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PSA from OpenTable and Michael Voltaggio: If you can't make your dinner reservation, tell the restaurant!

PSA from OpenTable and Michael Voltaggio: If you can't make your dinner reservation, tell the restaurant!
Michael Voltaggio and OpenTable are reaching out to diners with a new Book Responsibly campaign. (OpenTable)

We've all done it. You make a dinner reservation, then decide you can't get to the restaurant because of traffic, maybe it starts raining, or plans simply change. But how many of us actually let the restaurant know we're no longer coming?

OpenTable, the restaurant reservation service and app, teamed with L.A. chef Michael Voltaggio (Ink) to launch a Book Responsibly campaign aimed at preventing reservation no-shows. According to OpenTable stats, about 6% of diners make reservations, then never show. That may seem a small percentage, but it’s one Voltaggio says has serious effects for restaurants.

"If you do the simple math, even if you have a check of $50 per person, and two people a night don't show up, times 365 days a year, that's over $30,000 that you're losing out on in your business for that year," said Voltaggio.

"It's no different than if you buy tickets to a movie or a play. If you don't go, you still lose the cost of that ticket. But with restaurants, it's just become, like, 'Eh, never mind, let's go somewhere else' or 'I don't feel like going.' "

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Voltaggio, who uses OpenTable at his restaurant, stars in the campaign's PSA video (below), which has been posted to YouTube. In it, the chef searches frantically for Bob and Mimi, a couple who made a reservation but never showed. He ends up in his walk-in freezer, on the street and even at the beach looking for Bob and Mimi.

"We're trying to create awareness, so we thought it was a fun way to bring up the issue without being disrespectful," said Voltaggio. "When you start thinking about it, there's really no consequence for the guest but huge consequences for the restaurant. The financial impact alone, not to mention the food waste and staffing. It's a big deal."

OpenTable senior vice president of marketing Scott Jampol says the company works with more than 42,000 restaurants and seats more than 21 million diners every month. Restaurants that use the service can track reservations made by phone, walk-ins, cancellations and reservations made via the app or website.

"Frankly, a lot of diners just don't understand the impact of no-shows and last-minute cancels on restaurants," said Jampol. "We have a platform where we can raise awareness."

On OpenTable, canceling or changing a reservation is as simple as clicking "cancel" or "change."

"I find it philosophically interesting why diners don't consider a reservation to be a contract versus other types of reservations that they make in their lives," said Jampol.

"People cancel their Ubers, they cancel everything else, and there's actually, like, a fear with Uber because Uber rates the customers," said Voltaggio. "We don't do that in restaurants."

Voltaggio said the restaurant keeps track of repeat no-shows but is really at the mercy of the diner. And in addition to no-shows, tardiness is also an issue. Voltaggio said diners also tend to book a 6:30 p.m. table because its the only one available, but not show up until around 8 p.m. for dinner.

"There's just this look of surprise or disgust with us, like how dare you not have a table for me right now?" said Voltaggio. "You're an hour and a half late! But we continue to book with these people because we're in the hospitality industry and I understand stuff comes up, but it's as simple as pushing a button and extending some courtesy."

Although there are some restaurants that require a credit card number to make a reservation, most of the restaurants that use OpenTable don't require any sort of advance payment or deposit, Jampol said. About less than 1% of the restaurants on the app require a card number, and in most instances it's to hold a table for a larger party or on a holiday.

Jampol says the app is trying to make it even easier to cancel a reservation from your phone. OpenTable is also sending additional reminders through different channels, including emails, texts and push notifications, depending on your app settings.

To learn more about the Book Responsibly campaign, visit bookresponsibly.opentable.com.

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