May 6, 2009
Anne Freeze -
Recently I wrote that I had heard of the closing of Sir Antony''s near Pontotoc. I was distressed to be told that the major reason for this was due to "no-shows," customers who make reservations and simply don''t show up.
Antony read my column and responded to me. I think I should share his story verbatim so I don''t make any mistakes in relating it to you.
But before we reprint his e-mail to me, I do want to say something about the problem of no-shows in the food business. I applaud anyone who makes a living in the restaurant and/or catering business. It requires hard work and very long hours for a profit margin of 5-15 percent (usually). There are so many different groups of people to deal with, all with a different agenda. You have vendors who sell to you everything from food to small and large equipment. It is important to maintain good relations with this group as you never know when you''ll have an emergency: A food product from another vendor doesn''t come in or a piece of equipment breaks down or maybe you forgot that for the wedding this weekend you need a special size of biscuit cutter. It could be one of a thousand problems. The best of the vendors are good, honest people who in turn also deal with a large variety of customers.
Then there is your staff which is usually divided into two groups: the "back" of the house or kitchen crew and the "front" of the house or service staff. Each of these groups has unique issues and jobs. And, usually, the smaller the town, the smaller the pool of experienced food-service people. And, if the experience is limited, then you, as the owner or person in charge, must spend more of your time training and monitoring this group daily.
These are just a few of the groups who work with you to produce the product for the customer. The customer can be a small group (for catering) or a large group depending on the size of your restaurant. And, of course, in catering, you have your customer who hired you, but you also have their guests, who both you and the client are trying to please.
And, it costs money to produce this product, as it does in most businesses. There are fixed costs for rent and insurance and such. There are variable costs for utilities, payroll, taxes, etc. The raw product that comes in for the food that is produced is the most important cost to the restaurant. And, because all of the fresh food is perishable it is a cost that is most closely watched and looked after.
So, I think it is most easy to understand what happens on a big scale in the restaurant business when you look at what happens on a small scale, at a place like Sir Antony and Lady Betty''s. A group makes a reservation for an evening, 10-12 people. Antony makes sure he has lined up someone to wash dishes and help in the kitchen (which costs money); he buys his food (which costs money and time); he and Betty make sure the dining room is clean and set with sparkling dishes and glasses (time and the money for utilities). And, Antony preps his sauces and anything that can be baked ahead of time (time and the money he spent for the food). Then, they wait. No one shows. They call. No answer. The time and money has already been spent. The food sits in the refrigerator. Maybe some of it can be frozen, but not much.
So, you can see how frustrating it is. Please don''t be a no-show.
Here''s Sir Antony''s letter to me:
"I just read the story about us closing. We are actually closing permentantly on January 27th, 2010. We are unable to fully close until then as we have many bookings until that date. This date is my 65th birthday and we had always planned to close then.
"We have been hit with such a lot of no shows and last minute cancellations that we became very distressed at the lack of understanding of potential clients. Last December we had clients booked for every night we wanted to open; some booked five months in advance, and, because of the no shows and last minute cancellations, we served only 4 groups from 10 potential nights. Normally we would take over $6000 for December. This year we took under $2000. All this was caused by last minute cancellations or no shows.
"We are taking bookings still from September 12th until January 26th, 2010 and then we will close our doors permanently. To help stop this situation we now make people we do not know pay in full 3 weeks before the reservation. In addition we set a minimum of 12 and that''s how many they paid for. You know, this has reduced the no shows to only 2 people in 4 months, out of 400 people, amazing when you sell the seats like theater tickets.
"Antony and Betty"
Anne Freeze, a self-professed foodie, was a restaurant general manager and owner of a gourmet food store before moving to Columbus. She is a volunteer for The Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market in Columbus. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.