Is an online reservation tool right for your restaurant?
As the Reservations Specialist at Rewards Network, I set up restaurants with our reservations platform and train restaurant owners, GMs, and staff on how to use the platform. Through my time speaking to restaurants about their concerns and answering their questions I have compiled a list of items to consider if you are looking into signing up for an online reservation tool.
1. What is your budget for platform set-up and monthly fees?
In general there are two types of fees that may be associated with a Reservations Platform: a set-up fee and a monthly fee. The Platform set-up is typically a one-time fee. If you are lucky there is no set-up fee. Monthly fees differ drastically from company to company – there might be a set monthly fee, or you could be looking at a monthly fee plus charges for diners (per head) who book online.
The other cost you should always remember is your internal cost; does your webmaster have a fee or rate that they charge for installing a widget (the box on your website that guests use to reserve the table) associated with the platform?
2. What device do you have available in your restaurant to run a reservations platform? Smartphone? Tablet? Computer? Nothing? Will you need to buy a completely new POS or laptop? Do you even need a device in house to run this platform?
3. Are you ready to integrate a reservations system with your restaurant? A reservation tool is a new responsibility. Is all of this new responsibility going to fall on you or are you going to train the hostess and staff on how to use the platform?
4. What do customers gain from making an online reservation through the company you are looking to sign with? Are there incentives such as points, certificates, or discounts that customers can gain from making an online booking? How does this affect your business?
5. How will it integrate onto your website? Evaluate your current website – how do you want the reservations widget integrated into it? Do you want it on the home page? Do you want a reservations tab? Do you want the actual widget on your page or a link to go to the widget? These are important items to think about because it affects your customer’s experience.
Write down your questions about the reservations system, and find out the answers before committing. It is likely that you will have questions, some very specific and some more general. It is important to get these answered because they will impact you, your staff and your business. Your questions can range from operations to the process change – some of the common questions may be: Can I freeze online booking if it’s really busy or we are closed? Can I have notifications set-up to call, text, or email me when a booking is made? Can I set up multiple user log-ins? How does this affect my current process? Do I need to retrain my entire staff or just the greeters? What happens if the system crashes?
Every day I see firsthand the benefits of a restaurant taking online bookings; one of the biggest being that customers can book 24 hours a day, well after the restaurant closes for the night. Others include features such as table management and access to reservation reports. As much as I love setting up restaurants with the ability to receive online reservations, I have seen firsthand that it’s not for everyone. My suggestion is this: if you are thinking about taking online reservations, think about these six points above, and think about how an online reservation tool is going to affect you, your staff, and your customers.