Published October 13, 2022

Restaurant Automation 101: Online Reservation Systems

Whether you’re a small kitchen that’s just starting out or a huge multi-national restaurant with countless franchises, there’s one thing that will help you successfully manage customer expectations, promote customer loyalty, and streamline and strengthen your business: an online reservation system.

Why install an online reservation system?

With the automation market expected to grow to over $29.4 billion by 2027 and 50% of US restaurant operators considering implementing automation technology in the next two to three years, there’s no better time to start rolling out automation across your business. This begins with leveling up your online reservation system.

Reduce no-shows

It’s Saturday night and you’re fully booked. Your top table of four is awaiting its 9pm sitting. But hey, guess what? The customer never shows up, leaving you with an empty table and less revenue.

While this is a disappointing situation, it’s unfortunately not an uncommon one.

According to OpenTable, a staggering 28% of Americans say they haven’t shown up for a reservation in the past year. And this isn’t just a post-pandemic trend. In 2018, one popular UK restaurant lost £3,000 in a single weekend, prompting a movement on Twitter using the hashtag #StopNoShows to raise awareness about the impact of patrons failing to show up for a reservation.

To tackle the no-show crisis, businesses are installing online restaurant reservation systems to actively help reduce no-shows and utilizing automated technology to keep patrons engaged with their reservations.

For example, TouchBistro allows businesses to send automatic reminders about upcoming bookings and provides an opportunity for businesses and customers to communicate via SMS regarding reservations. Both of these actions keep customers in the loop about their upcoming booking and help prevent no-shows.

Source: Lightspeed HQ

Cut wait times

New York is known for its thriving and bustling food scene, and there’s no doubt that once a potential customer is interested, you want to get them through the door and hooked into your business as soon as possible.

Busy and popular ramen joint Ippudo NY knows this all too well. The hotspot was receiving 20 complaints per week from customers about wait times, with 12% of guests walking away from dining at the restaurant due to how long they had to line up for a table, meaning lost business and a downward trend in reputation.

After introducing a guest management system that helped the FOH staff better manage customer wait time expectations and provide timely updates via SMS to customers in the queue,  Ippudo NY experienced:

  • 25% decrease in walk-aways
  • 50% decrease in wait time complaints
  • 33% less staff required to manage the waitlist

Examples like this show how automation can positively impact the bottom line, along with improving customer relations and experience.

Manage cancellations

Every customer has the right to cancel their booking within an appropriate time frame. Online reservation systems provide a seamless experience to make cancellations easy and straightforward. Apps such as OpenTable or Tock allow customers to cancel, modify, and reschedule their reservations at the swipe of a thumb, meaning less time spent by FOH taking phone calls and modifying resos’ and more time focusing on other areas of the customer experience.

Create predictability

First come, first served might seem hip and cool, but you’re often left with limited insight into how much inventory you need to order, how busy certain times of the day will be, and how to schedule staff correctly.

Installing an online restaurant reservation system will help you easily predict how many customers you can expect in your spot and help you adjust your plans accordingly.

Tap into the digital age

Apps and software are often designed to be addictive. If a customer gets used to tapping open an online reservation app such as OpenTable or Tock and creating a booking, that action could potentially become a habit due to the repetitive and addictive nature of apps and smartphones. This means more patronage and greater revenue for your business.

Improve customer experience

Many online reservation systems allow customers to input data such as whether they’re dining for a special occasion or have any food allergies. This information helps the server to serve the customer better and helps to create a positive experience and a longer-lasting relationship.

Restaurant reservation systems: what to consider

Before introducing an online restaurant reservation system to your business, take a few moments to consider the following.

  • Is the system easy to use and set up?
  • Does the system work with your current POS?
  • Will the system allow you to easily send SMS or email communications?
  • Does the system come with in-house table management options?
  • Will the system help you manage your waitlist?
  • Are there any hidden fees or additional charges?

Why automation is the future of restaurant management

Automation isn’t about replacing humans. Instead, it’s about streamlining and automating parts of your operation to reallocate attention to other areas of your business.

For example, implementing an online reservation system will free FOH from taking calls and managing bookings. Similarly, QR codes are here to stay, and this menu automation at the customer’s fingertips helps you save on server hours and labor (not to mention printing costs!)

Technological advancements and solutions also help ease the squeeze in the labor market. With hospitality workers quitting employment in droves, more businesses are turning to automation to help support their operations. For example, White Castle is launching burger flipping automation across a third of their restaurants across the US; McDonald’s is automating the drive-thru experience, and major league baseball stadiums are utilizing automation to produce hundreds of consistent pizzas with a single operator.

Automation is the future of restaurant management, and this all begins with improving your bookings, wait times, and customer experience by introducing an online reservation system.