In October, RGE RD became the first restaurant in Edmonton to require deposits for some reservations.
No-shows and last-minute cancellations have been increasingly problematic for local restaurants. But restaurants around the world were grappling with the issue long before the pandemic began, leading fine dining establishments in particular to begin taking deposits or upfront payments for reservations.
Caitlin Fulton, co-owner of RGE RD, said the restaurant had been mulling the decision to implement a deposit system for months.
"We found that once dine-in service resumed, we had full bookings on Fridays and Saturdays, with waitlists of thirty people," Fulton told Taproot. "Then we would have people not showing up or cancelling last minute. It was making me cry, because we confirm every reservation the day before. On some nights, we had up to 10 no-shows or cancellations. We only have 16 tables so it was a big impact."
Fulton shared that it was a trip to the west coast that was the tipping point. "(Co-owner and partner) Blair and I went to Vancouver at the end of summer and it cemented our decision," said Fulton. "In Vancouver, we found that at restaurants of a certain category you couldn't make a reservation without a deposit."
On Oct. 8, RGE RD began requiring a deposit of $10 per person for reservations on Fridays or Saturdays (weekdays are exempt because of a smaller demand for tables). The deposit is refunded as soon as guests dine in, or if cancellations are made 24 hours in advance.
"I expected pushback and that's why we hesitated," said Fulton. "And then we implemented it and nothing happened. The odd person has asked questions about it, but honestly, there has been such little feedback that I was astonished."
RGE RD's no-show rate has decreased substantially to just three in total since the policy began. "It's been enough of a deterrent," said Fulton.
Fulton said that the last twenty months have required constant adaptation (RGE RD offered elevated heat-at-home meals for a time). Once The Butchery, a complementary business that offers fresh meat, charcuterie, and prepared foods, opened in November 2020 the business found its footing.
"In the first shut down in March of 2020 we were stuck with a lot of food that we ended up donating," said Fulton. "In subsequent shutdowns we had the ability to redirect the food to The Butchery and we ended up having more traffic because restaurants were shut down and people were looking for special experiences at home. The Butchery is what kept us insulated from the highs and lows."
When asked about the potential for the Omicron variant to derail this holiday season, Fulton is cautiously optimistic. "We're just hopeful that if everyone adheres to the restrictions and gets vaccinated, that we can continue on in a safe way."