New Year’s Eve ranks alongside Valentine’s Day and slightly ahead of Mother’s Day in terms of no-shows in restaurant reservations. The numbers hover between 35 and 50 percent. The reason, suggests Encina’s owner-chef Matt Balke, who has seen this before, is that diners often make several reservations and then neglect to cancel. This, more than any other year, is not the year for that.
Restaurants, always operating on slim margins, having spent nine months struggling to stay open and solvent, and are making this final effort to make us feel elated.
Restaurant goers with reservations: If you know you won’t attend, cancel. Do it over the phone. Do it courteously. May it be one of the final good deeds this year—one of the ways you support our fragile restaurant industry.
Balke knows a thing or two about the trends and numbers. Weather plays a huge factor, and rain is in the forecast tomorrow. It’s worse when it’s ice or snow, Balke says, but rain is enough to deter diners.
Already, Balke is preparing. Rabbit is in the oven for braised rabbit risotto with Swiss chard, chanterelles, black truffle (at $550 per pound), and parmesan. Wagyu shortribs braise nearby for a dish with pecan gremolata and tobacco onions. The goat is about to start cooking for a goat shepherd’s pie with a root vegetable mash and greens. All for New Year’s Eve dinner.
Already, there have been hedgings. The pound of truffles Balke might have ordered on another year has decreased to four ounces. They’re for the rabbit risotto and to add luxe to a celery root soup with brown butter and the precious truffles. This is not a Monday night dinner kind of affair. And he’s scared.
“I’m nervous,” he says, “as everybody is.” It’s a year in which “[I’ve] gotta use every penny.”
On other years, the restaurant might overbook, accepting 350 reservations, knowing they would get closer to the capacity of 190. Not this year, when ordering has become more conservative, more tempered.
“If we have the 190 [covers], I’m happy,” Balke says. If not, he hopes diners will call and let the restaurant know, so the team can call or respond to others, who might phone in for a last-minute, day-of reservation.
Why not collect a deposit, as certain restaurants do when high-end items are at stake? He considered it, but he knows it can deter folks. The last-ditch effort to recoup costs would be to offer Saturday specials. Then, he’s still taking a loss.
In this year of years, restaurateurs and chefs are making it special. Help them out by courteously cancelling if you decide to stay home.