Let’s get right to it. We have a problem, swappers. And I need your help.

First… the good news. We had an incredible swap this past Saturday (June 22). And when I say incredible, I’m not exaggerating. Every time I leave a swap I can hardly believe my good fortune. This time I traded chocolate sauce, mostarda, and melon jam for everything from kombucha to ricotta cheese to blackberry honeycomb brittle. It’s a great feeling to open my pantry and feel like I’m pulling things from the shelves of a gourmet grocery store. But it’s even better, because it’s all homemade or homegrown by my fellow Indy Food Swappers.

Gratitude. To infinity and beyond.

Unfortunately, we have an issue that’s been creeping up on us, and reached a peak at this last swap. Specifically, a problem with late cancellations and no-shows.

As you probably know, there are a limited number of spots available for our swaps. And dating back to our second swap in October of 2011, we fill up quickly, and go to a waitlist. The same happened for this swap. Unfortunately, by the time the swap came on Saturday, we had twelve late cancellations, and three no-shows. For those of you who like numbers, that’s a 42% cancellation/no-show rate… a record for us.

The killer is that we had a waitlist of people who wanted those tickets to the swap but didn’t get one. By the time the swappers with tickets cancelled, it was too late for all but two of the people on the waitlist to join us. And when I say late cancellation, I’m referring to the five days before the swap. Because history has demonstrated that it’s tough for people on the waitlist to participate if they have less time than that to plan and prepare.

And let me say that I totally understand things happen beyond a swapper’s control. Illness, family or personal emergencies, a last-minute change in work schedule, or other extenuating circumstances can throw a monkey-wrench in your Saturday afternoon agenda. I get that, and make logistical plans assuming that a handful of people who intended to come will have to cancel late in the game. But, outside of that, please understand the impact a late cancellation has on other people registered for the swap (who prepare for a large crowd), or people on the waitlist (who wanted a ticket but didn’t get one).

So, the point of this post is two-fold:

  • To make you aware of the problem. I certainly don’t think people who cancel have ill intentions. I believe most think it’s not a big deal because they’ve heard about the waitlist and assume it will be no problem filling the spot. But you should know it is a problem to fill the spot in the last days before the swap. Most people on the waitlist need more notice than that to participate.
  • To ask for your input regarding a solution. Are you involved in a group or organization with free events that has dealt with this issue before? What did you do to address the situation?

My hope is that by bringing it to the attention of the swap community now, the problem will resolve itself. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to come up with a plan B regarding cancellations and no-shows. In talking with swap organizers in other cities who have run into this problem, I’ve heard the following suggestions:

  • Charge a fee for swap tickets. People are always more likely to attend something they’ve paid for in advance. (Our swaps have always been free, though registration is required.)
  • Keep the tickets free, but require a credit card number at registration via the secure online transaction option at Eventbrite. A fee is only charged in the event of a late cancellation or no-show (except in extenuating circumstances).

All funds collected through either of the above options would be put back into the swap for supplies.

As I said before, I would prefer to keep the swap registration as it currently is: free of charge, and using the honor system for late cancellations without official penalty. But if the trajectory continues with a high rate of late cancellations and no-shows, we will have to make a change, because it’s hurting our swap community.

Anyone who knows me understands that it gnaws at my soul to have people on the waitlist. Seriously. I just hate the idea that someone wants to participate but can’t because of space. But I also feel it’s my responsibility to protect the swap experience for those who register in advance, and part of that includes capping the number so the event runs smoothly and to everyone’s satisfaction. Almost two years of running the swap has demonstrated pretty clearly to me that the magic number is between 30 and 35 participants. Any more than that, and the swapping itself gets too chaotic. So we have 35 spots available at registration, which gives me some wiggle room on a few late cancellations. But Mama Bear cannot abide a 42% cancellation rate. Especially when she knows that there are people who really wanted to come, but can’t make it happen on a moment’s notice.

So, let’s cross our fingers and hope that this works itself out, now that everyone is in the loop on the issue. Because I really don’t want to go to a Plan B. I like the old way of doing it. Plus, I’d like to avoid adding a punitive element to the registration process. It doesn’t feel like an organic part of our group or our goals.

We like to spread the gospel of canning jams and pickles. Let’s leave the cans of whoop-ass to others.

Let me know your thoughts. I’m really interested in feedback. Swap love, gang!

Suzanne Krowiak
Founder, Indy Food Swappers