The Lowdown: restaurant ticketing versus exceptional circumstances

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

The Lowdown: restaurant ticketing versus exceptional circumstances

Related tags Bookings Restaurant

Ticketing offers peace of mind for restaurants, but what happens when customers need to cancel or move bookings due to bereavements and other exceptional circumstances?

I can guess what this is about… 
Yep. Kent’s The Fordwich Arms has landed itself in hot water for allegedly refusing to refund a pre-paid table after one of the party died suddenly. Martin O'Grady booked a table for six for New Year’s Eve via the Tock booking platform, but his father had an accident on 27 December and sadly died the day of the booking. O'Grady says he rang the Michelin-starred restaurant after the accident to try and move the booking or get a refund, but claims both requests were denied.  

What does The Fordwich Arms have to say?
Chef patron Dan Smith says the restaurant offered to refund two of the six pre-paid menus, or put the money towards drinks for the rest of the party. He also justified his restaurant’s stance by highlighting how tight margins are in top-end restaurants, and that he had to cover the wages of 16 staff members as well as the pricey ingredients bought in especially for the night.

Could they not have tried to sell the table to someone else?
Smith suggested that O'Grady try to sell on the tickets, and also says he contacted The Fordwich Arms’ wait list to see if anyone wanted a last-minute booking. As far as we know, the table went unfilled and the party was charged.

So where are we now?
The Fordwich Arms – which doesn’t currently retain the services of a PR agency - hasn’t released an official statement, although a manager did tell KentLive​ he was "sorry to hear of Mr O'Grady's loss". The incident highlights the very fine line between making a profit and making a loss at top-end restaurants - The Fordwich Arms is a small place, losing six covers could well have seen the restaurant operate at a loss that night – and also throws the spotlight on ticketing.  

So what should restaurants do when customers are forced to cancel due to exceptional circumstances?
It’s very tricky indeed. The whole point of ticketing – which, after a slow start on these shores, is now used by a high proportion of ambitious restaurants – is that it’s a non-negotiable thing. But, as highlighted by this incident, there are perhaps times when restaurants need to be compassionate and potentially take a hit, or at least work harder to find a solution.

What about other industries that require pre-payment? How do they handle this sort of thing?
Some airlines will allow people to cancel or reschedule flights if they can’t travel due to a bereavement or other exceptional event, and set out the details of such policies online. These large companies require proof, though. That might be okay for a big faceless airline, but an independent restaurant requesting a death certificate in order for a booking to be refunded is unlikely to play well.

Hmm. Any other ideas?
It’s unlikely to be a popular idea with bookings companies, but one possible solution would be for all bookings companies that support pre-payment to levy a tiny extra fee on all ticketed bookings to create a fund that would allow for cancellations in exceptional circumstances. Whatever happens, this incident will encourage restaurants that do ticketing to think carefully about their policies.

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