Wednesday, July 18, 2012

May I Have Your Credit Card Number, Please!


Recently, a Canadian radio news anchor took great umbrage at the seemingly new restaurant practice of requiring the credit card number of someone making a reservation for a table. This procedure is common practice in many major cities worldwide, and is now being introduced onto the Toronto food scene. Understandably some eyebrows are being raised and customers who have never experienced this before are shocked! I was asked for an opinion as an arbiter of etiquette hoping that I would rush to the rescue of the customer.

Having been on both sides of the restaurant business, I completely sympathize with the restaurant owner, while understanding the confusion a potential customer might have as the result of this perceived invasion of privacy. In the end, this practice is most likely here to stay and we will need to adjust our mindset to accept this if we are to enjoy dining at the finer restaurants.

Given the vulnerability we face today with identity theft and credit card fraud, the temerity of the public is understandable. However, what the general public may fail to realize is the severe effect no-shows have on the viability of a successful restaurant business. The profit margin in the average successful food establishment hovers at a meager 4%. With this fact in mind, it is suddenly easy to understand that a small restaurant cannot afford sudden cancellations or no-shows. Sadly there is an element of society that feels a sense of entitlement and brashly changes their plans unaware of and insensitive to the impact such changes may have on others.

Naturally, any time a new policy emerges there will be some resistance.  With this inevitability in mind, it would be ill advised for a majority of restaurants to adopt such a policy. High turnover establishments where walk-in traffic is the norm would only alienate potential customers and would likely be less vulnerable to no shows. However, at more formal spots where reservations are recommended, you should expect to be charged if you don’t make an appearance. In most places that do adopt this policy, a 24-48 hour cancellation is part of the deal.

When I bring this subject up for discussion, some peoples’ knee jerk reaction is, “I would never give out my credit card number.” For those of you with this same reaction, I simply offer the warning that you may just have to forego dining in some of the finer restaurants, especially if you are unknown to them. I would caution restaurants that are considering this new policy to also refrain from asking for these details from established clientele. The request in this case is unnecessary and may well come off as pretentious and disrespectful.

The first time I encountered this policy was in New York City at the well-known restaurant Vong. I had enjoyed eating there many times before and was, like you, stunned. However, the food is remarkable and I acquiesced. I didn’t dine there often enough to expect them to remember me and so I cheerfully cough up the information whenever asked. There are a few restaurants, not many though, in the Maritimes where this policy could easily be justified, so get ready!

From a traditional etiquette point of view, the need to enact this policy clearly reflects the growing climate of disrespect that pervades society today. Combined with the rough and tumble economic climate of the day, it makes perfect sense to me. Perhaps if we collectively showed more respect to the establishments in businesses that provide us the pleasures of good food and excellent service, they might be able to relax this policy. Until such time that this happens, we are likely to experience reserving with a credit card more and more. In the words of Deepak Chopra, “You will not show gratitude for something which you feel you deserve.” In my opinion, showing gratitude and being respectful are inseparable.