When you’re running a popular fitness studio or buzzing wellness venue with limited class/appointment spots and advanced bookings, managing cancellations and no-shows can be a challenge. Your clients have busy schedules and sometimes last-minute conflicts or delays arise — life happens. As a business owner or manager, there is always a balance between understanding that life can get interrupted while also ensuring your classes and appointments are full and your members are happy.

Here are some tips and guidance on how to handle late cancellations at your studio, gym or wellness venue.

Create and honor your class cancellation policy

When you create your class cancellation or no-show policy, make it clear and simple for your clients to understand. You should also stay consistent with every studio or venue member to make sure you are treating everyone fairly and equally. While setting up your policy, consider how the cancellation or no-show impacts the other members. For example, if you have designated fitness equipment like spin bikes, no-shows don’t give you the opportunity to give that bike to another member who wanted to join the class, and you might lose that class spot completely.

Charge a fee or class package penalty for a no-show or late cancellation

Setting up an automatic penalty fee will hold everyone accountable and gives your venue more insurance on attendance. Fees will also ensure that your clients don’t feel too laid back about skipping class or appointments and you will have higher attendance overall. If you’re working with an aggregator or marketplace, the platform will likely already have these fees put into place. As you are determining fees for your own policy, set them based on overall impact to your studio and other members. For example, a late cancellation gives you a small window of time to fill that class space whereas a no-show means you lose that class spot completely, so the fee should be higher. You should also consider setting up a fee that makes sense based on both what your studio is losing in revenue as well as what your members will be willing to pay and remain a member. If your cancellation fees are too high, it might be more challenging to retain those members with really busy schedules. For those members who have signed up with a number of class or appointment packages, they can simply forfeit the session, or you can charge a small fee on top.

When creating your policy, set up time and frequency parameters

There is a big difference between canceling a class 12 hours in advance versus one hour in advance. If a client cancels far enough in advance, it allows greater time for other visitors to rebook that spot. When the opportunity to rebook is a smaller window of time, this cancellation has a greater impact on your venue because that space might go unfilled. Of course, a no-show has the greatest penalty because you don’t have the opportunity to rebook that spot at all unless you have a walk-in waitlist. A 12-hour cancellation policy is standard in the industry.

Also, the frequency of cancellation can also be considered when creating your cancellation policy. if you have members who more frequently cancel late or no-show a class, you should set up a frequency rule such as third strike results in a higher penalty fee.

Communicate your policy clearly

When you communicate your cancellation policy, make it known that this is set as a way to be courteous to every member of the studio so no one misses out. For example, ‘Our cancellation policy is a preventative measure rather than a penalty because the demand for our classes is very high, and no-shows limit other members from participating in classes and is disruptive to our community.’ You should have your policy rules, fees, and reasons clearly listed on your client’s class/appointment bookings as well as at the front desk. Your staff should also be prepared to answer visitor’s questions around why the cancellation policy is in place and the impact no-shows have on the entire venue and community.

Be understanding when possible

Unforeseen obstacles and last-minute challenges sometimes arise. Always listen to their reasoning and be understanding. If it’s a member’s first time late canceling a class, you can make the choice to give them a courtesy waive. Also, sometimes emergencies happen and exceptions can be made as an act of empathy. Just make sure to treat all members equally and don’t play favorites. If working with an aggregator or marketplace, this isn’t always an option as those platforms have their own policies — explain to visitors what your policies are, as well as the policies of any partner platforms.

It can be challenging to balance your customer’s happiness alongside your attendance management and expectations. You, your clients and your staff all have busy schedules and expectations. We live in a world where it’s so easy to book your weekly schedule in advance, which has benefits but can also result in last-minute schedule shuffling. It’s important to be consistent and hold everyone accountable to ensure you have full classes and happy studio-goers who get their spot for an amazing workout or treatment.