As a business owner or manager that accepts reservations at your restaurant, you probably have a love-hate relationship with the concept. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a better idea of how busy it will be so the chefs and front of house staff can prepare for the rush. On the other hand, when parties show up late or don’t show up all, it leaves you feeling frustrated and a little lighter in the pockets.
The key to finding the right balance is to look for ways you can improve your restaurant reservation procedure for maximum operating efficiency and customer satisfaction.
1. Train staff to ensure consistency
Rule number one, regardless of how your restaurant chooses to accept reservations, you need to train employees on the proper procedure. Like many other characteristics of running a successful business, maintaining consistent customer satisfaction starts with sufficient training.
Since there are multiple ways a restaurant can accept reservations (which we’ll talk about next), it’s important to train employees across all platforms, and that the staff displays the same level of professionalism with each reservation request.
2. The traditional phone call reservation with a modern twist
Since the beginning of time, if a patron wants to make a reservation at a top restaurant, he or she would look up the telephone number and call the restaurant. The employee on the other end (usually the host or hostess) will pull out the reservation book and try to accommodate the customer for the specific time requested and the number of guests.
Although this practice has been around for quite some time, it doesn’t mean it can’t use a little fine-tuning. As you train employees on proper phone procedure, provide an overview and examples of how they are expected to handle phone calls from customers placing reservations.
Employees should always cordially answer the phone and let customers know they’re delighted to receive the call. Take it a step further and have the staff ask questions about special requests or accommodations that might be needed. For example, they can say something like:
- Are celebrating a special occasion with us?
- Do you have a preferred server or table?
- Does anyone in your party have any special dietary needs or food allergies?
Before ending the phone call, have employees repeat back all the details and contact information about the reservation. Let them know that a confirmation call will be placed a few days before the reservation as a reminder. Also, have them politely inform the customer about the consequences that occur if they arrive late or cancel without notice.
3. Online reservations
In today’s digital world, technology has significantly simplified the reservation process for both restaurants and customers alike. It’s becoming more and more popular for patrons to book restaurant reservations online than ever before. Thanks to pioneers like OpenTable, more than 250 million diners have been seated at more than 20,000 restaurants worldwide.
It’s also becoming standard practice for restaurants to utilize their point of sale (POS) system to help streamline reservations. Online reservation modules can seamlessly integrate into your restaurant’s website with an embedded link provided by your POS company. Customers will then be directed to a custom URL address specific to your restaurant to make reservation requests. Not only does this integration help streamline the online booking process, but the custom URL also contributes to your branding efforts.
From a business owner’s perspective, these powerful tools offer managers and staff a resource to reduce overbooking errors and efficiently monitor restaurant capacity and waitlists. From a guest perspective, it allows them the convenience to pre-book tables online, receive updates on their reservation status, and send cancellation notifications. It’s a win-win for everyone.
4. Avoid Overbooking
Speaking of overbooking, this is a big challenge that restaurants face when they accept reservations from multiple channels. Guaranteeing patrons a table that is not readily available upon arrival only leads to frustrated customers, loss of profits, and damage to your restaurant’s reputation.
Luckily, this is another area where technology and a POS system like Restaurant Manager’s Duet POS system can save the day. Duet allows you to efficiently manage tables by tracking how many are vacant and which ones are occupied.
For customers placing reservations a week in advance or more, employees can check the POS to see table availability on specific dates up to several months in advance. For example, if someone calls in to book a reservation a week from Thursday for a party of 7 at 5 PM, your POS will mark that the table is unavailable during dinner service.
Additionally, if a customer tries to book a reservation online for a date or time that is unavailable, a message will pop up letting the customer know their request can’t be processed due to limited availability. The patron will then be prompted to choose another date or time with open availability. Once successfully booked, their reservation is added to the waitlist in your point of sale software.
5. Reservation Confirmation
No matter which channel you use to accept reservations, it’s best practice to implement a confirmation process. Verifying the reservation time and details with diners is the best way to prevent no-shows and adjust for any changes that might pop up between booking and dining.
The beauty of an online reservation system and your POS software is that they offer automated reminders and confirmation communication via SMS text message, email, or phone call. The automation of this process makes it much easier for you and your staff to manage.
No matter which channel or medium your restaurant uses for taking reservations, make sure it’s operating at maximum efficiency. And remember, developing the perfect system won’t happen overnight. Sometimes it’s helpful to gather feedback from staff and customers about the booking process and areas that may need improvement. The goal for your restaurant reservation procedure is to help the business run smoothly and provide a seamless customer experience.
Author: Nathan Falger
As Marketing Coordinator at Restaurant Manager, a leader in restaurant and hospitality point of sale solutions, Nathan Falger leverages his degree in technical communication from Old Dominion University to create valuable content that addresses real problems and solutions in the food-service industry. Prior to Restaurant Manager, Nathan worked in marketing and event planning, as well as several fast-casual and quick-service restaurants.