The topic of restaurant no-shows made a vicious comeback this weekend after the maître d' of a popular restaurant took to Facebook to vent his anger over a not-insignificant 28 absentee customers.
Since then, major fallout on all sides. Some sympathetic, others less merciful. One major theme to emerge from the no-show debate: is it lawful for restaurants in Montreal and Quebec to take a customer's credit card as a form of protection after a reservation is made? Moreover, can management charge a nominal fee if the customer fails to honour her reservation?
Dominique Tremblay of l'Association des restaurateurs du Québec spoke about this and more.
So the big question is: can restaurants ask for your credit card number when you make a reservation?
Yes, restaurant owners can take your credit card number. It makes the reservation more serious. But at the same time it is also true that they cannot charge the card if customers do not show. The law changed a couple of years ago. So the restaurant cannot charge you under the law. But if you do agree to leave your card number it hopefully makes you take the reservation more seriously.
But what about for very large groups that take up a quarter, or even a third of the restaurant? Is there recourse there for management?
For larger groups there is nothing that forbids you from making a contract with the customer. Under this situation you can ask for a deposit. This is not forbidden. But you can't say I'll charge you if you don't come, like 25% or a fixed amount. If it's a large group, they may not mind a deposit. A contract is a good idea for a really big group.
The bottom line though is that the customer has to understand they have a responsibility. There are consequences when they don't show up, whether it's a table for two or a big group. Restaurant owners make staff come in based on the number of reservations. If you're full you have the staff to serve. If half your reservations don't show, you have too many staff, too much food and you have to cut. You have real consequences there. It's true that some restaurants Downtown fill those places with walk-ins but we have calls from members in smaller areas and when people don't come, they don't fill those places.
What about online reservation services? Does the ARQ have an official position on them and the potential power they give restaurants to protect themselves?
These are services restaurants can use but they are like any other tool. The big problem is that individual customer who does not fully grasp the responsibility that comes with the reservation. We urge restaurants to call back customers the day of and get a confirmation. Some restaurants keep the table for 15 minutes, others are fortunate enough to have a waiting list they can use to fill the table. But customers need to understand that even if it's one hour before, it's better to call. A restaurant manager or owner is not going to fight with you over the phone at that point and yell "why are you not coming?" More likely they'll say thanks for letting me know. Some customers are afraid of the restaurant's reaction. But a restaurant always prefers to know you're not coming than not at all.
There has been talk about the fact that hotels take credit cards as a standard practice. Any comment on this?
Hotels are not under the same laws as restaurants, which fall under the Office de la protection du consommateur for cases like this. It is something completely different.