As restaurants continue to look for ways to offer prime experiences to diners while catering to their most frequent visitors, the process of booking a restaurant reservation is beginning to resemble the process of booking a flight – with perks for those willing to pay for a first-class experience. As a recent CNBC report says, the guest management platform SevenRooms is offering restaurants tools such as online ordering, waitlists and reservations, in addition to customer data that restaurants can use to promote enhanced experiences or sell upgrades to certain clientele. That could mean getting first dibs on patio seating at sunset – or simply better access to prime tables at peak dining hours. Participating restaurants are finding that this capability to make reservations more exclusive is giving them some extra ability to accommodate walk-ins and lingering diners, as well as greater assurance that the people who have booked a reservation will honor it. The evolution of restaurant reservations is coinciding with renewed investment in the fine dining space, which is having a post-COVID moment right now. The category is ideally matched for the current need for restaurants to build higher-end experiences into their service – and consumers’ willingness to spend at restaurants if what they are receiving feels special.
Just weeks ago, it seemed like things were back on the upswing for restaurants. Consumers were eager for a return to eating out and anxiety about gathering indoors was waning across the country. But the rapid spread of the delta variant, and a range of state and local responses to it at both the government and consumer level, has added a new wrinkle to pandemic recovery. For restaurants in various parts of the country, this has meant an increase in no-shows, new rules about the need for vaccines, a lack of clarity on the wearing of masks and Covid-related backlash from the public on restaurant review sites. Communication – to your staff and to your guests – is critical right now. Determine what guidelines you must follow to protect the safety of all, then find friendly, non-confrontational, non-political ways of sharing your approach. Continue to offer multiple options for dining and collecting orders. Expect requests for outdoor dining to continue – and prepare now for accommodating guests outdoors into the cooler months. Consider what to do about no-shows – whether it be charging a deposit on a table or asking for a text or email confirmation of a reservation. Update signage on your entrance, website and social media channels with your approach, indicate that it will likely be changing in the coming weeks, and ask for everyone’s patience as you work hard to keep business going in challenging times.