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Your Complete Guide to Restaurant Reservations


Katie McCann

Before we dive into everything restaurant reservations, bear with us as we take you back to high school math.

Mike owns the hottest restaurant in town, a cute little Italian place near the water. They have 40 tables that are constantly full and, on weekends, they hold 10 of those tables for restaurant reservations. And, since it’s a family kind of place, the average party size is about four people. Since they’re so busy, they end up turning away people who walk-in because they’re holding tables for reservations.

Now, Mike’s team gets through four seatings on any given night. But, in the U.S., 20% of reservations end up being no-shows. In Mike’s case, what that means is that two tables at each seating never show up.

If the average restaurant bill is $13.75 per person plus a 15% tip, that’s over $60 lost when a table of four sits empty.

When Mike holds tables for no-shows, in one night he could be leaving $250 or more on the table. 

Over a week, month, or year, that number can really add up.

But a smart restaurant reservations system allows you manage everything digitally, in one system. That means Mike – and you! – can keep that $250 a night back in your pocket. Whether you’re struggling with no-shows, filling tables on slow nights, or trying to understand why new customers aren’t turning into regulars, a reservation management system can help.

Welcome to the Complete Guide to Restaurant Reservations, which gives you answers to all things reservations, including:

  • What reservations look like at your business
  • The value of reservations – and how this value helps you and your customers
  • What a reservation management platform is and how it helps
  • The cost of a reservation management platform
  • The considerations when upgrading or switching your system
  • How to prepare your restaurant for a new reservation management platform

Download now and learn how a restaurant reservations system can help your business thrive.

An Introduction to Restaurant Reservations 

To get you started, let’s take a high-level look at what restaurant reservations are, why you need a reservation management platform, and what are some of the costs that into that kind of system.

What Are Reservations?

Restaurant reservations are an arrangement guests make in advance, confirming a table for them at the specified time. Reservations are made by phone, through a restaurant’s website, third-party reservation sites or apps, at the restaurant in person, or even with a text message. Convenience is key when it comes to diners getting a seat at their favorite venue.

But beyond what they are to guests, reservations provide quite a lot for the restaurant owner. With the right system, reservations can be used to help your restaurant:

  • Bring more customers through the door
  • Collect valuable info on guests (new and returning)
  • Manage your waitlists
  • Schedule the right amount of staff

You can do the basics of reservations manually, through calls and a log book. Or you can invest in a reservation management platform that lets you accept online reservations, set up auto-reminders, promote your restaurant on other apps and sites, collect customer information, and more.

To find the right system for your business, you have to know what your top priorities are. Ask yourself, what are the gaps in your current system or process for taking reservations? What are you not able to do right now that you’d like to?  Where do you want to be more efficient?

When determining your priorities, think about how a new reservations system could solve some of your business challenges. Does that include managing existing reservations that you get pretty regularly? Is it about bringing in new business? Is reducing no-shows number one on your list? What about learning more about your customers so you can provide a more customized experience?

Understanding your business needs will help you develop a list of criteria, use that to evaluate different reservation management platforms, and find the system that’s right for your restaurant.

Why You Need a Restaurant Reservations System

Restaurants are becoming more and more a part of everyday life. Today, half of consumers eat out between two and four times each week. That’s a lot of potential business for your restaurant!

A reservation management platform can help you get a larger share of those diners – and manage their bookings. 

But if you walk into any restaurant, there’s still a good chance you’ll see an old notebook sitting at the front, one stressed out host trying to cross out and re-write reservations as they come in, and a manager trying to explain long wait times to hungry customers.

In fact, in a recent TouchBistro survey, over 31% of restaurants that responded are using a physical log book. These restaurants are missing out on opportunities to fill tables with online reservations.

But the benefits go beyond filling tables.

Here are the main problems a restaurant reservation system can help you solve.

1. Empty tables on a slow night

Online reservations mean that customers have additional ways to discover your restaurant through the platform’s discovery app. They can search for restaurants near them, by food type, or another criteria and find your venue for the first time. The platform also lets customers easily book an available table for the date and time they want. This process of discovery and booking happens without you needing to run ads or even pick up the phone, which means you can fill those empty tables. You can see more features that help fill your tables in our restaurant reservations guide.

2. High no-show rates

If customers don’t have an easy way to let you know they’re running late or not coming at all, chances are they won’t reach out. Plus, if they didn’t add the reservation to their own calendar, they might just forget completely. Or get the time wrong. Or the location. So many things can go wrong and leave you with a table sitting there, empty. A reservation platform gives you the ability to communicate directly with customers, sending out automatic text and email reminders leading up to their reservation time. It’s a quick way to confirm, modify, or cancel a reservation – without you needing to pay for labor costs to call each reservation individually. To read more on this feature, check out our reservations guide.

3. Generic guest experience

With a manual log book, even if a reservation tells you they’re a regular or requests a specific table or dish, these details are difficult to keep track of for a single reservation and even harder for return visits. That means important guest information – especially for VIPs – could get lost in the shuffle. With a reservation system, you can use guest profile data to help make them feel special, every time they dine with you. Read our guide to find how out.

4. Manual double-entry of table information

When you don’t have all your reservations in one system, you might not be able to forecast how many guests you’ll be serving in a single shift. A reservation system gives you a better sense of how many tables and guests will be coming through your doors on any given day, making it easier to prepare and modify staff schedules. That way, you have enough FOH and BOH staff for things to run smoothly AND keep labor costs low.

If your system includes a reservations book, or even a standalone system, you’ll have to input guest information into your POS when a reservation arrives (what table they’re at, any special requirements, etc.). With an integrated reservation system, guest and table info is shared between the platform and your POS, removing the time and errors that come with double entry.

4. Over or under scheduling

When you don’t have all your reservations in one system, you might not be able to forecast how many guests you’ll be serving in a single shift. A reservation system gives you a better sense of how many tables and guests will be coming through your doors on any given day, making it easier to prepare and modify staff schedules. That way, you have enough FOH and BOH staff for things to run smoothly AND keep labor costs low.

5. Mandatory on-site organization

If your reservations system requires you to be on-site to manage it, you might feel like you can’t leave to handle other business needs – without this part of your business coming to a standstill. A restaurant reservation system lets you manage reservations remotely, through the cloud: add reservations, make changes to the floor plan, include notes about VIP customers, access reporting to see dining trends, and more. You don’t need to be physically at the venue to take care of business.

Are any of these problems having a negative impact on your business?

Then it’s time to evolve your reservation process with a fully digital, online reservation management system.

The Cost of Restaurant Reservations

If you’re like most small business owners, you might be wondering if this is something you can afford.

Cost is a big factor when thinking about investing in restaurant software and technology.

Since there are so many different reservations systems out there, you need to spend some time considering your needs and pricing out your options. Prices vary based on the platform you choose and your volume of business.

Ultimately, cost comes down to:

  • Number of covers (per month)
  • Average check size
  • Transaction or cover fees
  • Subscription fees
  • Integration fees

Some platforms may have additional fees (one-time or monthly), so to get a full picture, make sure you download our reservations guide below.

Reserve Your Copy of the Reservations Guide Now 

Naturally, you may have some reservations about reservations software, including questions about costs and benefits, as well as how to choose the right system and prepare for it at your restaurant. We answer all of these questions for you in the Complete Guide to Restaurant Reservations. Download it today!

Katie is the Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant experiences. She doesn’t shy away from the finer things in life, but no matter how much success she continues to acquire, she stays true to her roots and still considers imitation crab as gourmet. If she isn’t writing, you can find her on a patio with friends and a pitcher of white wine sangria.

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