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By Katie McCann
Whether it’s a fine dining establishment or a food hall, packing your venue is every restaurant owner’s ideal business day.
But it’s never that easy. There are slow days, seasonality issues, and stiff competition out there, just to name a few factors.
The good news? Technology can now help pack your seats on the slowest nights.
We decided to try our luck at selling out The Annex Food Hall on a slow Monday with the help of TouchBistro Reservations. It was a night of full tables, happy diners, and a ton of valuable learnings.
The Annex Food Hall brings together six delicious restaurants (plus a fully stocked bar!) under one roof. On any given night, you can find a range of options from tacos to Italian, serving up something for everybody’s taste. For our Secret Supper, we had menus from Dal Moro’s, Eat BKK, El Nahual, Mean Bao, PG Clucks, and Smoked Up Meats.
To get an early seat at the Secret Supper, diners had to piece together clues they found through social media. If they couldn’t crack the code, they could purchase a ticket when the event was opened to the public and pick which restaurant they wanted to book for their reservation. Each venue put together a special three-course menu to wow diners who came out to the one-night only event.
On the day of, Annex Food Hall received a black and gold makeover – balloons, flowers, welcome cocktails, and servers in masquerade masks greeted diners. Guests were brought to the table assigned to them through TouchBistro’s reservation system, where their chosen menu was served up.
Not only did everybody leave full, there were a ton of takeaways from an evening of entertaining a packed house!
So what did we learn? Here are our top takeaways.
While this is likely not a huge shock (does anybody dine out without checking the menu beforehand anymore?), having a detailed menu on your website is a huge pull for potential diners. In fact, nearly 60% of diners check the menu online before deciding to dine somewhere.
When reservations started coming in for Secret Supper seatings, this was even more clear. The restaurants with more detailed menu descriptions filled their tables more quickly than those with a more general description. Even though every restaurant had their menu available online, it was clear people were quicker to jump to a reservation when they had more of an idea what they would be eating. In fact, the restaurant with the top number of reservations – Mean Bao – had over double the reservations of some of the other vendors.
People want to know exactly what they’re getting to inform their decisions, so don’t make them work for it. Make sure your online menu is easy to find and detailed!
When you know your numbers, you can better prepare for every aspect of your service – from staffing to inventory!
With the Secret Supper, diners booked a table with their chosen restaurants through TouchBistro software. When it came to staffing the event, it was easier to gauge how many servers would be needed because we could refer to those reservations. We used the exact number of people attending to better plan for staffing needs that night. Instead of guessing, we knew the numbers of diners and the number of people needed to deliver the best experience to them!
The same went for back-of-house operations. Owners prepared special one-night-only menus for the Secret Supper and didn’t have to take a shot in the dark when ordering ingredients they needed just for the night.
If people are capable of forgetting things like birthdays, anniversaries, or even picking kids up from school, then chances are reservations at your restaurant will end up forgotten too. While no shows are an inevitable part of running your restaurant, it’s also a costly part – when the average no-show rate sits around 20% and the average bill is roughly $15 per person, an empty table of four is $60 that should have been in your pocket.
Sending reminders is a great way to keep customers informed that their reservation is coming up – and ensure you don’t have tables saved for no-shows. Guests for the Secret Supper received reminders of the event and notifications when the table was ready! This helped ensure people who had booked a table actually came to enjoy the meal. “The notifications are great,” one guest said. “We knew right when our table was ready!”
And it definitely didn’t hurt having the reminders set to help make sure it was a full house on the night of the event!
Everybody loves to feel like a VIP. When every guest feels special, they’re also more likely to come back. “Without customers through the doors, nothing else matters,” a team member from Dal Moro’s said. And what better way to ensure people keep coming back than giving them a VIP experience?
TouchBistro Reservations helped make sure every guest got that star experience at the Secret Supper. When guests arrived and gave their name, our team could instantly see any special notes they had added to their reservation – from celebrations to allergies.
“I even got an email confirming dietary restrictions,” said one guest. “So I wasn’t worried [about my meal] at all!”
Being able to give diners celebrating a little something extra or guests with allergies a little peace of mind helps restaurants boost the overall experience – making guests more likely to return.
Another important way to keep people coming back is ensuring you’re constantly bettering your business. With all the work you put into your restaurant, it can be hard to take a step back and objectively see things that may not be working.
This is exactly why you want to give diners an easy option to share their experience with you! Guests who dined at the Secret Supper were sent a request for feedback to their email address right after – they got to share their perspective and restaurants gained valuable insight!
“The feedback from this [event] is very valuable,” said a team member from Dal Moro’s.
If you’re spending hours transferring reservations from the phone or online to your POS, how helpful is the system really?
Double entry creates room for error – completely missed reservations or lost notes. Who has time to worry about that when you’re planning a three-course menu?
Luckily, restaurants participating in the Secret Supper didn’t have to worry about that. When Annex Food Hall vendors received a reservation online, the booking automatically synced with the TouchBistro Reservations management system.
Restaurant owners and managers were able to pull numbers and sync reservations without an extra effort.
No doubt about it: Filling up your restaurant is no easy task. It’s something you have to keep working at.
Even with an active marketing campaign promoting the Secret Supper well ahead of the actual event, people were still booking tables until the last minute.
This is the norm, though – nearly a quarter of reservations are made within 90 minutes of the seating time!
“It’s very important to me that we keep this place packed,”the owner of Annex Food Hall shared “All the vendors really want this place packed.”
tIf you limit the time people can get a table (no reservations less than 24 hours in advance, for example), you potentially lose out on diners making the last-minute choice to eat out.
And people booking late doesn’t mean they aren’t excited to dine with you. “The meal was great, the drinks were awesome, I had such a good time!” one diner shared after booking their table the day-of.
The restaurant industry is more than an industry – it really is a community, and a community that loves what they do!
When we started promoting the Secret Supper, the restaurant owners at The Annex were quick to get involved. They were sharing with friends and family, posting on social media to promote their dishes, and leaving menus around their venue. They had their own community to tap into, and that became obvious as reservations started coming in. Their communities – from staff to loved ones – were eager to support.
Using your network is a great way to not only help fill tables but also provide free word-of-mouth advertising. Between your happy staff, family, and friends, you have a ton of potential here.
And the community came through.
”The whole place is packed!” one owner said of the night of the event.
Bringing in the right technology may not make your next restaurant shift perfect, but it does make things run a whole lot smoother. And the Secret Supper was no exception – with TouchBistro POS & TouchBistro Reservations, we were able to pack a venue and serve up a great experience.
Our event winners from Mean Bao said it best.“We couldn’t have done it without reservations!”
Katie is a former 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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