Artistic precision: Vicki Wild, with partner Martin Benn, of Sepia restaurant believes dining out is akin to a theatre production. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
The restaurant industry's battle against people who break their reservations and cause profit losses has reached new heights.
This month, the Los Angeles restaurant Trois Mec joined a small handful of eateries around the world where patrons must pre-purchase tickets online. Sydney chefs and restaurateurs have applauded the move, saying a ticket system could one day appear here.
"It's a great idea, good on them," said Vicki Wild, owner of Sepia restaurant. "It's certainly feasible for Sydney. You have to pay for theatre tickets and if you can't go you don't get a refund. I don't see the difference."
Serving food made with artistic precision in a room where lights, decor and the floor plan are carefully harmonised, Ms Wild said dinner at Sepia was akin to a theatre production. For international bookings or groups larger than four diners, she takes credit card details, charging a cancellation fee of $150 for each person who does not show.
The chief executive of the Restaurant & Catering Association, John Hart, said he has noticed a growing trend in people booking large tables at three to four restaurants for the one night.
"They all get together for a drink beforehand and they decide which one to eat at. It's terrible. It hurts the other businesses that have to hold a table for no reason and lose money," he said.
Peter Gilmore, executive chef at Quay, revealed his restaurant had been a target of this practice. Since introducing a cancellation policy that charges $175 for each person who doesn't show or cancel on time for dinner reservations, no-show numbers have dropped.
"If you've only got 40 seats and the table of four don't show, that's 10 per cent of income for the evening and most restaurants work on well less than 10 per cent profit margins," he said. "So they may as well not open."
A ticketing system could one day appear on the local dining scene, he said. "But the paperwork involved would be enormous and for now the credit card system is effective.''
Trois Mec was inspired by Next restaurant in Chicago, which has sold nearly $20 million worth of tickets in two years.
Stevan Premutico, chief executive of Dimmi.com.au, a restaurant booking website, said their latest research showed men were more likely than women to not commit to reservations.
Along with their usual email confirmations and SMS reminders, the company has started to blacklist serial no-showers.
"Next time this customer attempts to make a booking, the restaurant is advised and can reject it or take precautionary measures such as a credit card deposit," Mr Premutico said.
Patrons risk being hit with the most painful penalties at Tetsuya's ($210 per person), Momofuku Seiobo ($175 per person), Quay and Sepia.