First, before deciding on whether you should get a restaurant reservation system for your restaurant, let’s not leapfrog what might be your first question, which is, “Should I even take reservations.” Now, deciding whether you should or should not take restaurant reservations isn’t the biggest decision in your everyday life of running a restaurant, but it certainly does affect your day-to-day operations, as well as your potential revenue.
So today I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of taking reservations in your restaurant, as well as the possibility of brining in a restaurant reservations system and waitlist to drive more traffic and raise the level of guest satisfaction.
Should You Even Take Reservations?
For the common person who goes out to eat and doesn’t know any better, this wouldn’t even seem like a debate. “Of course you should take reservations. Why wouldn’t you take reservations and book people to eat at your restaurant?
But as many of you may know, it isn’t as simple as that. So, today we’re going to look at the pros and cons of taking reservations at your restaurant. I find that restaurants are all over the place when it comes to this.
Some don’t take reservations at all. They are dead-set against it. Some do call-ahead seating. And some places who believe they are super-duper exclusive ONLY take reservations. So, restaurants are all over the place. Much of this is going to depend on what type of restaurant you are. Fine dining? You’re most likely taking them. Panda Express? Mmmmm…I’m gonna say no. And then we have all the restaurants in between, sort of casual to super casual to nice casual, so with that said, let’s see if I can help you determine what’s right for your restaurant.
Pros of Taking Restaurant Reservations
- First off, guests love table reservations because it gives them the security of knowing that there will be a table for them at a designated time and they don’t have to wait. If you do not have reservations, that uncertainty when going out to eat, can cause dining-out anxiety. Reservations CAN eliminate that and makes paying customers happy. Which is always a good thing. In fact, people are more likely to travel a distance for a meal if they know they can reserve a table at their preferred time. And making guests happy is always a top priority.
- Second, it allows you, as the restaurant, to semi-plan the night by taking restaurant reservations. You can’t plan for how many walk-ins are coming in to your restaurant. But when you can see the reservations that have been booked, as well as how many are in each party, it’s helpful for organizing tables and helping the cooks prep in the kitchen. In other words, it reduces overwhelm and surprises for your staff.
- And the third pro for taking reservations is that big parties are far more likely to come to your place than if you did not take reservations. Nobody wants to plan a night out with twelve people and “hope” that they won’t have to wait for an hour to sit down. And bigger parties means more money for you.
- But really, the main factor here is that people like it and often expect it, so not taking reservations is a bit risky. I’m not going to lie. Finding the perfect restaurant reservations system or restaurant reservation app is vital.
Cons of Taking Restaurant Reservations
- The biggest con of taking reservations that you will hear both manager and staff complain about is the no-show, or worse yet, the delayed show. At least with the no-show you can move on and seat someone else at the table. With the delayed-show, you have someone who reserved a table for a party of 8 and one person is sitting there texting on their phone and they keep saying sheepishly, “They’re on their way. Just running a bit late.” A little late is 10 minutes, but you know how it goes. 45 minutes or an hour later finally everyone arrives. More later on how to solve this.
- I find this to be the main factor with most of the owners and managers I know when trying to decide if they want to take reservations. This one factor is that big, because you have guests waiting to eat and three of your tables have three delayed-shows, or no-shows and the people waiting are looking at empty tables all set-up and they’re like, “What the hell? Why aren’t those being sat?” So that’s the main factor.
- Another con is reservations can cause a delay in table-turnover, which in turn is costing you sales.
- If you decide to take reservations, you’ll need to decide what reservation system you’re going to use. You’ll want the best reservation restaurant app you can find. This requires a lot of research effort.
Should You Get a Restaurant Reservation System?
Now it’s time to evaluate the reservation system. Will you go old school and just have someone answering the phone and writing down reservations in a planner? Are you going to be a reservation only restaurant? Or will you use a 3rd party reservation system like OpenTable or Yelp Waitlist, or maybe you already have a POS system that does this as well?
With reservation systems comes more pros and cons, because some of them can be quite expensive. OpenTable charges around $250/month, plus per-diner fees of 25¢ – $1.00 per person, depending on whether the reservation was made on the restaurant’s website or on OpenTable.
That means some restaurants are paying like $2,000 per month for OpenTable, and restaurants are even charged by OpenTable for these reservations even when diners no-show, unless the reservation is marked as a no-show within 48 hours. For me, this is a ridiculously outrageous amount to charge when there are other options out there.
With that said, the pro here is that OpenTable has an excellent marketing platform that brings you a lot of traffic, sort of like how Trip Advisor
does. But like I said, there are systems out there now just as good as OpenTable at half the price.
OpenTable vs. Yelp Guest Manager
I believe OpenTable is at a point now that they are really taking blood-sucking advantage of restaurants. So I would personally choose someone else, but that’s their prerogative to charge whatever they want. They’re a business and they have the right to as they please, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. Because of the links I have slyly been scattering throughout this article, you can probably guess by now that I believe Yelp Guest Manager to be the best restaurant reservation and online booking system you can choose, simply based on price and effectiveness.
With Yelp Guest Manager you are able to drive traffic, increase revenue, systemize your business, lower labor costs and simply improve the effectiveness of your business on a large scale.
Now, I am perfectly aware that most restaurant owners consider Yelp to be the evil empire of restaurant marketing platforms because of their bullying techniques in the past. However, they have focused on cleaning up this image (or so I’ve heard), and when it comes to driving traffic to your restaurant, there is no more powerful restaurant search platform than Yelp. Google is right there with them, but they don’t have as good of a reservation system as Yelp.
The best thing you can do is schedule a demo with Yelp so they can show you how it works and how it can help you. But let’s go over a few things that Yelp Guest Manager and the Yelp Guest Manager Kiosk can do:
Yelp Guest Manager
- Shows current wait time of your restaurant
- Shows your address with a map for location
- Shows restaurant ratings (hopefully that’s good for you)
- Easy to join waitlist with one click
- Allows last-second diners to book a table
- Guests can wait where they want, & show up happy instead of frustrated
- Text guests once their table is ready
Yelp Guest Manager Kiosk
- Automates check-in so your team isn’t stuck behind the host stand
- Cuts 50% of FOH busywork
- Makes lives of FOH less stressful
- Keeps hosts on track and seats guests on time
- Keeps hosts from answering the same questions by showing guests accurate wait times and texting when tables are ready
- Lets Kiosk capture info to contact the diner.
- Kiosk makes every new guest feel welcome with easy-to-set language preferences
- Reduces questions from waiting diners
- Diners track their place in line and show up right on time
- Kiosk collects names, phone numbers, and seating preferences so you can spend more time with customers
- Kiosk is able to answer questions like: How long is the wait? When will my table be ready? How many parties are in front of me?
Are You Any Closer to Deciding?
With all that said, I’m not sure if you are any closer to deciding if you should take reservations or not. That’s the problem with pros and cons. Right? I show you both sides, and you’re like, “That didn’t help me at all. That just confused me more.” So let me take it one step further. I’m going to insert my opinion here, and then maybe that will help sway you a bit, or maybe you’ll find yourself reacting violently against my opinion, and that will give your answer going the other way.
My Unsolicited Advice on Reservations and Booking Systems
Here’s what’s what. The skinny, as they say. I believe deeply in moving forward and adapting to the ever-changing business model in our industry. And that includes using technology to make things easier, faster, more streamlined, and most importantly to help you make more money. In my humble opinion, you CAN’T NOT take reservations in this day and age.
People now expect it and when you don’t provide what other restaurants provide (what your competitors provide), they are exiting from your website, or they are hanging up the phone after talking with you, and they are finding another place to eat because you don’t take reservations. This is a painful reality, and you can’t allow that to happen.
With that said, you can create a functional system of procedures for yourself that will help you keep from ramming your head into the table out of frustration. Which means that you need to put policies in place that protect you from the self-involved a-holes that screw it all up.
So some of your policies might be: for no-shows, if nobody shows up within 10 minutes after their reservation time, the table will be given away. For large parties, at least 80% of the party must be there before you will seat them. Then you need to decide how long that wait time is in which you are going to allow before you give their table away. This one is a bit trickier because you don’t want to piss people off when half the party is there and we know more are coming.
But I believe 30 minutes is reasonable, especially if you make it absolutely clear when they are making the reservation, either by telling them over the phone, or having a large warning on your website when they are making the reservation. I don’t have the perfect cookie-cutter policies for every type of location out there. You will need to decide
what works for you, but by putting policies in place, you can at least have some control over the no-shows and delayed-shows. Ok?
Then, when it comes to the decision of adding a restaurant reservation system, after doing a deep-dive research on Yelp Guest Manager, I believe this is a system that can greatly increase your traffic, thus increasing your revenue. Not to mention the high satisfaction level of your guests, which will make them want to come back again and again.
Hopefully this got you thinking a bit on how you might handle your reservations, or not handle them if you decide not to take them. That’s my two cents. I hope you are able to make a decision after watching and listening to this episode. I want to thank you for hanging out with me today. I do appreciate it. I’m going to see you next time. I’m out.
Dave Allred, TheRealBarman is owner of Bar Patrol Inventory App and TheRealBarman.com. He gives advice to restaurant owners on how to run a better restaurant business. You can email him at Dave@therealbarman.com or check out his youtube channel for more relevant industry content @TheRealBarmanYouTubeChannel