The table is set, the wine is opened and the food is prepared – only the guests are missing. Restaurateurs fear this scenario, especially in the upscale sector, because it means an irreplaceable economic loss for them. According to the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga), so-called no-shows, i.e. failure to show up despite a reservation, or cancellations at very short notice, have increased. According to Christian Heller from the German Etiquette Council, the obligation is offset by the “fear of a better option”. People are afraid to commit and keep all options open until the last minute. That’s why more and more restaurants in Germany are now charging a no-show fee if guests don’t come despite a reservation or cancel at short notice.

One of them is the star restaurant “bi:braud” in Ulm. “It’s increasingly common for people to make reservations in several restaurants and decide at short notice: We’ll go there in the evening,” says sommelier Holger Baier. There will be no cancellations in the other restaurants either. “If people have pre-ordered a menu, at some point it is no longer economical,” he explains. After all, there are a few plates and high-quality foods that come to the table in upscale restaurants. If a café can immediately reoccupy a reserved table with walk-in customers, that is a different matter.

“The guests who do not use a reserved table without cancellation are often not aware of the financial and organizational effort involved in planning the capacity of a restaurant,” explains a Dehoga spokeswoman. “Empty tables are particularly annoying for restaurants with a smaller number of tables, with a particularly high-quality menu, i.e. with a high cost of goods, with long reservation times and a lack of walk-in customers.” It is often not possible to give the vacant table to other guests.

According to lawyer Alexander Rilling, it can play a role in the fee whether guests have also ordered a menu. “The innkeeper prepares specifically for this and makes targeted purchases,” says Rilling. You could charge a portion of what the meal would have cost in the event of a no-show, as a kind of flat-rate compensation. It becomes more difficult for an innkeeper if he makes a reservation without a menu. Although you can estimate what the guests have consumed, you don’t know it as precisely as you would with a menu. In any case, something like a no-show fee must be included in the general terms and conditions. Guests should also receive information about the fees and confirm them.

At “bi:braud” guests receive information about the fee according to sommelier Baier along with the other details of the desired reservation in an email. They therefore have to confirm the reservation again in a reservation portal and also provide their credit card. In addition, information about the fees for no-shows or late cancellations appears as a pop-up when booking. Some restaurants call their guests again on the day of their visit and ask if they are coming. With such a personal conversation, simply not showing up becomes more difficult.

The no-show fee has been in place in the Ulm restaurant for two years, but according to Baier it was actually only charged twice. “Luckily we have reliable guests,” he says. And goodwill always plays a role. “If someone gets sick, they get sick,” says the sommelier. According to Baier, the fact that more and more restaurants in Germany are charging such a fee is a process that has been going on for more than ten years and is actually the new standard. “This is normal in fine dining and in other countries.”

Heller from the German Etiquette Council also says this. “In the United States, it is already common practice in some cities to require guests to purchase a meal ticket when booking.” From an economic point of view, it is a difficult discussion, says Heller. “In the German Etiquette Council we talk about the fear of breaking off a relationship, which leads many professionals to waive a fee.” But commitment is two-sided.

“The general recommendation is not to extend a reservation at a certain time by more than 15 to 20 minutes,” says Heller. “It is also recommended to call in case of delays.” And if something really comes up, you should cancel as soon as you know it won’t work, says Heller. “But it should definitely be canceled, it’s common decency.”

Sometimes it is difficult to live up to commitment in everyday life, says Heller, but emphasizes: “As we discussed at the last meeting of the etiquette council, setting boundaries leads to appreciation. This applies to guests and hosts.” Holger Baier confirms this with regard to the no-show fees. “People don’t take it lightly.”