While multiple reservations might be convenient for diners, no-shows cost restaurants thousands of dollars per month. The most common way to reduce these losses is to take customers’ credit card information at the time of booking and then charge a fee if they don’t show up. Unfortunately, this tactic has been shown to reduce reputation via negative word of mouth.
Chicago restaurateur Gordon Sinclair dramatically reduced no-shows by asking his receptionists to make a small change when taking phone reservations. Rather than saying, “Please call us if you need to change your plans,” the staff were told to ask, “Would you be willing to call us if you have to change your plans?” and then wait for the customer to answer, “Yes.” This simple change lowered the rate of no-shows from 30% to 10%.
A joint team from BDO and NHS Bedfordshire used a similar technique to reduce did-not-attend rates for medical appointments. When appointments were made via phone, schedulers asked patients to repeat back the time and date of their appointment. When face-to-face, the staff gave patients blank appointment cards and asked them to enter the time and date themselves. These two changes reduced missed appointments by 18%.
According to Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, both situations demonstrate the power of active commitment. People are more likely to keep their word when they verbally agree to something in advance. It’s harder to back away from public commitment. If you don’t have time to read the entire book, I recommend this summary article.
For marketers, we can use this technique to increase the percentage of people that show up for in-person and on-line events. Don’t assume that they will show up – ask them to commit to doing so.