Guests who don't show up, staff who don't answer the phone and managers who email restaurant visitors back late: for the hospitality industry, every empty table is missed revenue. Too many bookings can also cause problems. From long queues in the restaurant to, in the worst case, turning guests away. A good reservation system is therefore indispensable for a successful restaurant. But how do you choose the reservation system that suits you? What should you pay attention to? In this article, we share our tips. So you will soon know exactly why you don't have to work on the reservation system, but how to make the system work for you.
Efficiency = key
Until a few years ago, restaurant reservations were made via phone calls - the waiting staff noted the name, time and date of guests on their schedules to reserve the table. A waste of the staff member's precious time, as they could have set the tables or served guests in the same time. The advent of online reservation systems has revolutionised the restaurant world, making the whole reservation process a lot more efficient, both for the restaurant and the guest.
While some eateries still take reservations on a first come first serve policy, restaurants that enable online reservations are seizing the advantage of a predictable outcome of the day. Guests can easily reserve their tables from home or work, and you know in advance exactly how busy it is going to be that day or evening. A good reservation system therefore helps you manage the constant influx of reservations and guests professionally and hospitably. And the great thing is: by giving your guests a more comfortable (frictionless) restaurant experience, you can give your business a business boost. More full tables, is more turnover. A powerful table reservation system can help with that.
Online booking is a must
Online reservations have therefore become an essential part of the restaurant world in the year 2020. Due to the convenience, more than 80% of restaurants now use technology to streamline their reservation system and with results, a whopping 95% of these restaurants have reported growth by using this technology.
"Many restaurants struggled to fill tables through the [previous] recession and then turned to online reservation systems to keep their tables filled," says Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of research firm Technomic in Chicago. "The downside is that there is a fee involved, but I think many restaurants are willing to pay that fee because they feel there is an extra opportunity to build some sales."
Yet in practice, we see that there is room for improvement at many restaurants. One online reservation system is not the other. Certainly not if you use social media and Google in addition to an online reservation system to attract more guests. We take you through the, as far as The Fully Bookers is concerned, necessary features of a good restaurant reservation system.
1. User-friendly interface
We start with the basics. A good restaurant reservation system should be intuitive and easy for guests to use so they can book quickly. Not every guest is tech savvy, so take that into account. Let your grandpa or digitally savvy aunt make a reservation with you as a test. If they succeed easily, you'll know you're on the right track. In any case, make sure you have minimum clicks. On the Internet, the more clicks potential guests have to make in order to make a reservation, the more likely they are to abandon.
What should at least be easily accessible is:
- the reserve button
- the times still available
- the button to confirm the reservation
Booking and cancellation policies should also be transparent to ensure that guests have confidence in the booking and how their data is handled.
2. Choose multiple secure payment methods
Although more and more people are easily spending money online, for example in online shops, it is important that they trust your restaurant and its online payment environment. For example, if you let guests make a down payment, you don't want the unprofessional look of your website to make them hesitate. By choosing secure payment methods, such as credit card, Paypal and iDeal, you put your guests at ease. They know the payment methods and are less likely to experience a barrier to making an online payment.
Also, always choose different payment methods. That way, you can be sure there is a suitable payment method for every possible guest. American systems sometimes only work with credit cards or Paypal, but in the Netherlands we have iDeal. Adding iDeal as a payment option makes it immediately easier for a larger group to book at your restaurant.
3. Opt for a simple calendar with a display of available times
The simpler the calendar, the better. After all, when guests want to make reservations with you, they want to know quickly what times they can come to you. A simple and clear calendar is therefore the basis of a good reservation system. But beware: the success of the calendar largely depends on how well the available times are set on the calendar. Therefore, always make sure it is up to date. Is the restaurant closed one evening due to a private party? Then make sure that date is not available in the online calendar. It sounds simple, but is one of the main sources of annoyance. Both for guests and restaurants.
So much for the basics, but a good reservation system can do so much more. It can support you in your online marketing and actively contribute to ensuring that your tables are full and efficiently occupied, so that you maximise your profits in addition to a nice turnover.
4. Sell tickets for events, special days and groups
State-of-the-art reservation systems allow you to offer spots for special events, days and groups in addition to a fixed calendar. In maximising occupancy and turnover, these types of reservations are particularly efficient. With our clients, we see that they lead to nice turnovers with high margins and are easy to sell through online marketing, for instance with a smart advertising campaign on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. You can make it as crazy as you want: from a romantic three-course dinner for Valentine's Day to a unique offer for birthday parties, your reservation system gives you the flexibility to sell all the packages your restaurant offers online.
5. Make the results of your online campaigns measurable
The best booking systems also provide insight into the reach and conversion of your booking page. This is incredibly important information, which you can use to quickly increase your turnover. Especially if you link the figures to your online advertising campaigns on social media and Google. For this reason, we like working with Formitable. That system makes it possible to measure our campaigns from A to Z.
When you can make everything measurable, online marketing becomes really fun. Because from then on, it means we can see exactly from which ads, which reservations are made. This allows us to continually optimise the marketing campaign. We stop the ads that turn out not to work well and improve the ads that do well. The ad campaign thus becomes increasingly efficient, which is great for you: the better the ad campaign, the lower your costs for attracting reservations will be.
6. Link your reservations to an email campaign
Restaurants often have email lists lying around with as many as hundreds, and often even thousands, of contacts. These are data from guests who have visited the restaurant in previous years. E-mail is the way to stay top of mind with guests at important moments. For example, you can invite them to a special event at your establishment, send them a digital card for their birthday or inform them about special offers. Just make sure you design these emails to be fun for your guest to receive, otherwise they will be marked as spam and you will actually lose contact with your guests. Want to know how to use e-mail marketing smartly and well? Then get in touch with us. The Fully Bookers gladly think with you.
7. Make sure you choose a system that continuously evolves
We see all too many booking systems come across that were once developed but then never updated. Think, for example, of old plugins of WordPress or systems from companies that do not have space to invest in development. As a business owner, you end up paying the price for this. Even if a system is affordable at first glance.
Developments on the internet are so rapid that reservation systems have to keep up with the times to work properly. If they don't, they will eventually miss the connection with what your guest - and you - want. Consider, for example, the measurability we just discussed, but also the ability for guests to adjust reservations online.
Ultimately, you use an online reservation system to bring in as many reservations as possible, and you do so by making it as easy as possible for the guest and yourself. This means that all reservation systems that are not fully optimised for today's features and requirements are a priori unsuitable.
How to proceed now?
We hope this article helps you choose a good reservation system and that you look beyond the cost. After all, an efficiently designed reservation system not only brings you convenience, it also gives you the marketing opportunity to attract guests for the smallest possible investment. How nice would it be to know exactly which knobs to turn to get your business full? Even on a usually quiet Tuesday evening or weekday morning?
This is why we always advise our clients to take a good look at their online booking system and, if necessary, switch. Preferably to Formitable.