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National and world

April 4, 2013

No-shows or a no-no; restauranteur takes heat for Tweets

LOS ANGELES — When 20 percent of your dinner reservations don't show, what's a restaurant owner to do? Usually nothing; it's an unsavory fact of restaurant life that not everyone who says they'll be there, will.

But one Beverly Hills restaurant owner decided enough was enough, taking to Twitter to publicly call out those who skipped out on their reservations on a recent busy Saturday.

"I hope you enjoyed your GF's B-day and the flowers that you didn't bring when you no-showed for your 8:15 res.," read one tweet.

Noah Ellis, co-owner of Red Medicine, sent that and another tweet naming several other people. He took the unusual step after turning away walk-up customers because he thought his 50-something-seat restaurant was booked solid during the popular 6:30-9 p.m. window, and forcing loyal customers to book earlier or later times.

"We lost 20 percent of our total reservations on Saturday and a huge chunk of our prime-time bookings," he said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "Most diners don't realize the impact no-shows make on a restaurant."

Ellis' move prompted a torrent of mixed reactions, with some saying the customers' thoughtless behavior warranted public embarrassment and others saying the owner stepped over the line and his business will suffer. Within hours of Ellis' tweets on the Red Medicine Twitter account, several one-star reviews of the popular restaurant went up on Yelp.

"Not showing is rude, though I get the feeling that this guy has a screw loose," offered one critic.

Another person tweeted back to Red Medicine, saying the restaurant would feel badly if the two dozen or so no-shows were in an accident on the way there.

Ellis was having none of that. "All of them?" he asked in response.

Fellow restaurateurs defended him for his boldness, although many quickly added it's not something they would do.

"You can pretty much guarantee that those people will not be coming back into your restaurant," said Carrie Welch of Little Green Pickle, which handles publicity and promotions for some two dozen restaurants in Portland, Ore.

Red Medicine generally won praise, however, for pointing out a problem that has long vexed the restaurant industry. The problem has only grown with the ease of online and email reservations.

"I take a lot of reservations, and I'd say at least 10 percent don't show and don't call," said Lenny Rosenberg, who runs a West Los Angeles eatery called Lenny's Deli. He chalks it up as a cost of doing business.

Some restaurants, like the popular small Cajun seafood chain Boiling Crab, won't take reservations or even seat people until everyone in their party is at the front door. Other places have tried taking a credit card deposit with the reservation.

Still others overbook and hope they won't rue the day when everyone who made a reservation actually shows up.

Ellis said he's looked into all those options, but for now he'll stick with taking reservations and expecting people will honor them.

It's not the first public controversy for Ellis. Two years ago he was so unhappy with Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila's reviews that he posted her picture on Twitter so other restaurateurs would be able to see her coming.

Outing a critic who normally works undercover prompted a similarly disparate response, with some praising Ellis and others condemning him.

It's unclear whether Ellis will continue outing those who don't honor reservations.

All the attention has driven him underground. He declined an in-person interview request, issuing his statement and responding to questions through a public relations firm, which is now handling media inquiries.

The seemingly intractable problem he and every other owner is up against is that it's common knowledge that for a big-deal date like a birthday or anniversary a person will book reservations at three or four places and then let the individual being feted make the final choice at the last minute, said Angie Pappas of the California Restaurant Association.

Boyfriends are the main culprit, she said, because they want to ensure their dates are happy with the evening.

"I don't think it's a malicious act," Pappas added. "I think it's mostly a case of indecisive boyfriends."

 

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