Check these six factors before you select your restaurant's reservation software.
Reservations are a critical aspect of the dining experience. Online reservation software has modernized itself for the digital age by allowing diners to book reservations online or via an app at their favorite restaurants. Commercial platforms such as OpenTable also give diners an option to browse menus, reviews and restaurant photos.
Bryan Hooper, vice president of IT restaurant operations and enterprise architecture for Bloomin' Brands Inc., a global restaurant company that houses such notable brands as Outback Steakhouse and Fleming's, said the company took a hybrid approach to solve its restaurants' reservation software needs.
"Since reservations are a key part of fine dining, Fleming's has long used a commercial reservation and seating management product that integrates with OpenTable," he said. "When working through our waitlist solution aimed at our casual dining brands, we included reservation capabilities, which gave us great flexibility. We actually use this with our polished casual brand, Bonefish Grill, that leverages a hybrid of wait list and traditional reservations."
He went on to say that the company's other brands moved to a proprietary platform, "since OpenTable access is especially important for Fleming's, but less so for our casual dining brands."
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Key factors in choosing online reservation software
Competition in the online reservation market is fierce. In a sea of providers that are all very similar, here are six key things to evaluate as you look for a solution.
- Overall technology integration: How would your website, payment gateway, or customer relationship management, inventory and accounting software integrate with the online booking software? As you adopt more technologies, ensuring compatibility with your booking system, website, CRM and other apps is critical.
- Personalization: "Many of the better products let you collect and leverage customer information to drive a more personal dining experience for your reservation guests," Hooper said.
- Brand and website integration: An online reservation tool should feel like a part of your brand, not some clunky outsider. Look for web widgets that you can easily fold into your existing website.
- Overall marketing strategy: If you go with well-known reservation marketplaces, such as OpenTable, you may get some leverage in your efforts to increase your incremental reservations. These major players offer several channels for marketing suggested restaurants and more.
- Your customer lifecycle strategy: "Online reservations are just one part of the guest-management story, so think about how this solution fits into your broader guest visit lifecycle of plan, wait, seat, order, dine and pay," Hooper said. "Your online reservation system either needs to handle many of the early phases of the guest visit, such as seating management, or integrate well with the system you use to deliver those functions."
- Fees and commitments: As with any new tools, evaluate the cost versus potential gain. Online reservations run the gamut from membership-style models to ones that charge fees per reservation. Make sure you understand what your rights are for opting out or switching programs, should the need arise, and gain a good understanding of what support the software provider will deliver if you need it.