. You can’t question it,” she says. “What do you do? You just have to deal with it. And you know that at some point they’ll come back. This stuff happens. You know when there’s truth and you know when there isn’t. there is not any.

So what should diners do to ensure they are fair to the restaurant, but also not to risk losing money on a reservation when a situation arises?

As a general rule, after you have made an online reservation with your credit card details, you can cancel free of charge up to 48 hours before the time your table is reserved – this usually varies from 24 to 72 hours in advance. If you exceed this time, the restaurant will charge a per person fee to your credit card – in some cases, such as restaurants with a limited number of tables, the fee may be the full cost of the meal. It is therefore worth checking the rules before checking the box online to say that you accept them.

If you can’t make a reservation, just try to work with the restaurant. And the same for restaurants. Working with bloody clients. ‘Cause they’re your bread and butter

“Be sure to read the terms and conditions that restaurants using a deposit system have in place. Because it’s legal there,” Gray says. “Second, if you can’t make a reservation, give them adequate notice. Each restaurant will refund you if you give them enough notice. Make sure if you have a problem, or if you have a problem, to reach out. Restaurants are more than happy to work with people. They want the business. They want you to come, even if you postpone the reservation to another date. Just try to work with the restaurant. And the same for restaurants. Working with bloody clients. Because they are your bread and butter. And if you don’t want to pay a deposit, don’t go to a restaurant. It’s that simple.”

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