Vancouver restaurants juggle rush on reservations, cancellations


Last-minute cancellations and no-shows are a growing concern for local restaurants.

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Reservations have always been a big part of the business at Jules Bistro. But cancellations? Not so much.

“It has always been a concern, but I never really paid attention to it as it was a small percentage of our bookings,” said Emmanuel Joinville, the owner and chef at the Gastown eatery.

The restaurant typically draws many regulars for its sittings, something Joinville says has helped contribute to the consideration diners usually employ when making, and cancelling, a reservation.

It’s an empathetic approach that seemed to continue amid the pandemic.

“It has been a year since we were able to reopen at half capacity, and customers were really respectful in that matter,” Joinville says.

But since Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on March 29 that indoor dining at restaurants would be prohibited for at least three weeks, the reservation situation has shifted at the small French bistro.


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“We went from a capacity of 46 seats inside and 23 outside, to no one inside and 14 seats outside,” Joinville says. “When I had two no-shows on the same night — one for six people and one for four — it just didn’t do it for me.”

Rather than consider turning away prospective diners in order to save a table for a party that may not show, Joinville has decided to forgo reservations for the limited outdoor dining space altogether.

“I hate to feel that I am punishing my customers with a no-reservation rule, but with these recent restrictions, I can’t afford to have people playing games with their bookings,” Joinville says.

Restaurant teams readily acknowledge that unforeseen circumstances, especially those tied to personal health, abound. Some cancellations are undoubtedly unavoidable.

But for those that stem from preference or convenience, last-minute cancellations and no-shows are a growing concern for local restaurants, especially as guidelines on spacing and capacity limits continue to put a squeeze on the availability of tables.

“Now being weather dependant, it leaves us with very few reservable tables,” said Miki Ellis, a co-owner of Dachi on East Hastings. “Dachi only has about four tables that are rain-protected, so a last-minute cancellation can have a massive impact on our evening.”

Besides the obvious effect empty tables can have on the bottom line of an already struggling restaurant industry, last-minute cancellations and no-shows can also take a toll on an eatery’s staff.


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The patio at Minami in Yaletown.
The patio at Minami in Yaletown. Photo by Cody Chan

“The pandemic is challenging in many ways and presents mental health challenges to all, but especially those in the hospitality industry,” says Dean Harrison, the national spokesperson for Aburi Restaurants Canada, which operates seven restaurants across Canada, including Miku, Minami and Gyoza Bar in Vancouver. “The sudden need to cut staff and lack of personal gratuity income affects our team members on an individual level, now more than ever.”

Reservations at the group’s local restaurants have risen significantly since the latest order was handed down, according to Harrison.

Reservations for Friday and Saturday at Minami Yaletown that would previously have been booked around 48 hours in advance before the pandemic, are now booked at least a week in advance, according to the restaurant’s general manager Jeremy Sawicz.

Waitlists have become a valuable resource for diners looking to grab a bite at a restaurant with limited outdoor seating — or a run on reservations. The method has also helped eateries combat the occurrence of empty tables, and therefore lost revenue.

In order to keep up with the demand for dining space, Minami Yaletown has decreased its grace period for reservations from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, so that diners on the waitlist can be notified about availability.

“Unfortunately, some of our guests might find themselves in a situation where they have to cancel a reservation. We try to be as accommodating and proactive as possible by immediately releasing the reservation to other guests on the waitlists,” Harrison says. “We have a waitlist most evenings and are fortunate to fill unanticipated empty tables efficiently.”

As for Jules Bistro, Joinville says he is hoping to return to a reservation system in the future, but stresses his reluctance to introduce a coinciding deposit requirement in an effort to combat cancellations.

“For my part, I will always like the idea that I can trust people,” he says. “It has been working, so far for me, after 40 years in this business.”


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