With No-Shows Rising, Downtown Charleston Restaurants Begin Charging Reservation Fees | Next round
Since August, the Post and Courier Food section has registered weekly with four downtown Charleston restaurants facing the coronavirus pandemic and recovering from restrictions designed to contain it. The following three restaurants are still in the process of returning to normal.For previous versions of the series, as well as more information on featured restaurants and their chosen success strategies, click here.
Butcher and bee: by reservation
Mother’s Day is a holiday filled with expectations. Grandmothers wait for phone calls, mothers wait for greeting cards, and Butcher & Bee waits for hundreds of guests.
The restaurant has planned to accommodate 375 people this year for brunch, lunch and dinner. His reservation book had never had so many names in one day.
Almost half of them did not show up.
According to Chief of Staff Tara Pate, 150 of the expected guests either canceled with hours to spare, denying Butcher & Bee the opportunity to offer their tables to interested parties on its electronic waiting list, or jumped without warning.
“We recovered with walk-in tours so it was still a great day, but it was an excessive amount of pressure and stress,” said Pate.
No-shows have been a long-standing problem for restaurants in downtown Charleston, but Butcher & Bee owner Michael Shemtov said the nuisance has grown to disturbing proportions in recent weeks. He theorizes that “another kind of tourist” is responsible for the peak.
As local diners reserve tables and then arrive to claim them, Shemtov has described the main culprit in the current reservation chaos as an undecided visitor determined to keep all options open. He suspects they book two or three times because they don’t want to miss dinner or feel limited on vacation.
On May 7, Butcher & Bee hosted 49 parties, totaling 224 guests. 46 other parties with reservations, or 161 guests, were late cancellations or no-shows.
Two days later, the pattern repeated itself. The restaurant accommodated 207 people and was supported by 122 people.
Pate said these low returns made table assignments too complicated. The restaurant could overbook at certain times, but this strategy would backfire if most customers lived up to their end of the bargain and checked in for dinner.
Instead, Butcher & Bee applies a fee of $ 10 per person for no-shows and cancellations made within 24 hours of booking. The restaurant will retain the discretion to waive fees when customers are caught in unavoidable circumstances, but Shemtov said he hoped the risk of a penalty would deter lookie-loos from booking.
Many restaurants in the Charleston area have adopted similar policies, as Shemtov realized when he recently attempted to reserve a table at Jackrabbit Filly and was promoted for a credit card number. In fact, Butcher & Bee had a cancellation fee in place before the pandemic.
This reduced no-shows to zero.
“It’s going to tone down the reservations, so it’s bittersweet,” Shemtov said. “But at least we’ll have more confidence.”
Harold’s cabin: weighting
Until now, Harold’s Cabin owner John Schumacher had only two factors to weigh on a scale with reopening on one side and closing forever on the other.
Its main considerations were the landscape of the pandemic, ie infection rates and number of cases, and “the willingness of customers to dine in a small space”.
The latter concern may have eased in recent times, as the percentage of people who say they feel comfortable eating at a restaurant last week peaked in the era of the pandemic. According to a new report released by research firm Datassential, the proportion of people who say they don’t have any worries at all is higher than the combined group of people who have varying degrees of hesitation when dining.
“The numbers have finally turned,” Datassential’s Mark Brandau said when he presented the results in a Zoom call held hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised their recommendations for those vaccinated. “This is the one I was waiting for.”
As for the pandemic landscape, Schumacher was put off by reports showing South Carolina will not achieve collective immunity and was wary of the CDC’s announcement causing universal rejection of the mask.
But now Schumacher has another big factor to add to his review stack:
“It looks like the staff shortage will now be another turning point in our decision,” he said.
And so the scale tilts.
In pursuit of Sage: Cocktail table
Last week, the Chasing Sage team didn’t need an excuse for a drink. He was approved for a Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant on the afternoon of May 8 and received the money within days.
“We really liked it,” said owner Forrest Brunton. “We didn’t have any champagne, so (GM) Max (Clarke) just carbonated a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.”
While this is the right drink for a spontaneous celebration, rigged sparkling wine is surely not what Chasing Sage guests will be looking for when they come for dinner starting next month. Many of them are sure to want a cocktail, so the team at Chasing Sage last week sipped a dozen suitors Brunton and Clarke created for the restaurant’s opening list.
Their goal was to come up with a selection of eight or nine drinks that would express the restaurant’s philosophy and satisfy the desires of most customers.
As Clarke began making drinks for owners Cindy and Walter Edward, along with Brunton and Clarke’s girlfriends, Brunton reminded everyone sitting at the bar of the ground rules: “Think who this drink is for. What type of customer would order it? “
Also, he added, it was important to keep in mind how many of them someone might drink: while Brunton doesn’t anticipate people having a party at the Chasing Sage bar, he’s also been warned that Charleston drinkers are likely to put away a scary number of affordable cocktails.
The first was a peach daquiri, reflecting Brunton and Edward’s taste for rum and canned fruit.
“Do you know this version which was too chalky?” Said Walter Edward. “It could be clearer than that, but I don’t want to taste the peach any less.”
Balancing flavors was the main topic of the session. A carrot-based cocktail was deemed heavy with turmeric. A blueberry drink was terribly tannic.
Other drinks were causing service issues. After aggressively shaking the egg whites into an apricot rose sparkle, Clarke shook her head, “He’s a killer bartender here.” When it turned out that the taste of the apricots was muted, he began to wonder if the drink was worth the work.
A familiar Brunton and Clarke project derived from the loquat pits was the group’s only disappointment, as it fell short of the version they concocted last year. Maybe the medlars are too cold this spring, they said.
“If it doesn’t get better, it’s cut,” Brunton said.
Still, it wasn’t immediately obvious to the group what other drinks they should be having in the lineup. Almost all of the cocktails just needed a tweak or two, or they seemed too special to drop.
No one wanted to do without a mezcal cocktail topped with a roasted green pepper strung on a pickaxe that Walter Edward had originally bought for the periwinkle service.
An old-fashioned riff made from cherry syrup, brandy and rye was clearly a keeper.
Maybe they should ditch a Last Word watermelon that refused to strain, Brunton suggested. The cocktail was undeniably delicious in the form of slush, everyone agreed. But with the federal money in hand, Chasing Sage is ready to walk the fortunes.