Masterchef star hits out at scourge of 'no show' diners

One of Scotland’s rising culinary stars is to penalise so-called ‘no show’ diners at his inaugural restaurant.

Dean Banks opened The Haar in April. Picture: Becky Tranter
Dean Banks opened The Haar in April. Picture: Becky Tranter

Dean Banks, who shot to fame as a finalist on the BBC Two television series, ‘Masterchef: The Professionals’, was left shocked after 14 people failed to honour their reservations at his Haar eatery on Saturday evening, the equivalent of 30 per cent of the bookings.

He blamed golf package companies in St Andrews who make reservations at a number of the Fife town’s restaurants for the one sitting, only to ask tourists to choose one of them at short notice, leaving the other establishments out of pocket.

Mr Banks, who described such behaviour as “totally unacceptable,” said he had been forced to throw out a sizeable quantity of fresh produce as a result, and ended up making a loss.

Now, he is following in the footsteps of a growing number of restaurateurs who require diners to provide debit or credit card details when making reservations, with charges for those who do not show up.

He told The Scotsman: “I can’t tell you how annoyed I was after Saturday. We lost out on what should have been more than £1,000 of revenue, which is a major loss of money for any business.

“We’re still trying to get off our feet and become a trusted brand that treats its staff well, but something like this has a domino effect.”

Since opening Haar at the beginning of April, Mr Banks, who trained at Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, has enjoyed praise from restaurant critics and writers. One review, published on Saturday, awarded the restaurant 49 out of 50, and hailed it as “just what is needed to shake up the St Andrews culinary scene.”

The glowing assessment prompting a deluge of calls from would-be diners, who were told the restaurant - based in St Andrews’ five star Kinnettles Hotel - was fully booked. However, as Mr Banks soon discovered, he could easily have accommodated many of those who called.

Come the evening’s end, the no shows included a table of eight, a table of four, and a table of two. It was the fourth time in the space of just six weeks that a party of eight had bailed on its booking.

“We could have filled the place five times over on Saturday, but we had to turn people away,” Mr Banks explained. “I think what we’re seeing is golf tour companies booking three restaurants at a time and asking people where they want to eat.

“I’m not going to stand for that, and I’d love to get everyone involved in the hospitality industry in St Andrews to take a stand as well.”

Mr Banks, from Arbroath, is now in talks with ResDiary, the firm which handles the restaurant’s online bookings, to roll out a charging scheme. He stressed he will apply discretion and will not penalise diners with valid reasons for cancelling, but those who simply book and fail to show will not be allowed to get away with it.

“We serve a fixed tasting menu on Saturday nights which is £65 per person. If you don’t call to cancel and simply don’t show, you’ll be charged £65 a head.

“As I said to my general manager, if you want to go see your favourite band at the O2, spend £100 on a ticket, and then decide not to go, you lose your money - restaurants should be exact same.”

It is not the first time one of Scotland’s top chefs has been forced to take action in an attempt to curb the number of no show diners.

Last year, Mark Greenaway was so vexed at the problem, he introduced charges for people who failed to turn up.

Parties who did not appear for lunch booking at his eponymous eatery in Edinburgh were charged £30 per person, with the penalty rising to £50 a head for dinner bookings.

“We’ve only got 11 tables, and all week we’ll tell people that we’re full for the weekend,” he told The Scotsman at the time. “Then Saturday night comes around and we can be left with three, sometimes four empty tables. That’s the difference between us making money that week or losing it.”