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Being charged for cancelling a reservation...


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I had a reservation at a certain popular London restaurant. When I booked I gave my credit card details on the understanding they'd make a cancellation charge if I cancelled at short notice.

My dining companion's travel plans changed, so I just called to cancel. They said they were going to make the reservation charge. I said this was fine if the restaurant didn't find anyone else to fill the table. If, however, the table ended up being filled (as I expect will be the case given the popularity of the restaurant), the restaurant won't be out of pocket and therefore I won't expect to pay the cancellation charge. The restaurant, however, says it charges the cancellation penalty whether or not the table gets filled.

This seems unfair to me, and strictly speaking this isn't lawful (English law only entitles you to recover for your loss, not to make a windfall). But am I being unreasonable making a fuss about this? Do all restaurants take this attitude to cancellations?

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This seems unfair to me, and strictly speaking this isn't lawful (English law only entitles you to recover for your loss, not to make a windfall).

Is this true? If so, you should consider yourself supported and make your case. The cancellation charge, imho, should always come with a time limit. If you call in good time, as opposed to simply not showing, they should take that as good faith on your part.

In the case of The Square, because we are taking their private room, we expected to pay a deposit which became non-refundable 4 weeks before the event. In addition to this, if the number falls beneath (I think) 8 people, they reserve the right to charge us additionally per person. But this has to do with our use of unique facilities, for a larger than usual number.

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I had a reservation at a certain popular London restaurant. When I booked I gave my credit card details on the understanding they'd make a cancellation charge if I cancelled at short notice.

My dining companion's travel plans changed, so I just called to cancel. They said they were going to make the reservation charge. I said this was fine if the restaurant didn't find anyone else to fill the table. If, however, the table ended up being filled (as I expect will be the case given the popularity of the restaurant), the restaurant won't be out of pocket and therefore I won't expect to pay the cancellation charge. The restaurant, however, says it charges the cancellation penalty whether or not the table gets filled.

This seems unfair to me, and strictly speaking this isn't lawful (English law only entitles you to recover for your loss, not to make a windfall). But am I being unreasonable making a fuss about this? Do all restaurants take this attitude to cancellations?

This is a tough one. I don't know the law. But it seems to me if they advised you of this policy - and didn't say 'we'll charge you if we can't fill the table' then you don't have much of a 'moral' case.

If they were marketing-and-customer service minded (with respect, few UK places are) they could create some good will by refunding the charge, if in fact they do fill the table (I guess if you wanted to, you could stop by and check to see if the place is full).

But my guess is the reason they have that policy in place is that they've had experience with no-shows (which, incidentally, I just don't understand -if you can bother to pick up the phone to make the reservation, how much of an imposition is it to call and cancel?).

You could write a letter to the management and see where that gets you. Or you could just avoid this restaurant in the future (or name and shame them herewith) because they weren't willing to play ball.

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This seems unfair to me, and strictly speaking this isn't lawful (English law only entitles you to recover for your loss, not to make a windfall).

Is this true? If so, you should consider yourself supported and make your case. The cancellation charge, imho, should always come with a time limit. If you call in good time, as opposed to simply not showing, they should take that as good faith on your part.

I made the booking yesterday; the time limit was 2pm today and I cancelled at about 3pm.

The legal position is pretty clear: a provision that someone in breach of contract pay a fixed amount which isn't dependent on the other party's loss is a "penalty", and it's a principle of English contract law that penalties are unlawful.

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This is a tough one. I don't know the law. But it seems to me if they advised you of this policy - and didn't say 'we'll charge you if we can't fill the table' then you don't have much of a 'moral' case.

I'd always understood the point of cancellation charges was to protect restaurants from losing money as a result of no-shows and late cancellations. The restaurant seem to think a cancellation charge is like a parking fine. So whilst they they certainly advised me they had a cancellation charge, I think we have a different definition of what a "cancellation charge" actually is.

But I don't know if I have a moral case. In the end, I did cancel at short notice, and it does mean they can't be certain how many covers they'll have this evening.

It seems unfair to name the restaurant, but it rhymes with "kvetch".

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sorry, but i'm not entirely sure what the problem is?

they told you they charge cancellation charges.

you cancelled.

they charged you.

how come you are upset about this when you already knew it was coming?

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sorry, but i'm not entirely sure what the problem is?

they told you they charge cancellation charges.

you cancelled.

they charged you.

how come you are upset about this when you already knew it was coming?

Disagree, strongly.

If you give rise to the need to charge, then charge, but it's not a free revenue stream.

I'd say legally they would be on shaky ground if it's been charged, and the table was filled.

There is a tacit understanding here, and that is to prevent loss.

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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sorry, but i'm not entirely sure what the problem is?

they told you they charge cancellation charges.

you cancelled.

they charged you.

how come you are upset about this when you already knew it was coming?

Disagree, strongly.

If you give rise to the need to charge, then charge, but it's not a free revenue stream.

I'd say legally they would be on shaky ground if it's been charged, and the table was filled.

There is a tacit understanding here, and that is to prevent loss.

I'm with tryska. I, as a diner, may not like the concept of a cancellation penalty, but I understand the need of it at certain upscale restaurants with little table turnover. In this case, the stipulations and penalty were set forth and agreed upon when the reservation was made. The stipulations were not adhered to and the penalty was enforced. Case closed.

The 3:00 P.M. same-day time limit seems fair. What I did not see mentioned was the actual charge. An excessive charge might be grounds to bitch. In any event, the easiest thing to do would be to dispute the charge when the credit card statement arrives. The restaurant might drop the issue instead of wasting the time to respond.

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The 3:00 P.M. same-day time limit seems fair.

Just to clarify, Clerkenwellian stated above that it was 2.00pm deadline and the cancellation was made at 3.00pm.

Ooops. Clarification noted. I confused the times when I was posting. 2:00 P.M. still seems fair.

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Having worked in a restaurant with a similar policy (we only enforced it for parties of 5 or more), it's not just to prevent loss, but to encourage diners to have the courtesy to call and cancel. Folks seem to perform that simple courtesy a whole lot more when the restaurant has their credit card number than when they don't. It's a little "incentive" for the diner to show that courtesy to the restaurant and not simply "no-show". Having worked with reservationists that had a very good relationship with all the concierges in town, you'd be surprised how many people (tourists and natives alike) would make reservations at four of the hardest to get into places in town at peak time on a Saturday night, decide at the last minute where to go, and simply blow off the other three reservations without a second thought. Many of them were doctors and dentists who thought nothing of charging their patients if they didn't show up for their appointments. You'd think they'd understand that "time is money" and even cancelling late and the restaurant re-booking the table doesn't GUARANTEE that the restaurant will be afforded the opportunity to do that. Cancelling with appropriate notice allows the restaurant to maximize seating. Payroll and overhead does not go down when the seats aren't filled.

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Folks seem to perform that simple courtesy a whole lot more when the restaurant has their credit card number than when they don't.

Right. I have no problem with this policy, any more than with security deposits for an apartment or car rental.

As long as it's clearly spelled out and applied, that is: my wife has been billed for a reservation that she cancelled more than two weeks in advance. (She called, pitched a fit and had the bill cancelled: in this case, the restaurant either screwed up or was trying to take advantage of her. They've also gone out of business, so go figure...)

Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)
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It passes the fairness test in my book. You made an agreement. Just like hotels -- most here have a "cancel by 6:00 or we'll charge you a night's stay." (Some have a 24- or even 48-hour cancellation notice.) It doesn't matter if they fill the room or not. That's their policy, and when they tell you the policy in advance, you either accept it or not. You can't call after the deadline and after you have made an agreement to unilaterally change the rules so that you're charged only if they don't fill the slot or not.

Edited to Add:

How much did they charge you not to eat there :raz:

Edited by NolaFoodie (log)
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It passes the fairness test in my book. You made an agreement. Just like hotels -- most here have a "cancel by 6:00 or we'll charge you a night's stay." (Some have a 24- or even 48-hour cancellation notice.) It doesn't matter if they fill the room or not. That's their policy, and when they tell you the policy in advance, you either accept it or not. You can't call after the deadline and after you have made an agreement to unilaterally change the rules so that you're charged only if they don't fill the slot or not.

I agree. It never hurts to ask for leniency, but basically, my answer to the question that started this thread, "am I being unreasonable," is "Yeah, probably." :biggrin:

But like the others, I want to know what kind of fee we're talking about. If it's 100 pounds, they suck and no way should they get that money.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Not sure if it is legal or not but it does seem their right to do so if you cancelled after the deadline that they gave you and you agreed upon.

So, how much did they charge you?

FM

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Think that same thing happened to Andy Capp one Sunday a few years ago. Seemed the first phone call was to the credit card company, reported his card stolen then about 2 hours later he called the restaurant, and canceled. Proceeded to go out drinking with his buddies with the windfall. :laugh:

woodburner

Edited by woodburner (log)
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Payroll and overhead does not go down when the seats aren't filled.

Yes. but's thats just business risk.

part and parcel of being a restaurant.

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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Reason 1 why I don't think it's legal, though the quantum has to be considered. is that when you go to a restaurant you are not paying for a reservation.

you pay for:

food

wine

water

coffee

service

but not for the table, except in the odd italian where there's a small cover.

Basically the reservation charge is not part of the deal.

I do agree with everyone who says the quantum is the key, if they were however being unreasonable and charging excessively, I'd be inclined to challenge the charge with Visa, and put it upon them to justify it.

Another question which would mitigate the righteousness would be if you offered to reschedule your booking.

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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Doesn't this pretty much qualify as the same thing as a "guaranteed reservation" in a hotel? You are indicating that you want the hotel to hold a room for you and the hotel promises to do so, even if they have to turn away other guests. If you do not show up and the room goes unused, you are charged.

The issue to me is not whether or not the place was full that night, but whether you knew that there was going to be a charge if you did not show up. If you were told in advance and you did not show, I would say that the restaurant has the right (if they choose to exercise it and take the chance that you won't return) to bill you for the no show if they wish.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

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Doesn't this pretty much qualify as the same thing as a "guaranteed reservation" in a hotel? You are indicating that you want the hotel to hold a room for you and the hotel promises to do so, even if they have to turn away other guests. If you do not show up and the room goes unused, you are charged.

The issue to me is not whether or not the place was full that night, but whether you knew that there was going to be a charge if you did not show up. If you were told in advance and you did not show, I would say that the restaurant has the right (if they choose to exercise it and take the chance that you won't return) to bill you for the no show if they wish.

Absolutely correct.

You entered into a contract with them. They told you the terms and asked if you accepted them. They didn't try to "trick" you or coerce you in any way. They were completely up front about it, and you agreed.

If you didn't like the terms, you should have asked, "If you resell the table, do you still charge?" And if the answer was affirmative, you should have said, "I'm sorry, but I don't choose to take that risk. Don't hold a reservation for me. If it works out that we can come, I'll take my chances then."

You never hold the moral high ground when you agree to something, and then go back on your word just because the original terms are no longer convenient.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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This is an interesting question. On the one hand is it a reasonable practice and on the other is it a legal one? A practice can be reasonable and legal, reasonable and illegal, unreasonable and legal or unreasonable and illegal. I think as long as it was clearly stated ahead of time, the practice is reasonable, though annoying given that they would charge even if the table was filled. Personally I think it should be limited to no-call, no-show people. whether or not it is legal, I have no idea and would defer to our British legal types.

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Many of them were doctors and dentists who thought nothing of charging their patients if they didn't show up for their appointments.

I don't think it is fair to generalize and disparage certain professions. I am a physician and I don't charge my patients for no-shows(despite losing 100% value for my time)because it generates loss of good will.

As a considerate person who always honors my committments when making or cancelling dinner reservations, I can understand why a popular restaurant would want to use the threat of credit card payment as a dis-incentive to no shows or last minute cancellations. Yet even Avis and Hertz extend a 59 minute grace period to clients returning their rental cars a little late.

Hence I feel Clerkenwellian has a valid point. Since the reservation was cancelled at 3 PM, the restaurant could have been more gracious about their time limit. If they had, Clerkenwellian might have felt more inclined to try the restaurant again and recommend it to his/her firends, rather than start this thread on egullet.The loss to the restaurant of good will overwhelms whatever they charged for the tardy but well-intentioned cancellation. Though he may be shy of naming the restaurant in question, I'm sure all his/her friends and family know about it. Being nice to the customer, within reason, is always the best policy, especially when the customer has made an effort.

Roz

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