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Kent restaurants including Mu Mu, Ambrette and The Warren struggling with customers not turning up for bookings

Restaurant owners across Kent say customers failing to show up for their bookings is having a knock-on effect on the service industry which is already struggling to recover after the pandemic.

Ciaran O'Quigley owns Mu Mu Experience, a selection of venues in Maidstone including FiFi's Brasserie in Week Street which is being plagued by no-shows.

Ciaran O'Quigley owns Mu Mu Experience

On Saturday almost half the bookings at the restaurant - which serves up to 1,500 people a week - failed to arrive for their booked table, meaning seats went unfilled and staff had to be sent home with significantly reduced hours and income.

Mr O'Quigley said: "We've come back again from 40% of people not turning up for their tables and it seems to be a common occurrence, not just for us but obviously throughout the country.

"I'm just outraged really, that customers just think they book and not turn up, which has a massive knock-on effect, especially because our service industry is just completely on its knees.

"We have waiting lists because we're so busy, but we can't get those people in on the waiting list because of the original people who booked, we honour their booking, and they just don't show up.

"We had 30, 40 people who didn't turn up on Saturday night.

"It's been going on for two weeks now, but hearing from other restaurants in Maidstone now it seems to be a common occurrence and I just feel really angry about it.

"I understand a babysitter cancels, or someone falls ill, but they are just not even responding, which is outrageous really.

"So we have to let some of our staff go home early, but they are in desperate need of the money and so are we."

Now the restaurant owner says enough is enough, and he is introducing a deposit of £10 per head for each booking, which will offset some of his losses if people fail to honour their booking.

"I fought for us not to impose it. I said 'look, customers are going to be in a similar situation to us, I don't want them paying out of pocket', I did not want to do it but now it looks like I was wrong."

Ciaran O' Quigley, owner of Mu Mus. Picture: John Westhrop
Ciaran O' Quigley, owner of Mu Mus. Picture: John Westhrop

One business which has already taken to charging deposits is The Ambrette.

The owner of the business which has restaurants in Margate, Canterbury and Rye says introducing the fee has 'solved the problem' of no shows and been well received by customers.

"We have had no option but to charge deposits for all reservations both lunch and dinner," said chef and owner Dev Biswal.

"It's a very small deposit of £2.50 per person.

"This has solved the problem.

Ambrette owner and head chef Dev Biswal. Picture: Manu Palomeque
Ambrette owner and head chef Dev Biswal. Picture: Manu Palomeque

"I believe it works because it stops people that are not serious about attending from booking a table in the first place and those that are serious about attending do not mind paying such a small amount as £2.50 to secure a table.

"This deposit is then deducted from the bill on the day. Our customers have been fine with this.

"The financial impact that no-shows have on 'special occasion' restaurants is significant because once that table booking doesn't show up for the reservation it's too late to refill the table.

"The chances of refilling that seat is almost zero.

"We are not the type of establishment that operates with a high percentage of walk-ins. Most people ring up beforehand or book first."

The Ambrette in Canterbury
The Ambrette in Canterbury

In Tunbridge Wells, Olivier Thevin, the assistant manager at The Warren, said while no shows haven't been a huge problem for them, bosses will consider introducing booking deposits if the situation escalates.

He said: "It's very annoying when it does happen and it's usually more at the weekends.

"We always take deposits for big tables but we are thinking we might have to do it now even for tables of four. We only charge £10 a head and it's just a way to show people that we are not a McDonald's, you can't come in an out when you want.

"Some people have really good reasons for not showing up and that's okay, but it's for those who don't."

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality said: “At a time when many hospitality businesses are struggling to survive, the proliferation of no shows is shocking.

"Onerous trading restrictions and reduced capacity remain in place for all hospitality businesses since the Government delayed ‘freedom day’ to at least next month, which leaves most venues operating well below normal revenues.

“Under such circumstances, every penny counts. All we ask is for customers to be kind, to obey the rules, and to go to their bookings, or at least let venues know if they can’t make it.”

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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