As a restaurant or pub manager, getting maximum table yield is a top priority, especially when opening hours and table sizes are strictly controlled. But as we all know, even the busiest restaurants sometimes end up with empty tables sitting around. Perhaps they’re no-shows, perhaps there was a cancellation, or perhaps one of the staff simply made a mistake. It’s just one of those things that can’t be helped. Or is it?
Maybe it’s time to look again at how to get those tables out of down-time and earning their keep. Here are six tips and tricks you can employ with a restaurant booking system, to boost table yield and ultimately increase profitability.
1) On busy days consider overbooking
For most restaurant and pub managers, the idea of being overbooked sends chills down the spine. They envisage the nightmare scenario of angry customers demanding their seats, having all been promised the same table at the same time.
But as every GM knows, there is always a certain proportion of bookings that become no-shows, leaving spots unfilled. The problem until now has been the unpredictability of this. But all that changes with data.
A computerised restaurant booking system can help you predict the amount of dropouts based on previous periods. Armed with that knowledge, you can dare to overbook a little based on normal patterns, with the result that fewer tables are left empty.
2) Use waiting lists effectively
Another bugbear is keeping customers waiting. Instead of avoiding this at all costs, restaurants and pubs can manage waiting time to their advantage.
If walk-in customers turn up on the door during busy times, staff are put on the spot. Often unable to say precisely how long the wait time will be – or if a table will definitely become available – they may lose the customers who decide to go elsewhere.
But with a tech-based restaurant booking system, these calculations are at the tap of a finger. Your staff can give customers an accurate wait time, put them on a list and send them an automatic message via text or email when the table is free.
3) Make reserved tables work harder
We’ve all been there. We turn up at a pub or restaurant looking forward to a meal or a few drinks. We forgot to book, but that’s OK: there are plenty of free tables. Or are there?
Regretfully the front-of-house tells us that the tables are all booked for the evening. Disappointed, we say our goodbyes and go in search of another spot. Meanwhile, those reserved tables sit there undisturbed until the booked guests arrive two hours later.
No more! Fitting customers in and out is a tricky jigsaw puzzle, but the good news is that technology can do it for you. An intelligent restaurant booking system will release staff from being over-cautious.
They will be able to see exactly what is or will be available and when, meaning fewer walk-ins turned away, less table down-time and more income for the restaurant.
4) Stay live throughout sessions
Many pubs and restaurants stop taking reservations in advance of a session. Again, the fear of getting overbooked is a constant worry. Then there’s the desire to leave some space for walk-ins, and the feeling you never quite know how long guests will take to finish their meal.
But once again, technology is your friend. A restaurant booking system that integrates with EPoS (electronic point of sale) means restaurants and pubs can keep taking reservations 24/7.
Being connected to the till also means that the system can accurately tell you your average turn times for each party size over a given period allowing you improve yield management.
It means you and your staff will have an accurate, real-time view of availability. No more mental acrobatics, adjustments or conservative estimates. If the system shows a free table, it’s a free table, which is especially valuable when running a waitlist.
5) Make sure you’re mobile-friendly
Customers are increasingly likely to browse and book restaurants on a mobile. This on-the-go approach also means that you can expect more last-minute bookings.
So, restaurants and pubs must be geared up for this audience with mobile-friendly websites that display menus in a user-friendly format. Time to ditch those PDF uploads in favour of proper mobile web pages. Social media marketing is also a great way for venues to attract consumers on their smartphones.
Some restaurants may be concerned that diners can make bookings as they are stood on their doorstep leaving them no time to prepare. But the system can be setup to ensure there is a minimum window for advanced bookings (i.e. next available time is a minimum of one hour away) meaning they will never be in compromising positions by leaving availability open.
6) Discount, but be smart about it.
All restaurants and pubs are familiar with the problem of trying to get bookings during quiet times. Often, they turn to discounts and special offers, but how do you avoid cannibalising or making a loss in the process?
One way is to set up special, time-limited offers that are only accessible to customers booking at certain times of the day or week.
You can even limit the number of tables available on the promotion, giving you greater control over offers and discounts. Linking reservation management and marketing promotions in this way should be a feature of any good tech-based restaurant booking system.
Key points to remember
- Pubs and restaurants can boost their table yield by attacking downtime. A good restaurant booking system helps to fill tables that are waiting to be used, or left empty due to errors or dropouts
- Overbooking intelligently is a good idea – using past data managers can predict the likely proportion of no-shows and adjust their capacity slightly to ensure maximum table use
- Use waiting lists and contact data collection to give walk-ups accurate wait-times and send them a message when their table is ready
- A real-time view of availability is key, particularly as last-minute and mobile bookings get more popular. A reservation system linked to point of sale means tables are released as soon as the bill is paid, increasing the likelihood of more bookings.