Use a single system to manage bookings and reservations

09 December 2022 by

It's now possible to get a 360-degree view of your guests with a single system to take care of room bookings, table reservations and even allergies. Take a look at the technology

Booking tools have been bolted onto many hospitality businesses over recent years, but as people have increasingly embraced digital interfaces there has been a desire for these basic tools to deliver greater functionality to customers and to be seamlessly integrated into businesses.

Henry Seddon, managing director of Access Hospitality, says an effective booking tool needs to be able to manage every step of the query and reservation process in order to simplify the customer journey and maximise efficiency for the business.

"It will handle booking queries, manage reservations, guest communications and table management as well as pre-orders, deposits and payments, and provide a full reporting schedule. Add in the post-visit follow-up as part of your customer relationship management strategy and it is easy to see just how invaluable a tech solution can become for reservations," he explains.

To achieve maximum efficiency Seddon suggests a reservation solution should "fully integrate with other tech platforms to widen the scope of its performance". He adds: "By integrating with a pre-order solution, a digitised menu can be forwarded to share and complete guest orders, which is particularly useful for larger groups and when the venue is busy. It can then provide automatic kitchen and function sheets, and table place cards at the press of a button."

Space saver

Gillian Graham, sales director of the hospitality business the Scotsman Group, is enjoying the broad capabilities of the Access Collins solution. "The technology capability also enables us to see and understand the true value of our sales team and our pre-booked numbers within the business. We can maximise the use of our spaces via the space optimiser button and enable the venue teams to see a floorplan screen as well as a diary page, which has transformed our business."

She adds: "On our previous system we were converting an average 20% of enquiries, but this rose to 40% after changing to Access Collins and we are now currently sitting around a 78% conversion rate. The technology has provided wider, embedded benefits and I'm delighted with the number of auto-confirmed bookings that are now coming through as these are confirmed quickly and simply, saving us hours of labour."

Nick Kokonas, founder and chief executive of Tock, works with UK restaurants including the Fat Duck and harbours some reservations about the way many booking solutions have simply bolted on added functionality.

"We have all the normal things such as table booking slots, but also many other things, including the ability to handle food to go orders and prix fix menus. To do this on platforms like Resy you would need [to link into] three systems with different windows open. It's not a good workflow or customer journey. It's often very clunky and there is a need to register all your info again on different screens," he says.

Improving the customer journey has certainly been the objective of Simon Bullingham, founder and chief executive of Journey Hospitality, who says the move by luxury hotels to build-out multiple revenue streams led him to create the equivalent of Shopify for hotels with seamless integration between the different bookable parts – encompassing rooms, spas, restaurants and retail sales.

"The hospitality industry is behind retail and needs to be more integrated. In hotels it's about having a widget for all the different things but this means they are all then separate. We wanted to build an e-commerce platform where five or six transactions for the one stay would involve only a single email [for the confirmations]," he explains.

The company's OneJourney solution involves a bespoke front-end built for each client that behind the scenes uses APIs to link the various booking tools together. Ross Grieve, managing director of Seaham Hall, says such a solution fitted with his strategy of building more of a direct business and moving away from relying on the myriad booking sites.

"The bookings of rooms, spa treatments and restaurant tables can now all be purchased in a single basket, whereas before it was all separate conversations with the customers," he says, adding that behind the OneJourney-designed front end for Seaham Hall are links to third-party booking tools Opera for its rooms, PremierCore for its spa, and Resy for its restaurant.

This arrangement gives Seaham Hall real-time availability across each of these revenue streams as well as a richer, more visual experience for the customers, which Grieve says has boosted revenues with "considerable" growth at the spa and higher overall average basket sizes. According to Bullingham, properties that have used the solution typically enjoyed a 63% increase in booking value, 30% increase in multi-basket orders, and a 26% reduction in phone call volume, which has eased the burden on the reservations team.

Digitising data

What can also help boost these numbers is the mining of the data that can be potentially thrown off by booking tools. Kokonas points out that far too few operators are on top of the data within their businesses, which includes that derived from booking tools. "How many restaurants look at their revenues per hour? We've adapted this as sales-per-seat-hour. It's a unique way to question your data. All restaurants know the average spend by the customer, but they don't know how long that person was at the table."

""Welding booking tools with a queuing system can help hospitality venues to fill in those gaps when they need to"

Using booking data from Tock overlayed with point of sale data enables restaurants to gain insights that can help them determine whether tables should be turned quicker or whether diners should be prompted to spend more while they are at their table.

This focus on data is also evident at SevenRooms, with the business suggesting that the greatest downfall of third-party booking tools is that they don't enable restaurants to own and leverage their guest data. With many third-party marketplaces, guest data and insights rarely make it back to the restaurant, preventing it from being used in a meaningful way. In contrast, the SevenRooms model ensures that restaurants not only have total ownership of that data, but are empowered to use it to create deeper connections with diners in ways that will improve the restaurant experience and foster loyalty on a long-term basis.

The solution involves the use of Autotags, which support the building of customised guest profiles. These incorporate key information, such as allergens, average spend and booking history, providing operators with a 360-degree view of their diners that can help deliver customer-centric experiences.

Any aspect of an interaction with a diner – what they order, how much they spend, how frequently they dine in – can be collated and applied directly by operators to better deliver exceptional experiences and drive that all-important customer retention. Even for walk-in only restaurants, there are benefits to be had. Having a crowded entrance area can be daunting for diners and staff alike, so virtual waitlists can take away this burden.

Diners can join the waitlist, view estimated wait times, view menus and message through two-way SMS. Plus, leveraging digital waitlists enables restaurants to capture valuable data on their customers that can be used to market to them in order to get them back into the restaurant.

George Emkes, product manager at Dojo, believes there is value to be had from incorporating queue management and waitlists into the booking tool armoury of restaurants. "Standalone booking tools have a reputation for creating dead time for tables and an inconsistent customer flow. Welding booking tools with a queuing system can help hospitality venues to fill in those gaps when they need to and also ensure better management of peak demand," he says.

Front of the queue

As well as booking tools being able to serve up the most relevant restaurants for consumers at the time they'd like to book, the implementation of queuing systems brings an additional upside: "Providing customers with the much-wanted access to restaurants that may be fully booked, or not even offer bookings at all."

As well as providing access to waitlists and queues, bookings can be further optimised by operators with multiple venues recommending sister restaurants when a particular venue is fully booked. SevenRooms works with London's Flat Iron Square, a 40,000 sq ft food, drink and entertainment hub. It was able to cross-sell bookings at its other venues on a single landing page, resulting in as many as 3,000 additional booking requests at sister venue St Felix Place in just one day. The company has also benefited from prepayments on bookings, which helped boost Flat Iron Square's bottom line by more than £127,000 in just eight months.

Pre-pay is also huge for Tock, according to Kokonas, who says the company has taken a billion dollars in pre-pay over the past year, which has helped with the headache of no-shows. "The biggest part of this is small deposits of £5 or £10 made with a single click. It's the fastest growing piece of Tock and with it the level of no-shows goes to only 3%. People have a little skin in the game and it reminds them to call to cancel or edit their booking. Even a tiny amount of money reminds people to cancel," he explains.

This ability to leverage increasing functionality from the booking process suggests the experience for both customers and operators will continue to improve and highlights how technology plays an ever greater role in the industry.

Avoiding booking-related fraud in the hotel industry

With the average losses to fraud measured at over £2b in the UK hotels sector, tackling the problem is critical in the current economic climate as history makes it clear that downturns and crises are the precursors to increased fraudulent conduct.

Brian Kinsella, senior regional fraud manager at global payments provider Elavon, says the problem is compounded by the shortage of staff that is leaving many inexperienced people within hotels at the mercy of fraudsters. He suggests all businesses need to be aware of three key criminal tactics.

Firstly, there is fraudulent pre-paid bookings with fraudsters often posing as wealthy individuals booking for a friend or as a fake travel agent, using compromised credit card numbers, to make bookings at high-end hotels and paying in advance. These bookings are then sold on to unsuspecting travellers who pay directly to the fraudsters. This results in financial loss to the hotel when the genuine cardholder raises a chargeback, and potential reputational damage when the unwitting travellers arrive.

Secondly, there is hotel reservation fraud, which occurs when organised criminals make large bookings on a credit card followed by a cancellation and refund request to a different account. When the genuine owner of the card raises a chargeback, it will be indefensible, and the hotel faces a double financial loss.

Thirdly, hotels also need to be aware of unrelated services fraud, which happens when criminals order items not usually sold by a hotel when booking for a fake conference, business meeting or private event such as a wedding. Items might include bottles of whisky, high-value souvenirs or tablet computers. Having paid for the goods using compromised credit card numbers, the criminals arrange for delivery of the items or order a freight company to collect them from the hotel.

As criminals continue to target the industry, hotels must be proactive and stay on top of fraud developments in order to protect their customers, their reputations and also their bottom lines.

Flexibility and accessibility at Opheem

For Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Opheem in Birmingham, a booking system needed to deliver both flexibility and accessibility in order that the business could deliver the high levels of experience that customers expect at high-end venues.

Andrew Frost, director of operations at Opheem, says: "The booking system we used previously was static to a server. And bookings can change within five minutes, so you need to be able to adapt and see what's coming in while taking bookings on the fly."

He found OpenTable gave the required flexibility. "It's very user friendly. I don't have to go into the back-end to make changes, which I previously did with the other system we used. It ends up being hard work. With OpenTable, I can open stuff up, move things around and even contact guests directly," he explains.

The solution enables restaurants to confirm if a guest is attending, even if they don't necessarily want to be contacted over the phone. "We still phone diners who have made a reservation, as we want to offer that personalised service, but giving guests the option to confirm their booking through OpenTable has definitely made life easier," says Frost.

The other key benefit is accessibility to the booking solution: "I can make sure we've all got the app on our phones, meaning anyone in the team can have a quick look and see what they can expect for the evening. Everyone gets a heads-up, from dietary requirements to a special occasion."

When it comes to fine dining, communication is key to providing excellent service, he says, adding that "getting a booking can be tricky, especially when we're really busy and the phone's going off the hook". Having access to OpenTable, either directly on its website or app or through the Opheem website, allows the team to pick-up bookings and queries without being tied to a PC.

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