Electronic reservation systems are capable of so much more than allowing customers to book a hotel room or restaurant table. Ross Bentley reports
Reservation systems sit at the heart of a hotel's operation, providing a tool that allows staff to track the status of rooms and availability, and increasingly giving guests the ability to self-book online.
But reservation systems rarely sit in isolation and, as technology consultant Jacqui Bentley McKenna states in the box, are usually found within property management systems bundled with other applications such as back office systems and marketing tools.
Marketing using customer data is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the process, helping to stimulate repeat business and driving customers to a hotel's own website where margins are far better than if guests arrive via third-party websites.
In the restaurant space, the integration of reservations systems with other applications such as EPoS and table management software is becoming more common. The shift towards diners booking online also continues apace with companies such as Livebookings and OpenTable leading the way.
Mobile bookings are also on the increase. According to Livebookings, more than 5% of visits to restaurant websites now come via a mobile device. This hints at a new generation of tech-savvy diners - a fork in one hand and a smart phone in the other - who are more than comfortable to reserve their table while on the move.
what you should be looking for from your hotel reservations systems
Jacqui Bentley Mckenna, director, Regoran It is unlikely you will buy a standalone reservation system for your hotel, as usually it will be bundled with a number of other applications within a property management system (PMS).
Alongside a front office reservation system, a PMS will offer the ability to post guest charges, for the mini-bar and restaurant to the bill for check out. It should also offer some marketing tools that will enable you to capture and use your customer database to send out targeted promotions based on guest preferences and even special dates. Most PMS also offer a full back office feature that automatically produces invoices and updates sales ledgers.
When talking to suppliers about buying a reservation system, it is important you think about exactly what you want from that system prior to initiating any conversation. Do you, for example, want it to handle your website bookings, help you manage your database of customers and also manage the day-to-day front office routine procedures?
Ask yourself: ‘Will it grow my business?' Does it offer rate management tools that allow you to manage the best available rate based on trends in the market and historical data. Once seen as the preserve of advanced systems, this forecasting and rate management ability should be a standard "bolt on" option in the majority of systems these days.
It is unlikely that one system will offer everything, so you need to ensure the system ticks all your boxes. Make a list of the must have features for your business, so when you are in conversation with a supplier you don't get blinded by all the bells and whistles. Listen to what your supplier says - and doesn't say - and ensure it has everything on your checklist.
technology to ramp up your reservations
Pocket Diner Online restaurant reservation software company Livebookings has developed a mobile optimised version of its booking tool, called Pocket Diner, which will run on most types of handheld devices.
From £19 per month, restaurants can have a mobile presence with the look of a dedicated app that allows users to book a table while on the move. Pocket Diner is also designed to use GPS functionality found in many devices to locate visitors and deliver details on the position of a restaurant, including a link to Google Maps.
Table by text Technology firm Torex has developed a front of house guest and table management system for restaurants that automatically texts customers when their table is ready.
Called Text 2 Seat, the product is made up of a graphical screen that allows staff to see the status of every table, the number of people waiting and the any reserved table.
Estimated waiting times are provided to help manage customer expectations. The system then sends an SMS to the customer when the table is ready, allowing the restaurant to operate a virtual queuing system.
tips to get the best from your reservation systems
â- Demand-driven pricing functionality should be standard in today's PMS systems - allowing you to use trends and historical data to take a sophisticated approach to room pricing and forecasting.
â- Ensure your PMS has integrated interfaces with other systems, such as EPoS, website, telephone and key card systems.
â- Make the most of your customer database to drive promotions and to attract potential guests/diners to your website.
â- Consider purchasing your software via software as a service, which means no upfront costs and access to support and automatic upgrades - particularly attractive to smaller properties.
The Langham Hospitality Group this month launched a booking service which allows users of Facebook to directly reserve rooms via the company's fan page on the social networking website.
Visitors enter the booking service by clicking on the special offers link on the fan page, which takes them directly to the group's real-time reservations page. Facebook fans can check availability at 12 of its properties worldwide and instantly book the rooms of their choice.
Director of eâ'commerce Sean Seah explains: "Linking the ability to reserve our hotels via Facebook, the world's most powerful social networking website, is a natural extension of our services in a world that's constantly connected."
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Âstay within the rules Staff at Raymond Blanc's restaurant chain Brasserie Blanc are using a table reservation package linked to their EPoS system to ensure they don't book any more tables than their staff can comfortably serve.
QuadraNet's bespoke table reservation package, runs off a Partner Tech EPoS system and allows users to create specific rules about table numbers for particular days and times. They can also plan table layouts onscreen to help them make decisions on which tables they can push together or separate to accommodate customers in the best way possible.
"The system can help our managers, chefs, kitchen and waiting staff do their jobs more easily, freeing them up to run their restaurants more efficiently," says Brasserie Blanc managing director, John Lederer.
focus takes central view
Hotel chain Focus has a reservations system that enables managers at head office to see one central view of all availability and booking activity across all 12 properties, most of which are now branded as Mercure hotels.
This enables them to advise staff at particular hotels about possible switch selling if one property is full, and allows them to make decisions about where marketing budgets and promotions may be best directed if, for example, bookings are down for one property compared with another.
The system, which is hosted remotely, also allows for room rates to be adjusted centrally and interfaces with hotel websites and GDS systems.