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Enterprise Software, CRM and Front-End Software Development Specialists

Making a reservation is often the first experience that a customer has of a restaurant – it’s hard to delight a customer at this stage, but easy to make a bad impression.

First impressions matter, and if the booking experience is poor, it can make the customer sceptical before they set foot in your restaurant.

Not only can it annoy customers, but a bad booking experience can reduce bookings as potential customers are driven to competitors.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at how booking systems can be built to deliver two key benefits:

 

  1. Create an exceptional customer experience that builds a strong first impression.
  2. Provide rich data on customer behaviour that helps you understand your customers’ needs.

 

How Most Booking Systems Work

Most restaurants don’t maximise the benefit of their booking systems; without naming any businesses, even high-profile chains make big mistakes which cost them revenue.

Most booking systems have very narrow functionality; they can take reservations, but if there is no availability, the customer journey stops abruptly. Sure, some businesses will provide a phone number or email if there is no availability, but in terms of using the system, it’s game over. 

 

An Opportunity to Delight (and Surprise) Customers

The baseline for booking system quality is low, which presents an opportunity to provide customers with something different.

In most booking systems the user hits a wall if there is no availability. Instead of providing the user with a dead-end, you should keep them in the system. Here are some simple ideas that 95% of restaurants don’t do.

 

  • An entry-level option and the one idea that some restaurants do offer: give the customer an alternative. Most booking systems give the option of another time on the same night, but very few offer bookings on different days or at nearby sister restaurants that do have availability.
  • If you are unable to accommodate a customer at the time they request make an apology then a proposition – offer them a discount to eat at a different time. For many diners, this won’t be possible, but even a 5% uptake would be good extra revenue. You can also offer times that are notoriously difficult to fill (perhaps with a discount).
  • Compensate the customer with a voucher. Customers are less likely to leave with a bitter taste if you acknowledge the inconvenience and give them a freebie. It creates an opportunity to keep the customer engaged with your brand.

 

Once you’ve decided to engage customers through the booking system, the opportunities to engage and delight customers are limited only by your imagination.

So if you take this on board and deploy a new booking system you’ll likely see a revenue spike, and you’ll lose fewer customers at the booking stage - but the real magic is in the data.

 

Your Booking System is a Critical Source of Data

We work with large casual dining chains to help them build event-driven marketing systems that provide much deeper customer insights (the system is called Event-Stream).

What we’ve learned deploying Event-Stream is that booking systems provide a treasure trove of customer information.

First, just by analysing how users engage with the booking system, you can optimise this experience. For example, you can build some simple A/B tests to evaluate the most effective tactic for motivating users to re-book if their original time isn’t available.

But the potential goes much deeper.

 

Event-Driven Marketing

Imagine if you could identify the customer that is trying to make a booking on your website or App, and not only could you identify the customer but you were able to tap into everything you know about them:

 

  • Bookings made
  • Vouchers redeemed
  • App logins
  • Wi-Fi logins
  • Website visits
  • Customer feedback given
  • Till transactions
  • Gift card redemptions
  • Emails opened

 

This comprehensive picture of the customer would help you tailor the customer journey. Let’s say, for example, the user making a booking is a regular who spends a large amount on every till transaction, perhaps you would do more to accommodate them (maybe you have some seating left in reserve that you’d be happy to use up for a valuable customer).

Perhaps you know they regularly redeem a particular type of voucher (for example, 2-4-1 on Tuesdays), you could offer this type of voucher by way of an apology.

Again, you are only limited by your imagination. Once you can identify the customer trying to book and have access to their data, very exciting marketing opportunities become possible.

 

Finally, Enrich Your Customer Data

Having customer data can enrich your booking system, but it works both ways – what the booking system captures can help the customer relationship in other ways.

For example, if a customer is unsuccessful in making a booking, when they next come to pay at the till they can be offered a small reduction in the bill as an apology for the previous failed booking.

I’m sure specialist restaurant marketers would cringe at my simplistic idea, but you get the point – if a customer has had an issue with booking, as long as you know who they are then you can build tactics to compensate for the disappointment.

This article has been a bit of a downer focusing on bookings going wrong, but there are benefits if the booking is going well. If a customer has a booking coming up then you can push a notification to their app, email or social media with exciting new menu items they’ll be able to choose – increasing their excitement about the visit, lessening the chance of a no-show and perhaps increasing spend.

 

You Need a Single Customer View

To implement any of these ideas effectively, you need a single customer view and a way of capturing every touchpoint a customer has with your brand through a digital channel.

Most restaurants don’t have this functionality and are left with a booking system that is static and makes no use of the data to improve the customer experience.

Our next series of articles here examines the importance of a single customer view and how you can make it a reality in your business.

James is the Managing Director of Methodworx, a highly-specialised development consultancy that helps hospitality businesses use customer behaviour to make better sales and marketing decisions.