Can French restaurants ask for card details to make a reservation?

No-shows are having a significant impact on restaurants

French restaurant owners are increasingly asking for payment card details when taking reservations
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Reader question: I have been asked by a local restaurant to provide credit card details when making a booking, is this legal?

Booking a table in a restaurant and not turning up is a widespread practice across in France, however no-shows have a significant impact on the restaurateur. Not only does this impact already slim margins as expensive ingredients go to waste, other diners who wanted to book may be turned away.

It is for this reason that, completely legally, restaurants may ask customers to provide payment details or even pay for a meal in advance. The aim is to stop no-shows happening, or at least have some compensation when they inevitably do.

To ensure the practice follows the regulations an information message stating the conditions must be clearly shown to the customer before they reserve.

The customer then accepts the terms and conditions knowing exactly what they are giving their payment details for.

Benefits and risks for restaurants

Asking for a deposit up front guarantees revenue from every booking, and significantly lowers the chance of a no-show. As for the diner any deposit amount charged is subtracted from their final bill so there is no additional cost to them.

A no-show fee is effectively charged if a diner does not show up.

Prepaid bills work in the same way but they cover the entire cost of the meal.

The drawback for restaurants is that some potential customers may not wish to provide payment details in advance and so a booking may be lost.

However, the hope is that if a restaurant explains why they are asking for this information, customers will understand the sentiment behind the move and agree. A restaurant will then in theory end up with reliable guests that will either show up or cancel ahead of time.

What else can restaurants do?

There are other actions a restaurateur can do to help deal with no-shows.

The first is to make their cancellation process easy. If it is just a simple matter of clicking a button or sending an email, customers are more likely to cancel in advance, thus releasing the booking.

A restaurant can also send a text or email to confirm the reservation a few days before the booking. This not only reminds the customer of their commitment, but also gives them the chance again to cancel if necessary.

Restaurants can also plan for the worst and perhaps have a waitlist should a customer not arrive or make a late cancellation.

What about the customer?

If you have to cancel a booking, give as much notice as possible, preferably a couple of days.

Equally, don’t double or treble-book restaurants just so you can see how you feel on the day.

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