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Try as they might to prevent it, downtown restaurants, even fine ones like The Source by Wolfgang Puck or Central Michel Richard, will lose customers on Inauguration Night. Some folks won’t show up because they got a better, last-minute offer, like a ball invite. Others simply won’t arrive because they’ve decided the benefits of the meal don’t outweigh the hassles of traveling downtown (even after many of the streets open back up after 7 p.m.).
Just ask Ashok Bajaj, the veteran D.C. restaurateur who owns a number of operations downtown, including 701, the Oval Room, the Bombay Club, and Rasika. Bajaj has been through five previous inaugurations, and every time, he says about 10 percent of his reservations don’t show up. That compares to about two percent of his reservations on an average weekend.
The problem for restaurateurs like Bajaj is that it’s hard to fill those no-shows on Inauguration Night, because everyone already has plans or they decided long ago they weren’t going to deal with the BS. Bajaj says he can fill those empty seats only about 30 percent of the time.
Bajaj, like many other restaurateurs for the inauguration, is doing something he usually doesn’t: Asking for credit cards to hold a reservation. Bajaj also informed his diners that he will charge them $50 a head if they don’t show up. It will cut down on some no-shows, but not all of them.
Over at Michael Richard Citronelle, they didn’t originally take credit card numbers to secure an inaugural reservation. But they started once the folks who first booked tables, nearly two months ago, began to act all squirrelly. Citronelle spokeswoman Mel Davis says the restaurant had to rebook about 50 percent of its inaugural reservations due to cancellations.
But once they started asking for credit cards and informed diners about Citronelle’s cancellation policy—-the restaurant reserves the right to charge your card $105 per person if you don’t cancel 72 hours in advance—-the reservation problems cleared right up. Davis says Citronelle had barely any no shows this weekend.