Can your restaurant guests book online? Have you given them the option to check table availability, place a reservation and specify their allergies all from the comfort of an armchair, iPhone in hand?
If not, you’re missing out on business. A lot of business. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
As you’ve reached this blog post, we’ll assume that you’re either aware of this already or have heard on the grapevine that you really should be investing in a booking system. We’ll also assume that you’re new to this exciting aspect of the market and, without further ado, will show you exactly what you need to look for in a restaurant booking system.
What is a restaurant booking system?
An absolutely fair question. There are no daft questions. Etc.
But, joking apart, what is a restaurant booking system? In a sector that has traditionally favoured the personal touch and a one-to-one service that is the antithesis of anything you’ll find in a supermarket ready meal, the prospect of taking a lead from the hotel industry by utilising automated booking facilities is rarely discussed.
Hotel guests have long been able to book rooms online without ever speaking to anyone at the property in question. Increasingly, restaurant diners are doing the same, and they do so via the booking system, which comprises two main elements:
- A widget that can be added to any website and which displays live table availability, enabling customers to reserve precise meal times at the restaurant in question.
- A back-office suite of tools for the restaurateur and front of house staff to use which provides full control over online table availability, instant updates of new reservations, a booking diary, reporting, customer database and much more.
The combination of the above can fill empty tables, maximise covers and provide an unbeatable return on investment, which is why restaurant booking systems are currently making the transition from option to necessity.
But how do you find the right one for your establishment?
Essential aspects of a restaurant booking system
One search on Google and you’ll be overwhelmed with restaurant booking system options. Sifting through them all is rather tiresome, so we’ve narrowed down what we believe to be the most important aspects you’ll need to look for.
We’ve already established that restaurant booking systems should feature both a competent back-office element and easy-to-use guest-facing website widget, both of which feed from one another. If you find one that doesn’t have the latter (or the former, for that matter), cross it off the list.
Most modern software applications are now web-based, which means they can be accessed from a web browser and on virtually any type of device. It also means you don’t have to install anything on your computer, nor worry about backups. Make sure every restaurant system on your shortlist is web-based.
Chances are, you don’t want to let every single table out to your website. Keeping a few back for in-house booking only is a sensible way to optimise covers, so look for systems that feature capacity management and the ability to dictate how much availability appears online.
You’ve found a brilliant restaurant booking system – great!
Oh, look – a group wants to place a reservation. Awesome! Time to put that shiny new system to the test.
Looks like you have to input every one of the eighteen table bookings individually…
Make sure you find a system that features a swift group booking feature.
Marketing (may be optional)
If you’re dipping your toes into restaurant booking system waters for the first time, you may be a little apprehensive about running before you can walk, but at some stage, you’ll want to do something with all of that customer data you’ve begun to gather.
A great restaurant booking system will either have some form of marketing functionality out-of-the-box, or at least enable you to add it as an option in the future.
Social media integration
Social media plays an incredibly important role in restaurant marketing, and the people who like your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter may be tempted to book via those mediums if you give them the ability to do so. Look for a system which features strong social media integration to make the most of your presence on those services.
Allergens (may be optional)
Forget this at your peril. If guests can book a table via your website, they should be able to specify any allergies they have, too. Any restaurant system worth its salt will offer this kind of functionality, usually as an optional extra.
The combination of the above key features represents the cornerstone of a modern restaurant booking system. Just keep an eye out for the more mundane stuff; unlimited user accounts, fair monthly pricing, online assistance and visual table management will complete the perfect solution for you.