The garden at Killingworth Castle in Wootton

It was after 16 no shows and eight cancellations in one night that Claire Alexander of Killingworth Castle took to social media to complain about the growing problem.

The Wootton pub had been fully booked and was turning people away on the night in question, so to be faced with empty tables because people couldn’t be bothered to cancel in time, or even show up, has been heart-breaking for the independent pub, still reeling from lockdown.

Claire and Jim Alexander

The response from Claire’s statement however was phenomenal, with locals and regulars shocked that their favourite hostelry, where they often struggle to get a table, has been caught out by such thoughtlessness.

One customer wrote in response: “We are so sorry this is happening, especially as we tried to get a table last week and couldn’t.”

“sometimes you have to make a stand and speak out, especially when you are turning people away and then have empty tables” claire alexander

The Churchill Arms in Paxford faced a similar story: “We have had 26 customers NO SHOW today,” their Facebook post read on Saturday August 15. “We must have turned away 50 people for one of those tables. This industry has been at rock bottom for four months and people think it’s acceptable to book a table and not run up. IT’S NOT ACCEPTABLE,” the post fumed.

A sympathetic local customer replied: “I am so sorry you’re having to deal with this appalling behaviour. There are plenty of us ready and willing to take their place in your lovely pub.”

The Churchill Arms in Paxton

Nick Deverill Smith who runs the Churchill Arms in Paxford said: “It’s incredibly frustrating, We try to make booking as simple as possible in these hard times and take deposits on tables of six or more. When I called a no show a few Saturdays ago, one table just hung up on me. I find it very arrogant.”

As a result of this new ‘no show’ phenomenon, The Killingworth is reluctantly introducing a new system whereby all bookings need to leave credit card details, and charged for no shows or late cancellations, a policy many other eateries have already adopted.

It’s a similar story at The White Hart in Fyfield run by Kay and Mark Chandler. Kay says: “We have had lots of no shows too, especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which is so frustrating having turned people away.”

Paul Welburn, head chef at 215 Kitchen and Drinks in Summertown, the former Michelin starred Oxford Kitchen, which opened recently said: “We make sure we take card details to secure the bookings here, so any no shows we charge. But otherwise we are doing well and building momentum.”

Paul Welburn at 215 Kitchen and Drinks

However he is aware that this is a nation-wide scandal, particularly in touristy areas, with famous chefs such as Tom Kerridge and Paul Ainsworth, amongst others, speaking out about the increase in no shows since pubs and restaurants began reopening.

“This has become such a problem across the country that there needs to be a national policy about restaurant and pub bookings. You pay fully for flights and give card details for hotel bookings, so why not for hospitality to avoid tougher times ahead?” Paul asks.

Ben Bullen, head chef at The Feathers in Woodstock, said: “It’s very frustrating when you turn away walk-ins because all the tables are booked and then they don’t show up, but we haven’t had as many incidents as other places.”

Ross Drummond at No 1 Ship Street has a special system in place where no shows flash up if they try to rebook: He said “Luckily we are not too bad as far as ‘no-shows’ go. I’d expect a couple of tables on a busy shift not to call or show up sometimes.

“people don’t realise that a no show puts our livelihoods at risk”

“It’s not ideal, but it’s too easy to book online. Taking credit card details puts people off booking, so I put a note on their profile and get an alert when they rebook, so we can have a conversation about it then.” 

Hamish Stoddart, Managing Director of The Peach Pub Company (The Fleece in Witney, Fishes in North Hinksey, Thatch in Thame and Ragged Bear and Staff in Cumnnor) said: “It’s increasingly important as autumn and winter come that our guests realise our survival will be at stake particularly over the winter months, and that when you book a place, you should come, or cancel with plenty of time to spare.” 

The ragged Bear and Staff

Mark Butcher from The White Hart in Wytham said it was a less of a problem for them because they had a long waiting list for their outdoor dining pods, but had certainly experienced ‘no shows’ on big occasions like Mother’s Day and Easter.

“my advice is to ring on the day, or the evening, and see if we have any free tables”

“It’s because people make multiple bookings, or their decision is weather based, especially since lockdown, as they are often reluctant to venture inside, so we have started taking deposits.”

The pods at the White Hart in Wytham

But back to Claire Alexander at The Killingworth, who is desperately sad at this unexpected turn of events, when their tables are in such demand.

“Because of social distancing measures we have halved our tables by 50% to make sure people feel safe here, so we are reliant on the remaining tables to keep the business going.

“I find it hard to comprehend how people don’t realise that a no show puts our livelihoods at risk,” she says.

dishes at The Killy

“So yes it has become a big problem, and it’s not just us, lots of our friends in the hospitality industry are experiencing the same thing. Tourist hotspots such as Oxford and the Cotswolds seem to be especially susceptible.”

So why do people fail to show or cancel too late to rebook the tables? “I think a lot of it is visitors to the area who multiple book and then go wherever is nearest on the day, or change their plans. But then we rely on tourists to a certain extent so it’s a tricky one,” she says.

“It’s so sad because after everything the hospitality industry has been through you’d think people would understand why it’s important to turn up.

“So my advice is to ring on the day, or the evening, and see if we have any free tables.

“The credit card system we are introducing next week should safeguard our business going forward.

The new look socially distanced dining rooms at Killingworth Castle

“I don’t want to be negative either when everything else is going so well for us here – the chefs, the food, the new look dining room – but sometimes you have to make a stand and speak out, especially when you are turning people away and then have empty tables,” she concludes.

The Killingworth is at https://www.thekillingworthcastle.com

The Churchill Arms Paxton: https://www.churchillarms.co

KATHERINE MACALISTER

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