For most, the bonenkai (year-end party) season is now no more than an alcohol-befogged memory. But some -- restaurant operators in particular -- are still feeling the pain. According to figures cited in Shukan Jitsuwa (Dec 27), last-minute cancellations of reservations, mostly by groups, are estimated to cost the food and beverage industry some 200 billion yen is losses per year.
"Over the past several years, the number of customers who make reservations via the web, but who don't show up, have been increasing," a restaurant operator told the magazine. As a result of the no shows, the food ingredients, particularly if they are to be served as part of a set course, often must be discarded and written off.
And even if the reservations are only for a single table, the reserved table must be kept open for the customers, which means other arrivals can't be seated there without some risk.
"We've had reservations for 40 people cancel at the last minute," sighed the manager at a major restaurant chain. "There are also other cases when the number of people who did show were half or even fewer than the number reserved."
"About seven or eight parties a month cancel at the last minute or simply don't show up," one owner-chef told Shukan Jitsuwa. "Since reservations can be easily made via the web, more foreigners have been making reservations, and this also factors into the cancellation problem."
So what are the restaurants doing about it?
"A group of feed and beverage companies at a conference held on Nov 1 agreed on guidelines to the effect that they had the right to demand compensation from customers who cancel without reasonable cause," said the operator of a website that makes restaurant reservations. "The letter of the law may treat such cancellations as a breach of promise or violation of the law. Our thinking is that even if a restaurant wins just one case in court, it will have the effect of reducing the number of abuses."
A follow-up article in Shukan Jitsuwa's Jan 3 issue sees the problem of last-minute cancellations as one of manners.
Take reservations at high-class sushi restaurants.
"Our shop procures fish from the market after reservations are made," said the operator of a sushi shop in Ginza. "And we beg off on any other requests for reservations. So no-shows definitely hurt the bottom line. Chinese customers have turned out to be problematic, so we've stopped accepting reservations from them."
It seems that three years ago, a famous sushi restaurant in Ginza that had received a three-star rating from the Michelin guidebook flatly refused reservations from a Chinese journalist.
"At that time we began hearing accusations of being biased," the Ginza source said. "But we're in business to make money. I don't think it should be necessary to accept reservations from customers who pose that kind of risk."
One way some restaurants have found for reducing the risks is to refuse reservations from foreigners unless they are requested by the concierge at their hotel, or made from a credit card company.
"Even then, no-shows by Chinese customers are rampant," said the operator of one well known establishment. "One day, trying to please everybody, he set the reservation time for a large group of Chinese so as not to interfere with other customers, but as luck would have it nobody showed up that evening and sales for the day wound up as zero."
To protect themselves, more shops have been requesting the credit card number of the customer who makes the reservation and charging the full amount in the case of a no-show.
"This is a problem even inside China, and campaigns have been conducted by the government in the mass media appealing to Chinese people not to embarrass their country when traveling abroad," a Japan-based Chinese journalist told Shukan Jitsuwa. "But I think it's going to take Chinese another couple of decades before they catch up with people in economically advanced countries."© Japan Today