How Reservations Can Help Your Restaurant
Reservations at a Glance
Reservations may seem inconsequential, but your reservation system can actually make or break your business’s reputation. As you know, the guest experience doesn’t just start when they step through the threshold of your brick-and-mortar location: the guest experience starts the moment they read, see, or even think anything about your restaurant.
Depending on the type of restaurant you run, reservations may be a critical part of the guest experience. They allow you to predict your daily business and schedule the appropriate amount of staff, among many other advantages.
Modern reservation software is a must for any growing business, making it possible to manage all bookings digitally. This helps you communicate directly with guests, track your capacity in real time, manage digital waitlists, and reduce no-shows to ensure you’re maximizing all available tables.
The successful business owner recognizes that data collection is vital to maintain growth. Reservation systems allow you to collect valuable info on new and returning guests. Over time, you can study all sorts of trends based on this data.
What to Consider When Choosing a Reservation System
There are several items at play when it comes to deciding on a reservation system for your restaurant. Understanding the different options and how they affect your business can make a major difference in your long-term success.
The first thing to consider is whether the reservation software aligns with your business model. You have two main options, and your decision is vital because it can have a massive impact on customer loyalty and on your restaurant’s income.
The first option, an online reservation marketplace, operates as a marketplace for multiple restaurants. They have advanced data collection software and offer the potential to introduce new potential customers to your business.
That being said, these services will imprint their logo and branding on all booking confirmations and reminders, lessening your opportunity to create your own impression on your guests. Ultimately, these services work to bring customers back to their marketplace, and not necessarily to your business.
On the other side of this coin are operator-focused platforms. As you might guess, the priorities here are reversed from the other model. These platforms prioritize your business and your guests’ experience, giving you more direct control.
With an operator-focused platform, you won’t have to compete with other restaurants for customer data or loyalty. Instead, your customers get direct contact with you to make reservations and to learn more about your business.
The drawback to this platform, of course, is that the onus is now on you to bring traffic to your business. Essentially, you’ll have to work harder to bring in customers, but you’ll have an easier time establishing customer loyalty. You’ll also be working with a narrower field of data.
The second item to consider is whether a reservation system integrates with your POS system. Obviously, it’s much more ideal to be able to sync up all the tech in your restaurant.
To get the maximum bang for your buck, you’ll want to learn as much as possible about how your two systems integrate and what functionality you have access to. There are a couple levels depending on how advanced your systems are:
- A basic POS can link a table to a check, update that table’s states, and push the final sales tally to that reservation.
- An advanced POS system will offer all of the above as well as the ability to sync table orders, spend in real-time, and map this data to your guests’ profiles.
The next consideration when choosing a reservations system is how well the system helps keep your business PCI, GDPR, and ADA compliant. These federal and international regulations must always be followed:
PCI: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard
- This is a set of standards requiring businesses to accept, process, store, and transmit credit card information.
- Your reservation system should provide tools to store and manage credit card details without allowing staff to have direct access to this information.
GFPR: General Data Protection Regulation
- Your reservation system should help you securely track and manage all customer data.
- You want it to be easy to export and/or delete any personal customer information.
ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act
- This well-known statute requires businesses to ensure their services are available to citizens with disabilities.
- Check to see if your reservations system offers an ADA-compliant booking process. ADA-compliant features include screen readers and a stark contrast between text and backgrounds.
One final consideration in your journey to choose a reservation system is how it will affect your restaurant’s profitability. Obviously, a system that doesn’t increase your profitability is not worth pursuing.
Consider the profit-increasing features that a system can feature. Revenue-generating tools like reservation upgrades or pre-sell event tickets can help a reservation system pay for itself.
Find a system that lets you organize revenue-generating events and experiences. Even better, look for one that helps you market it via email and monitor engagement. Other features, like allowing customers to pick their own seats or reserve a limited-time menu offering, also help to this end.
Must-Have Features for Your Reservation System
- Floor plan: Systems should be able to recreate your restaurant’s floor plan into a digital format for easy management.
- Table Combination: You’ll want the flexibility to combine or otherwise rearrange tables for large parties and other special occasions.
- Schedule: Incorporating your business hours into the system is a must in order to avoid reservation confusion.
- Reservation Management: The ability to send reminders and confirmations, seeing what tables are available, adjusting the number of guests, and a waitlist are all stress-saving features.
- Diner-book: Document your repeat customers’ food and seating preferences.
- Shift Overview: If you can accurately predict how many guests will be coming in over a certain period of time, you can plan your staffing accordingly.
How Reservations Benefit Your Business and Customer Experience
For all but the most casual of restaurants, reservations offer myriad benefits to every aspect of your business. The main purpose of reservations, of course, is to allow for more predictable service.
If you avoid unexpected rushes or pitfalls, you are that much more likely to be able to provide guests with a memorable experience and convert first-time customers into regulars. But this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Consider these benefits to both your business and to the customer experience:
Reservations Are Maximized
- Increase your restaurant’s revenue by syncing your reservation system with your restaurant’s POS to maximize the number of reservations you can manage
- Optimize your business by identifying and filling empty tables.
- Increase your host’s productivity by letting the system take care of the more labor-intensive aspects of their job.
Analytics Make Business More Predictable
- See how reservations have affected sales in the past.
- Set realistic business goals by basing them on historical data.
- Track shift revenue and average guest spending in real time.
- An integrated reservation system helps track each guest’s status, leading to more tables and more accurate wait times.
- Analytics generated by an integrated system allow for more accurate forecasting in the future.
You Receive More Reviews
- Good reservation systems can automatically prompt guests to write a review of their experience, helping you gain more reviews and more customers.
- A 2017 survey found that 68% percent of restaurant goers have tried a new restaurant because of a positive review.
- A cleaner, sleeker business makes a better impression. You no longer need pen and paper: everything can be operated from a tablet!
- Having everything in digital writing reduces the danger of human error that comes with over-the-phone reservations (e.g., party size, time, food allergies).
More Predictable Wait Times
- Optimize restaurant seating layouts to accommodate more customers and give more accurate wait times.
- Integrated reservation systems can use information from actual restaurant layout for more accurate data.
Automated Reservation Reminders
- Helps reduce no-shows.
- Two-way text or email notifications so guests can let you know if they’re running late or need to cancel.
- Collect valuable data such as contact details, how often they’ve visited, dietary restrictions, special dates and anniversaries, and how much the customer has spent.
- Customer information can be easily integrated into marketing campaigns, as well.
Government Mandates + Capacity Control
- Some states actually require you to have a reservations system in order to legally be open for business.
- The National Restaurant Association strongly recommends a reservations-only model or call-ahead seating for crowd control.
How to Optimize Your Reservation Process
The average rate of reservation no-shows at a typical restaurant is around 15%. That means many businesses are only getting 85% of the revenue they should be able to generate.
While some restaurants can rely solely on walk-in business, offering reservations is the best way to ensure you’re maximizing your revenue. Here are some tips to optimize the process:
Establish a time limit on tables during busy hours
- If you go this route, it's important to be clear and polite about your policies.
- Encourage customers to show up promptly for their reservations
Don't reserve every single table
- Avoid overbooking by setting aside a number of tables for walk-in customers
- Being able to be seated immediately helps encourage walk-in business and builds customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Use OWL (On-Waiting-List) reservations
- OWL aids in giving accurate wait times to guests.
- This process adds a guest to the waitlist, then sets a table aside close to their reservation time.
- The process can lead to significantly shorter wait times for walk-in guests even if it can't eliminate the wait time completely.
How Do Restaurant Reservations Increase?
First and foremost, an easy-to-use, mobile-friendly website is vital for your business to grow. New customers most frequently find restaurants via search engines and social media.
In 2013, 81% of consumers used mobile devices to search for restaurants (compared to using a laptop or desktop computer). Mobile use continues to increase, so mobile-friendly websites are more necessary than ever.
Your website should also include some sort of widget to book a table. Whether it’s a simple link, a button, or something more complex, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for customers to make a reservation at your restaurant. This call to action should be clear, concise, and easy to find.
Via your website, you can also create special discounts and offers for reservations. This can help you drive traffic to your business on slow days of the week, and the promise of saving money can help entice new customers.
Utilizing social media is important not just for increasing reservations, but for promoting and growing your business as a whole. Increasingly, customers want to see reviews and a social media presence before deciding to dine at a restaurant.
A 2018 TripAdvisor survey reveals that 94% of US consumers based a restaurant decision on online reviews. In addition to promoting good reviews by providing good service, try to stand out by keeping your social media pages active and engaging. An inactive social media page may cause potential customers to overlook you.
Adding Reservations to Your Fisherman Website
Fisherman’s Professional Tier makes it easy to implement reservations on your restaurant’s website. The Fisherman reservation tool allows customers to submit their information and request a reservation at the touch of a button.
Fisherman’s reservation tool doesn’t make reservations itself, but instead gives the customer a simple way to notify your business that they want to make a reservation. It’s then up to you to follow up with the customer via phone or email to confirm. This lets you implement your desired reservation system or use Fisherman’s software in addition to an existing system.
Here’s how you can add a reservation link to your Fisherman website:
- On your home dashboard, go to “Navigation.”
- Select a label (e.g., “Reservations”) or create your own
- Paste your URL link into the box.
- Toggle the “Button” option if you’d like the link to show as a button rather than as a regular tab.
- Click “Save” and then “Publish!”
For restaurants on the Professional Tier plan (and above), Fisherman can also add third-party widgets to your website. Simply reach out to email@example.com with your request, and be sure to include the embed code for your widget.
If you are not on the Professional Tier plan, you can also reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to easily upgrade your service and gain access to these advanced features.