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By Carly Albright
Before we dive into everything restaurant reservations, bear with us as we take you back to high school math.
In the UK, the generally accepted no-show reservation rate hovers around 20%.
If the average spend per person sits around £30, that’s £120 lost when a table of four sits empty. And if you hold several tables for parties that never show, you could be out hundreds of pounds every night.
Even in the best of times, that’s a lot of money to leave – quite literally – on the table. But in the wake of COVID-19, all those no-shows could mean the difference between breaking even and closing your restaurant’s doors for good.
A restaurant booking system helps you manage all your bookings digitally so you can reduce those dreaded no shows and ensure you’re maximising all your available tables.
Beyond getting diners in the door, a restaurant reservation system also offers many other benefits for your venue, such as direct communication with guests, capacity tracking, digital waitlists, and more. So whether you’re struggling with no-shows, trying to fill tables on slow nights, or wondering why new customers aren’t turning into regulars, a restaurant reservation management system can help.
Welcome to the Complete Guide to Restaurant Reservations, which gives you the answers to all things reservations, including:
Download now and learn how a restaurant reservations system can help your business thrive.
Learn how a restaurant reservations system can help your business thrive.
To get you started, let’s take a high-level look at what restaurant bookings are, why you need a reservation management platform, and what are some of the costs that go into that kind of system.
Restaurant reservations are an arrangement guests make in advance to confirm a table for their party at a specified time. Making a reservation at a restaurant can be done 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 favourite venue.
But beyond what they mean to guests, bookings also provide quite a lot for the restaurant owner. With the right system, reservations can be used to help your restaurant:
You can do the basics of bookings manually, through calls and a diary. Or you can invest in an online booking system 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 bookings? 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 online booking 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 customised experience? Or maybe it’s simply about managing new safety measures in the wake of COVID-19.
Whatever the reason, understanding your business needs will help you develop a list of criteria that you can use to evaluate different reservation management platforms and find the right system for your restaurant.
While restaurant reservations systems have been growing in popularity for quite some time now, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this software even more valuable to the dine-in experience. Not only can a restaurant reservations system help you maximise profits from each table, but these systems also aid in capacity tracking and contact tracing – two efforts that are key to tackling the public health crisis.
The challenge is, many restaurants still haven’t made the leap from a diary on the host stand, to a complete online booking system. In fact, one TouchBistro survey found that over 31% of restaurants were still using a physical diary for reservations. These restaurants are not only missing out on opportunities to fill tables but also to solve a number of other dine-in challenges.
Here are the nine big problems that a restaurant reservation system can help you solve.
1. Empty tables on a slow night
Online bookings mean that customers have additional ways to discover your restaurant through the platform’s discovery app. For instance, with TouchBistro Dine, guests can search for restaurants by location, food type, or other criteria, and find your venue for the first time. The platform also lets customers easily book an available table for the specific date and time they want. This process of discovery and making a reservation at a restaurant all happens without you needing to run ads or even pick up the phone, which means you can passively fill those empty tables. You can see more features that help to 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 that 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 diary, 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.
An online booking system gives you the ability to communicate directly with customers by sending out automatic text and email reminders leading up to their reservation time. It’s a quick way to confirm, modify, or cancel a booking – without you needing to pay for labour costs to call each booking individually. To read more on this feature, check out our reservations guide.
3. Generic guest experience
With a manual diary, 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 that important guest information – especially for VIPs – could get lost in the shuffle. With an online booking 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
If you’re using a diary or a standalone third-party booking system, you’ll have to input guest information into your EPOS every time a guest arrives for their reservation. This includes everything from entering what table they’re dining at, to inputting any special requirements the party has, such as food allergies. With an integrated reservation system, guest and table info is shared between the platform and your EPOS, removing the time and errors that come with double entry.
5. Over or under scheduling
When you don’t have all your bookings 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 labour costs low.
6. Mandatory on-site organisation
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 key part of your business coming to a standstill. A restaurant reservation system lets you manage reservations remotely, through the cloud, so you don’t need to be physically at the venue to take care of business. This means you can add reservations, make changes to the floor plan, include notes about VIP customers, access reporting to see dining trends, and more, simply by logging into your reservations system on any Internet-connected device.
7. Tracking venue capacity
As restrictions have increased across the UK due to the COVID-19-related spikes, the government has imposed mandatory rules like curfews, capacity limits, contact tracing, and table service seating only in restaurants and pubs. But if you’re not using an online booking system, it can be difficult to manually keep track of the number of people in your venue at any given time.
Restaurant reservation software gives you a precise way to monitor capacity. For instance, most booking systems have tools like flow control that allow you to manage the number of covers or parties that can book reservations at a given time. Similarly, you can use booking software to set maximum capacity limits, which will cap the number of guests that can be seated in your restaurant at any point throughout a shift. And as guests leave, the software updates to show your current available capacity.
8. Enforcing social distancing
If you’re still using a diary for reservations, guests have to either call to book a table or come up to the host stand to make a reservation in person. And in the age of COVID-19, relying on in-person bookings can lead to overcrowding and make social distancing difficult to enforce.
With self-service technology like a restaurant booking system, guests can reserve a table in advance through your website, app, or a third-party platform, and even add their name to digital waitlists – all without any face-to-face interaction with your staff. Not only does this reduce any crowding caused by walk-ins, but it also helps you enforce social distancing within your venue by spacing out bookings and digitally tracking capacity.
9. Keeping records for contact tracing
In addition to tracking capacity, the government has made it a legal requirement for restaurants to keep track of each diner’s information in order to facilitate contact tracing. However, if you’re just using a simple diary to keep track of your bookings, it’s easy for that information to get lost or damaged – something that can put public health at risk.
Reservation software provides an easy solution to this issue. Diners are already used to giving their name and a phone number and/or email address when making a booking at a restaurant. If you implement a reservations-only policy in your restaurant, you can easily use an online booking system to keep a log of every diner. Even if you’re still accepting walk-ins, most reservation software allows you to create guest profiles on the spot, complete with all the necessary contact information.
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 booking management system.
From the above, it’s clear that there are many benefits to a restaurant booking system. However, not all reservation software is created equal, and there are a number of benefits to using an EPOS-integrated reservations system over a third-party standalone system.
1. Seamless data transfer
Standalone booking systems are not integrated with your EPOS system. This means that you need to manually re-enter data into your EPOS each time a guest arrives for their booking. This double entry not only takes up a significant amount of time, but it also increases the risk of error.
An EPOS-integrated online booking system like TouchBistro Restaurant Booking System eliminates this risk because data is sent directly from the reservation system to the EPOS – no manual data entry required.
2. No cover fees
Another drawback to third-party reservations systems is that some charge a cover fee for each booking. If you’re paying cover fees in addition to the monthly subscription fee for the reservations software, you could end up spending a lot on reservations management each month.
An EPOS-integrated reservations software like TouchBistro Reservations allows you to make unlimited bookings for just one monthly fee – no cover fees involved. This makes it easy for you to budget for your booking system along with your monthly EPOS software costs.
3. Own your data
Perhaps the biggest drawback to using a third-party reservation system is that you don’t necessarily have control over your guest booking data because some reservation systems own the data of the guests who use the platform. This means that the reservation company has control of the customer relationship and can use your restaurant’s data to drive more engagement for its own business.On the other hand, an integrated booking system is a direct part of your EPOS, so you own and control all of your guest data. This means you have more insight into your guest’s behaviours and the ability to use that data to drive targeted marketing campaigns.
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 online booking 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:
Some platforms may have additional fees (one-time or monthly), so to get a full picture, make sure you download our reservations guide below.
If you’re scrambling to implement an online booking system in the wake of COVID-19, you may have some questions about purchasing reservations software, including the 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!
Carly is the Global Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro. Her passions are eclectic and uncompromising. She is a self-declared connoisseur of chips and has travelled the world to discover its finest offerings.
By Katherine Pendrill
By Mia Salaveria
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