Reservations, or not
Online reservations have assumed new importance in post-lockdown days because of social distancing. Nobody wants to walk into a crowded lobby.
Here are some tips from SevenRooms to make reservations effective:
- Find a partner that allows you to communicate via SMS messaging. Guests can wait in their cars or nearby versus in the foyer and receive ‘Table-ready” texts.
- Place a greater emphasis on reservation-booking across your channels so guests feel confident that they’ll have a table available the moment they arrive on-site.
- Find a reservation management system with the ability to easily adjust your floor plan and reservation inventory to reflect any guidelines for reduced capacity and social distancing.
- Enforce reservation end times to ensure you have the allowed number of guests in the dining room at all times, especially while capacity restrictions are in place. Through your communications, you can inform guests of their allotted time to dine. This will allow you to maximize table turns and help streamline operations
- Communicate your credit card policy for last-minute cancellations or no-shows throughout the reservation making process. Each reservation represents dollars to your business, so it’s important that you are keeping your dining room full while having the ability to collect revenue if a guest cannot make it.
“Promote outdoor seating,” the company added. “With some guests only feeling comfortable dining where they know social distance can be kept, outdoor seating is a great option to meet this need. With the right technology partner, you can actually promote outdoor seating throughout the booking process to create more visibility for guests.”
There are other benefits at stake. Reservations might not work for every concept, which is where virtual waitlists come into the picture. These allow restaurants to control the number of guests in the venue at any given time without putting a bouncer at the door.
It’s a more COVID-19-friendly version of the walk-in-and-put-your-name-on-the-list practice. People are going to want to be able to do this safely online. Perhaps before they leave the house. Maybe from their cars outside.
SevenRooms presented these ideas for how to use a virtual waitlist:
- Enable guests to sign-up for the waitlist at home online to avoid waiting and queueing at the restaurant.
- Similar to communicating with guests with reservations, it’s easy to notify guests who added themselves to a waitlist when it’s the appropriate time to come into the restaurant.
- Operationally, a virtual waitlist also helps reduce the amount of time a host spends managing the waitlist so they can use their time to help in other ways, such as bringing curbside takeout orders to vehicles.
“Whether through an email or text the day before a reservation or directly from a mobile device while waiting for a table, there are options to offer the ability to place an order in advance with payment,” SevenRooms said. “This helps eliminate the need for menus and interaction with staff, provides an upfront revenue commitment from guests to help reduce no-shows, and allows restaurants to turn tables faster.”
Meeting these demands, only contactless
Fulfilling orders isn’t what it used to be, either. Having all of those virtual systems in place to connect with customers is one thing. Getting them food is another.
So how do you go contactless?
Curbside pickup has remained one of, if not the, most popular pandemic changes among restaurants, especially full-serves. Many restaurants have morphed this option into makeshift drive-thru service.
According to search intelligence provider Captify, based on consumer searches, curbside pickup mentions soared 458 percent since March 11.
The key is customers aren’t looking to wait in the foyer for their food when they show up. First Watch took its community tables, which no longer held the same lure for guests, and turned them into contactless pickup stations for walk-in guests and third-party drivers.
SevenRooms suggests relying on technology to open lines of communication. Choose a delivery and takeout partner that allows the restaurant to SMS message with guests, the company said. When the order is ready, it can automatically send an “order ready” text to consumers in the parking lot to let them know it’s time to pull up for their order.
Some restaurants added a field into the digital ordering process where you can put “curbside” in the checkout cart. And in that field is a place to list car model and color information to help employees recognize guests as they show up.
Outdoor signage to promote contactless is a powerful tool as well. This helps capture consumers passing by who perhaps didn’t plan to drop in. It can ease their hesitation and inspire action.
SevenRoom said restaurants should take this up a degree by adding a QR code that can be scanned to invite the customer to join a waitlist, order takeout, or make a reservation.
“When you have guests signing up for a virtual waitlist, think about all the guest data you’ll be collecting before a guest even enters the door. You can enforce email address collection with every sign-up, as well as request marketing opt-in,” the company said.
Once customers get inside
Contactless doesn’t exclude four-wall service. Mobile ordering and payment, especially from somebody’s mobile device, can eliminate unnecessary touching of tabletop tablets, menus, check holders, credit cards, cash, and receipts.
SevenRooms calls this the BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, model.
Here’s how it could work:
- Diners access the menu from their own device via a text from table management technology or QR code.
- They’re automatically connected to a branded ordering experience.
- Guests select their menu items, hit check out, and pay via a credit card or mobile wallet (like Google or Apple Pay).
- Their order is sent to the kitchen instantly.
The majority of mobile ordering solutions are powered by location markers to identify which table the order is coming from, SevenRooms said. So restaurants can get the food out in a timely fashion if they take this route. It would also give servers more time to focus on other things as they are no longer order takers. Perhaps that’s cleaning and sanitation, or holding the door open for people.
Chances are restaurants will operate with smaller, cross-functionally trained staffs at the onset reopening stages. Maybe indefinitely.
Additionally, mobile order and pay offers operators the chance to collect guest data, which can lead to marketing opt-in opportunities, email communication, and some personalized future services, like knowing preferences and allergies and what they like to order.
Feedback, as always, remains an important lever. It’s just taken on fresh dimensions thanks to COVID-19. Beyond service and food, it will be critical to monitor whether or not customers feel safe. What do they think of protocols? Are employees actually executing them?
When connected directly with guests for on- and off-premises dining, restaurants have the ability to send surveys to visitors. SevenRooms said operators should ask about the health and safety measures, and then appropriately respond to guests and even send a follow-up note inviting them to dine with their restaurant again.
There are tech partners that can automate the sending of surveys once a delivery order arrives or a guest leaves the restaurant, directly from a brand’s CRM.
Monitoring third-party sites will remain valuable, too. Restaurants can collect feedback from multiple channels and aggregate results. “You can even segment the reviews by on-premise dining and off-premises delivery or pickup to understand how the experiences differ,” SevenRooms said. “There are technology partners that help you track this information and provide you with dashboards and daily emails summarizing your guest satisfaction.”
Personalization pays off
This is where guest data will surface. Restaurants can track how guests interact with them and then tailor marketing to promote new behaviors. For instance, try to turn a delivery order into an on-premises visit, or third party to direct, etc.
Here’s an example message of the latter, per SevenRooms.
Subject line: Thank you from (enter restaurant name)
We wanted to take a moment to thank you on behalf of the entire team at (enter restaurant name).
We really appreciate you booking directly with us. As an added thank you, we’d like to offer you a complimentary dessert on your next visit. Just use this link to book your next reservation.
We look forward to seeing you.
SevenRooms suggest offering perks to guests in the email (like the free dessert) and include direct links to those actions you’re asking them to take.
And as guests react to marketing and start to follow the links, it’s important to continue the reward-visit relationship going. This is especially true, SevenRooms said, if the restaurant is trying to reduce or eliminate third parties as the middlemen for reservations and delivery.
“Consider setting up a loyalty program that rewards direct behavior at each dining experience with the value of the reward increasing each time,” the company said. “For example, the first direct order could result in a complimentary cocktail while the fifth direct order could offer a free bottle of wine.”
Here’s a path to optimizing visits over the course of a year (for guests booking or ordering direct).
- Complimentary cocktail
- 20 percent off
- 50 percent off
- Free bottle of wine
- Special experience at the chef’s table
It’s safe to say one of the keys to success post-pandemic is access to guest data. The brands thriving right now, SevenRooms said, are the ones leveraging guest databases to drive delivery and takeout orders and to continue to maintain guest relationships.
With guests more reluctant to eat at restaurants, takeout or dine in, making each interaction count remains crucial.
It boils down to three ingredients:
- Own consumer touchpoints
- Own guest data
- Online and offline connectivity
Here’s a checklist from SevenRooms for restaurants to evaluate as they begin to revisit their tech systems:
- What’s the pricing structure?
- Are there any hidden fees or upcharges?
- Can the system integrate with your other tools?
- Is it your brand or the partner’s brand that is represented to your guests?
- Does their business model align with yours?
- Do you get to access and own your guest data?
- Do you have 24/7 support?
“It’s a new era of hospitality,” the company said. “Restaurants can make their own rules, change processes, update systems, and take advantage of a time where guests are tuned in more than ever to help reshape the relationship guests have with restaurants.”