When chef and restauranteur Jackson Boxer found his sought-after and booked-up dining room at Brunswick House mysteriously half empty on Mother’s Day, he took to Twitter.
Forty six guests, who had booked for lunch today, and then confirmed by telephone that they intended to take their reserved tables, did not show up today. Pretty fucking disgraceful in all honesty.
Journalist and DILF Jay Rayner amplified this, with:
If you are one of those people who has ever done this - booked any restaurant then not shown up without cancelling - rest assured there are battalions of us who think you're an utter scumbag.
For standing up their restaurant reservations, the absentee punter is, in their absence and therefore quite unbeknownst to them, loathed.
In Boxer’s follow-up piece in The Guardian, he spelled out the blight of no-shows, and the cost and waste of their casual change of plans.
More writers and tweeters chirped in. In the heady back-and-forth, above and below the line, the ethics and economics of the no-show were debated. Food Twitter was out in force. Suggestions on how to combat this include deposits, prepayments, being publicly shamed and castigated, black-listing, and - for repeat offenders - being shot through the neck.
I, basically, agree. Restaurants - good local ones, innovative trendy ones, soulless chain ones - are going out of business at an unprecedented rate. And in an industry renowned for bankrupting its businesses, that's quite some rate. And for somewhere a good and as popular as Brunswick House to have gaping empty tables on Mothers Day, is downright dangerous for anyone who loves restaurants.
Small and trendy places born of the streetfood stall and pop-up kitchen, have gamed the system by having no reservations. You queue, you perch, you don't linger, you don't (generally) pay through the nose. I love a queue. I will join any queue going. People queuing for food are my people. In strange cities (and once in ILFORD) I have pulled over the car at the sight of a food queue and waited my turn.
But home in London, shiiit, I'm old, I’m tired, my feet hurt, and all my friends have kids/jobs/commutes that mean a meal out requires a certain degree of forward planning. I love a reservation. My favourite places are where you can make a reservation for brunch. I live in Islington where we have hit peak brunch. It is now impossible to get in to the favoured brunch spots of the young and beautiful people, who clearly aren't eating all the food they're photographing to click click click away the huger pangs of Insta-rexia, in a malicious hipster version of bedblocking. And while I can get behind a once-in-a-lifetime queue like the one snaking around King’s Cross right now for Hawker Chan’s Michelin-starred street food three-day pop-up, why people will wait over an hour outside an effing branch of Breakfast Club for Just Some Eggs is beyond me.
So offer me a restaurant with comfortable seating, attractive decor and an online booking system and I will be there. At a pre-arrange and pre-booked specific time. With bells on.
But now the situation is this. On seven of your Whatsapp groups, different combinations of well-educated, well-paid grown-ups, some of whom aren’t even related to you, are failing to commit to being in the same place at the same time to eat some food. Archeological evidence of fire pits and fish bones indicated that this was something that effing Cro-Magnons managed to coordinate, but those were simpler times and their expectations of how long it would take effing Karen to respond to en effing text message were possibly lower.
After much wrangling, a date, time and location is agreed. Someone, usually me, cares enough about what’s for dinner to agree to book a table, which I do, usually online via Opentable or similar. Sometimes you call up. Sometimes you leave a credit card deposit because fair-doos, I’ve certainly put more spurious things on my credit card.
The day approaches, and Karen has bailed. On the day the restaurant calls to check you’re still coming and you say you’re looking forward to it. I’m running late and we’re a man down, but it’ll be fine. Then someone else is stuck at work and someone else thought it was next Friday. So we’re down to 4 of us. One of us is off carbs, one is now a vegan, and two are off the sauce (none of these is me). By the time we order, and hour behind schedule and diminished in number, it becomes clear that it’s only me who has any intention of ordering and eating food. I look apologetically at the server, pleading silently with them to dribble on someone else’s ceviche.
But as I write this I am nudged by a niggling guilt. I’m meant to be at an aerobics class at the gym, but I gave myself permission to bunk off at the very last minute, too late to even late-cancel, and deciding the the £3 no-show fine is a price well worth paying for not having to go to the gym. As a business plan it’s a corker: an inverse gym membership, a bit like selling of indulgences. For £3 a day, you can avoid going to the gym entirely. Think of all time and money saved, relieving you of the sweat, worry, travel time, procrastination time, sprains, verrucas and mansplaining over the weights rack. I feel pleased and justified in my choice to no-show, and there is a wealth of self-care literature that validate my decision to stop striving and take some me time.
All of which is obviously bollocks, but you see we’re all assholes now. The personalised, self-centredness of modern life and tech means we can book or cancel or block or share our plans, our friends, or neighbours at a swipe. I get late cancels for dinner parties all. the. time. as if I was some faceless corporate entity and not a corporal human with my face, covered in polenta, glasses steamed up, just trying to feed my friends with love and carbs, Karen. It’s even worse on occasion-days, like New Year’s Eve. Weeks and weeks of people hedging their bets, not 100% committing, waiting-and-seeing if they get a better offer, tentative suggestions, followed by a last minute flurry of cancellations, changes-of-plan, people treating themselves to a quiet night in, offers they can’t refuse.
So I have every sympathy with the restauranteurs wanting to fine people for no-shows, or charge in advance. But I can see my future, sitting sad and alone at a prepaid table for seven, tentatively asking the server if the chef could do the risotto dairy-free.