THE founder of a group of Dorset and New Forest cheese and wine bars is urging customers to think twice before no-showing at restaurants.

Trevor Ayling said the situation of people not turning up and failing to cancel their booking is unfair for his teams at Renoufs and would-be guests who they are having to turn away.

Since reopening after lockdown, the cheese and wine bars in Westbourne, Southbourne, Verwood, Wimborne and Lyndhurst can only operate at 70 per cent of their capacity to follow social-distancing measures.

Bookings have flooded in across the week, in part due to the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, but the business is still experiencing no-show issues.

The Westbourne site reported 36 no-shows in a single week earlier this month.

Mr Ayling said such behaviour had always been a problem for the industry, however, the situation had been exasperated in recent weeks.

“We were hit hard like the rest of the hospitality industry when we were closed down for months during the height of the pandemic and now we are back open we are only at 70 per cent capacity to follow social distancing,” said Mr Ayling.

“We just can’t afford to have empty tables, especially as we are a sold out venue most evenings and we turn away an unprecedented volume of customers.”

Renoufs operate a reserve list in an effort to cover cancellations and send reminders to customers about their bookings, including on the day of their reservation. However, Mr Ayling said some people still do not show up or cancel.

He said: “We use a system where our customers get automated messaging in the days leading up to their booking, so they get several reminders to confirm they are attending.

“Even if they don’t confirm we take the effort of texting every single customer on the day, saying ‘are you definitely coming tonight, we don’t want an empty table, let us know if your plans change’ and for those people still not to turn up after that point rides me.”

On the suggestion of mandatory deposits, he said: “I don’t want to be taking deposits for every booking because not everyone wants to part with £5 or whatever it may be per person. It is just not something we want to really go down the route of.

“No-shows have been happening for years but at this point, with the reopening and getting our feet back on the ground, it is the last thing we want and I am sure I speak for probably every other venue in the area, who has the same issue.”

Mr Ayling was full of praise for the help government had given the industry.

He said: “It is fantastic the support the government has been giving, with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. At the moment we are experiencing a Saturday night every night of the week in all venues. It is just bonkers – it is great.”

But he admitted this surge in interest for bookings did not always lead to a positive outcome.

“It is worse because normally Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays are our quiet days, we bring it all back on the Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. If somebody cancels on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, maybe we were not fully booked anyway and we haven’t turned anyone away," said Mr Ayling.

“But the fact is because of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, every single night is rammed. Everyone loves a good bargain, everyone is chomping at the bit to get out, so we are getting 500 calls a day across the venues and half of those people we are turning away and then low and behold we will have tables who will not turn up and it just not fair for us and the people we turned away. “