Enough With Restaurant Owners: A War Has Been Declared on Ghost Diners. But at the moment their arsenal is very meager.
Their last salvo for today? Request addressed in early November by the Association for the Restoration of Quebec (ARQ) to Attorney General Simon Jolin-Barrett. The association, which represents nearly 5,000 members, is calling for an amendment to the Consumer Protection Act (LPC). She is requesting that we allow credit card charges for customers who forget or neglect to cancel a booking with minutes or even 48 hours notice.
“At this point, we have not yet determined the amount,” explains Dominique Tremblay, director of public and government relations at ARQ. Could it be 5, 10 or 20 dollars? Should this amount be adjusted? Of course, for a gastronomic establishment, 5 dollars will not be enough. »
The scourge of “no-shows,” as they are called in the restaurant business, is not new. Restaurateurs in Quebec have been denouncing this on a regular basis for a decade. But the United States suffered before we did, says Thierry Navette, owner of 4 Saisons bistro in Orford. “This was already commonplace when I ran a restaurant in the Boston area 15 years ago! »
The phenomenon, also present in Europe, seems to be on the rise here. According to the ARQ, this is contributing to the financial precariousness of a sector of operations that is struggling to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the restaurant services sub-sector showed a profit margin of 3.2%; the following year it suffered a total loss of 2%.
Any amendment to the LPC must be based on a thorough analysis of the impact of customer failure. However, ARQ is basing its request on a set of comments that it cannot quantify at this time. “Even without official statistics,” insists Dominique Tremblay, “if we decide to intervene as an association, it is because there is a real problem that requires our intervention. Moreover, reviews of restorers in the media remain numerous. »
Useless down payment
The Consumer Protection Act allows restaurateurs to provide a credit card number when booking and even require a deposit. “But they can’t withhold commission if the clients don’t come. What is prohibited is a clause – a specific statement – that imposes on a consumer who does not fulfill his promises, the payment of expenses, fines or damages, the amount or percentage of which is fixed in advance in the contract, ”explains Charles Tangay, a spokesman for the Consumer Protection Authority , gave the gist of Article 13 of the CPA, which the restaurant industry so desperately needs.
In fact, the restaurateur can require a deposit when booking, but he cannot warn the client that he will hold him if he does not show up at the agreed time. “It is the principle that no one can take justice into their own hands,” says Charles Tanguet. It comes down to setting up in advance the cost of your damages. But you can’t know in advance what your damage will be! »
However, there is nothing to prevent a restaurateur from claiming damages…after the deposit has been refunded! Then you need to reach an agreement with the client or take the case to small claims court.
According to Dominique Tremblay, this is an unrealistic solution for small-scale aggrieved traders seeking to recover several hundred dollars each time.
However, some companies and certain professional organizations whose activities fall outside the scope of the LPC are mandated to “do justice to themselves”.
This applies to short-term car rental companies, as well as owners of hotels and inns, who, in the event of a client’s cancellation, have the right to withhold all or part of the payment made using a credit card.
Most professionals under the authority of the Quebec Occupational Affairs such as physicians, psychologists, chiropractors, nutritionists and dentists can claim, if you do not accept them, reimbursement of expenses due to absence, covering all or part of the fees for which they would normally be right. . However, measures must be duly announced in writing.
Some personal care businesses, such as beauty salons, tanning salons, or barbershops, also charge these fees. However, like restaurateurs, none of them have legal authority to do so. Are you missing a meeting? You pay nothing. Or you get along with your favorite salon. Or find another!
Irritated restaurateurs have already put in place procedures, often through online booking apps, to protect against no-shows. Their customers are clearly informed that their credit card will be charged for a no-show fee if they do not cancel their booking 24 or 48 hours in advance.
This is ironic, as the proliferation of these booking tools likely explains consumer negligence. “Now you can book two restaurants almost at the same time, right at your fingertips. Then you leave, you forget, laments Thierry Navette of Bistro 4 Saisons. The restaurant used to be a big, well-planned outing that we prepared for. »
But this no-show fee strategy isn’t flawless: any customer who feels offended can demand a refund from their credit card issuer, claiming they didn’t actually receive the service in exchange for the amount credited to their account.
Until the justice minister responds to the restaurateurs’ complaints, ARQ invites its members to present a “booking agreement” to customers. But this measure does not meet the requirements of the LPC, Variant consumers have already argued.
Find a lifestyle
According to Thierry Navette, in recent years a new generation of consumers has abused some of the traditional values, such as certain good manners and respect for commitments made by others. Although he advocates an amendment to the LPC, he believes that it will only address the symptom and not the root of the problem. “All of this, after all, is a matter of education,” he concludes.
“Online booking,” adds Dominique Tremblay, “may have saved people some inconvenience. »
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