I'll share a very recent experience with you. Yesterday I received an email from the owner of a fine-dining restaurant. The email read, “We have stopped taking reservations because of all the no-shows.” Those were his exact words. That explains it in a nutshell.
I love to watch out for my site visitors, most of whom are potential patrons of restaurants. However, having been a restaurant owner myself, I have to take the restaurants' side on this. Especially those located in a resort town.
People get angry because they can't get into a restaurant. I've had several emails where people have actually taken this personally and talk bad about the restaurant. These people need to get a life. The fact that there was a line is not about them. They chose to go to a popular restaurant, and there's a line. Period. Order a martini at the bar and get over yourself.
I've gotten tons of emails about this. (In particular, take a look at the comment thread below the review of the popular Agave restaurant in Lewes.) Instead of grousing about not wanting to hang around waiting for a table at Agave for 2 hours, you either make a point of getting there early (duh!), or you go somewhere else. Agave isn't the only restaurant in Lewes: Touch of Italy, or Half-Full, or Striper Bites, or Gilligan's, or the Buttery, or JD's Cafe, or Jerry's Seafood, or Rose and Crown, or Kindle, or Villa Sorrento, or Irish Eyes, or Fish On!, or Green Turtle, or Mr. P's, or …. you get the idea. If it's Agave you want, then you need to adjust your thinking.
So back to the reservations thing: Unfortunately, many people, particularly those on vacation, engage in the rude practice of making reservations at several places on the same night. They know every place will be busy, so they tie up tables at a few places so they can conveniently decide where to go when they feel like it. Very few ever call to cancel. Though that may be convenient for them, the places they didn't go to are left hanging, as patrons in line stare at the empty table and get angrier by the minute.
So what to do? Do they give your reservation away after, say, 10 — maybe 15 minutes, and risk your making a rude scene when you show up late, or do they make the customers (who actually made the effort to show up) stand in line and stare angrily at your empty table? Because so many people are inconsiderate about this, most places simply don't take reservations any more. I suspect that this practice has gotten worse as cell phones, smart phones and reservation apps have made it easier to secure reservations on a whim.
Many finer restaurants in year-around vacation spots like Las Vegas, Honolulu and Key West have solved this problem by requiring a credit card number when you make a reservation. By doing so, you agree to pay a fee (in Vegas it's usually $50!) if you don't show up. It's not really the $50 that's the issue: They see it as an incentive to get you to at least call if you're not coming. Call within a certain time frame, and you're off the hook. No big deal: They're going to have a line no matter what. Another way many restaurants are handling this is with Open Table.com, where you have to enter some personal information (like your phone number) to reserve a table. People tend to follow-through when they have to identify who they are. More and more Rehoboth and Lewes restaurants are accepting online reservations from OpenTable.com (access them all on the travel app Rehoboth In My Pocket).
I have a friend who stood-up a busy restaurant in Lewes a year or so ago. She left them hanging, and they promptly put her on a blacklist. The next time she called, they refused her reservation. She acted indignantly, as if they had somehow wronged her. I say good for them. They'd rather provide quality service to the customers who care enough to show up rather than attempting to accommodate an entitled somebody who may — or may not — show up. Business is a two-way street, and reservations are a promise and a verbal contract. So there.