When used to their full potential, modern restaurant reservation systems don't only take bookings and manage tables, they can also provide a significant boost to the bottom line. Elly Earls explains
Restaurateurs no longer expect their guest reservation system just to take bookings and manage tables. They also want it to integrate with other systems, build customer loyalty, generate business and ultimately boost the bottom line. Meanwhile, guests want a smooth, simple, mobile-enabled booking journey.
Sounds like a tough ask? Not for modern restaurant reservation systems. The most advanced can do all this in exchange for a fixed monthly fee. It's a boon for operators who, in shifting political times and with an uncertain pound, are struggling to justify spending money to create their own systems.
Today's guests have a few must-haves when booking a restaurant. Not only do they want an effortless journey from the beginning of their reservation to its completion with as few clicks as possible, they also expect real-time availability, easy-to-understand second choices if their preferred time isn't available, reviews and recommendations from other diners, and the option to book by mobile.
"Over 60% of UK adults now own mobile phones and 95% of smartphone users use them to search for restaurants," says Mike Conyers, founder and chief executive of online reservation system provider ResDiary. "This makes mobile optimisation for reservations essential. Research shows that 64% of restaurant searches result in a reservation being made within an hour, proving consumers are making reservations on the go."
That said, choice is still king, according to Olivia FitzGerald, managing director at another online booking system provider, LiveRes. "Customers today live in a multi-channel world, and expect to be able to book via the brand's website, using an app, on a mobile device, on the phone or in person by joining a waiting list," she notes. "Smart brands offer all these channels, synchronising and updating them all in real time with accurate table status data from the EPoS [electronic point of sale] system."
Restaurateurs' list of demands for these systems is longer. On top of advanced table management capabilities that maximise bookings without overloading the kitchen, they expect to be able to gather useful data and insight on their customers, who they can then communicate with via the system, reach new customers through online and mobile portals, and have everything from EPoS to loyalty programmes integrated seamlessly with reservations.
When it comes to table management both ResDiary and LiveRes go above and beyond, delivering solutions that maximise profit from each and every table, time slot and diner. It's something restaurateurs are increasingly concerned with as margins get tighter and the battle for consumer spend becomes tougher.
"At ResDiary, our motto is ‘empowering restaurants to optimise yield', something we always strive towards," says Conyers. "It's why we spent 10 years making our table management system: to optimise bookings, to help control services and ultimately, to improve profit margins."
ResDiary has recently acquired Nudge CRM, which allows users of the system to target returning guests with personalised promotions. According to Conyers, this feature is particularly important for smaller venues. "They're often the type of venues where guests return often and they want to be able to reward loyal customers," he explains. "With Res?Diary's built-in CRM [customer relationship management] system, they can securely store vital information about their customers in one place and personalise guest visits, giving them a better experience."
And integration doesn't stop there. Depending on a venue's preferences, ResDiary can integrate with EPoS systems, property management systems and consumer apps. It's a similar story at LiveRes.
This is worlds away from many restaurant operations, which generate huge amounts of useful data but all too often store it in inaccessible, conflicting systems. "That's because in many cases the IT systems have been added to on a piecemeal basis to new systems, such as online guest reservations, going live without integrating with existing ones," FitzGerald says.
"Having a handful of incompatible systems represents a significant opportunity missed. Increasingly IT is the engine of the entire company's efficiency and profitability. And with margins tight, consumer confidence shaky and the market more competitive than ever, even a small improvement in efficiency could make the difference between a restaurant business that's surviving and a business that's thriving."
Restaurateurs are also looking for new ways to reach new customers with software that integrates with their reservation systems. It's something that ResDiary is working hard to facilitate. The company's consumer app, ResDiary Now, for example, lets diners instantly reserve nearby restaurants while on the go, delivering those reservations directly into the restaurant's live diary while integrating with their CRM.
ResDiary also offers an online reservation portal, www.resdiary.com, which has seen a 211% increase in page views over the past year, and has recently launched partnerships with the Harden's, VisitScotland and Time Out websites. "There's also a venture with one of the world's largest loyalty schemes, which powers a number of airlines, in the pipeline for 2017. It will allow our customers to tap into a cost-effective scheme, which has proven results across the globe," adds Conyers. Alongside these big names, ResDiary has joined forces with some local sites such as Restaurants Brighton, the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival and Lovin Dublin to engage with diners in those localities.
Meanwhile, reservation and payment app Velocity also enhances its partners' exposure by featuring them on a global marketplace for international premium diners. "Beyond dining reservations, we also allow for unique experience bookings such as a truffle tasting dinner in Mayfair or a brunch in the Hamptons with helicoptered service from Manhattan," says the company's COO Amanda Terry. She adds that many diners want the opportunity to book last-minute openings instead of committing to a date weeks in advance, and have also been impressed with the company's mobile payment offering.
So are operators making the most of the plethora of features modern restaurant reservation systems offer? According to Conyers, whose company releases an update to its system every month, it varies significantly.
"As with any technology, there is a percentage of super-users who know the system inside out and some who just use a small portion of it, but we certainly find restaurateurs sometimes miss out on taking advantage of great features that can make their operation run smoother," he says. "We think we can help operators improve on this by providing a range of live training, site visits and video resources to keep them up to date."
There is similar variety among LiveRes's customers. "There are operators out there using their integrated reservation systems to maximum effect. They are tracking the customer journey, measuring demand and booking trends such as group sizes and busy periods. This is not only helping them with forward planning, but also addressing any problem areas," says FitzGerald.
"However, those working in an IT silo or using third-party online booking partners are likely to be falling behind in terms of competitive advantage, and with restaurant sales starting to plateau this could be the difference between future success or failure."
Moving forward, providers will need to keep on their toes to cater to the ever-evolving habits of the consumer. For Conyers, easy payments and clever partnerships will be key to success.
"Consumers now expect dining out to be convenient, and in-app payments are something that would facilitate this. It's a feature the casual dining sector has started to use and we predict it will spread across the industry," he says. "It saves time for the guest and the restaurateur, and technology systems are catching up with this."
ResDiary will also seek to partner with various businesses to add to the convenience of both the restaurateur and the diner. "We want to enable guests to book from a variety of sources and have these reservations follow the operator's rules," Conyers explains. "To enable this, we've launched a concierge programme to encourage bookings from local third-party bookers, where promoters of venues can be rewarded for encouraging bookings. With the cost of commission from some booking sites crippling operators, we're thinking outside the box to keep costs down and yet still make partnerships viable on both sides."
More and more integrations are also to be expected, whether with taxi apps, flight booking sites or even dating apps. "Diners will want the convenience of doing everything seamlessly: arranging a date, reserving a table and never leaving their original app," Conyers predicts.
Seamless integration at Bistrot Pierre
French restaurant chain Bistrot Pierre wanted a reservation system that would sync seamlessly into its existing website, was quick and easy for its customers to use, and integrated with its EPoS system.
It chose LiveRes as its online booking widget. LiveRes can be configured to individual design specifications, so the system integrates seamlessly into the company's website. And on top of the front-end being easy for customers to use, the back-end system is intuitive for the Bistrot Pierre team. Plus, because it's built for mobile and touchscreen use, customers as well as staff can access the system on any device, anywhere and at any time.
LiveRes also integrates with Bistrot Pierre's existing EPoS system, which is provided by Zonal, offering the team key advantages.
"The till system speaks to the reservation system, so it can see where a table's at, how long they've got left in the restaurant, and when that table can be rebooked, maximising bookings incredibly," says regional manager Simon Barnes.
The system also captures a huge amount of data, which stays with Bistrot Pierre, is never given out to a third party, and will soon be used for the company's new loyalty scheme.
"Historically, we've had a card and a stamper, so any time someone would come they'd get a stamp and eventually redeem a free meal," says Barnes. "But in the next month and a half, we'll be launching an electronic loyalty scheme linked to the EPoS system, so it will be very easy for our guests and our staff to use."
The biggest benefit Bistrot Pierre has seen from the system is its maximisation of bookings. "I've had a few instances where on a busy Saturday night, LiveRes has increased covers by between 10% and 15%," Barnes says.
London Steakhouse Co gets technical on table yield
ResDiary super-user James Robertson, the director of London Steakhouse Co, which operates the original and only two steakhouses worldwide owned by Marco Pierre White, might not have known he needed all the features ResDiary had to offer. But now he's got them, he wouldn't go back.
Not only do guests get what they want - real-time availability with easy-to-understand alternatives if their first choice isn't available) - but London Steakhouse Co does too. "We have the ability to store and charge credit card details, so we can take payments when guests make a reservation. We've got total control over all data captured by the system, which guests are happy to enter. And we can also use the system as a marketing tool for sending emails to our customers," Robertson explains.
Plus, the team can control table yield and management to ensure the kitchen never gets overstressed and that bookings are maximised.
ertson has even suggested new features, which the ResDiary team added. "We wanted to have separate channels for different sorts of guests, so we could display certain special offers - for example, for returning guests - on certain channels," he explains, adding that London Steakhouse Co has worked closely with ResDiary on this and other features. "I've now got things that weren't available previously, which has also helped ResDiary with moving the product forward."
There are a couple more features on Robertson's wish list. "When you phone up your pizza company, they know who you are and where you live before you say anything, but restaurants don't do this. I think a caller ID feature opening windows with customer data would be great," he says.
"Best-fit table solutions would also be brilliant. No-one has built an algorithm yet that can consider a new reservation request and theoretically unallocate every other table and best-fit everything around the new reservation that comes in."
Sponsor's comment: ResDiary
ResDiary is a cloud-based, restaurant reservation system, built by industry experts to help restaurateurs manage their operations and grow their revenues. It delivers yield management tools, which ensure optimisation of covers at peak times. ResDiary also has inbuilt CRM capabilities to help grow customer databases and online profiles and develop relationships and loyalty.
Millions of covers are booked by restaurants every month via ResDiary platforms, and the application is used by over 6,000 venues across six continents. Reservations can be made via restaurant websites, APIs, social media and third-party sites, 24/7. In addition, the consumer-facing booking portal, www.resdiary.com, attracts more than 500,000 visits per month and allows free, incremental reservations for restaurants who are ResDiary customers. The ResDiary promise is never to charge commissions on bookings made through its own assets.