Are you an avid restaurant searcher as well as a restaurateur?
If so, you’ll know how frustrating it can be when you draw a blank simply because the restaurants you find offer such limited information online about their menu, ambiance and whatever it is that makes them unique.
You haven’t got time to pick up the phone, after all. And that doesn’t make you lazy, either - it makes you a modern restaurant diner.
Conversely, you might also be ironically nervous about investing too much time or expense in your own restaurant’s online presence. It’s estimated that 5-20% of bookings end up being no-shows, and it’s easy to point the finger of blame at the simplicity of online booking.
With third-party booking sites such as OpenTable and Bookatable making it easy to book multiple tables at different restaurants for the same time slot, no-shows are seemingly inevitable once the diner makes their ‘final decision’ without canceling the others.
Whether or not you believe there’s no ‘guilt’ involved in online booking, it’s hard to look past the fact online restaurant booking is rising at a colossal rate. ResDiary, for instance, have discovered that online bookings processed via their partners rose by a whopping 130% in five years.
When Big Hospitality quizzed a bunch of operators on the changing behaviour of diners over the last few years, the answers were equally fascinating:
- “50% of our bookings come through OpenTable and the rest either book on our website or on the phone”
- “…more than 47% of reservations originate on a mobile phone”
- “…around 80-85% come through the website”
- “…it’s 50/50 in terms of online versus the phone”
- “90% of click-throughs to our booking system are from menu pages”
So, is the telephone booking dead?
Assuming that the rise in online restaurant bookings is the death knell for telephone bookings is rather short-sighted. People continue to and probably always will occasionally pick up the phone to book a table, but it’s the journey they take towards that key moment that matters.
Don’t throw your telephone in the bin - it will continue to play a pivotal role in securing direct bookings. However, it’ll remain very quiet indeed if you avoid the tips in this guide.
Restaurants are often touted as the most searched-for industry by consumers, and that means you need to gain a handle on how they might find yours.
It all starts on mobile
This is in part why so many chains invest in the development of their own apps. They promote loyalty and encourage repeat visits.
If you’re an independent restaurateur, you’re unlikely to have the time and budget available to invest in a mobile app, but the vast number of people using mobile devices to find eateries means you really should be concentrating on the mobile-readiness of your website.
Conduct this simple test:
- Visit your restaurant's website on your smartphone.
- Put your guest hat on.
- See if you can book a table within a couple of minutes.
- Make note of how long it actually took and the frustrations you encountered along the way.
More people will find your restaurant on their mobile phones than on any other device. The importance of this can’t be underestimated.
Traditional searches remain king, but the rising star is local SEO
It’s estimated that over 63.5 million searches are carried out every month featuring a phrase along the lines of “restaurants near me”.
The constant evolution of mobile phones has resulted in incredibly powerful devices that can use location data to determine the most appropriate search results, right when we need them.
People will always search for your restaurant from further afield. Whether they’re due in your area for a holiday or business lunch or are simply considering destinations for their next vacation, the addition of your town, city or county in the “restaurants near…” search phrase should still be anticipated.
But what about those local searches? With so many people relying on their phone’s location powers to find eateries, your search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy will need to follow suit.
Local SEO is the process of optimising your restaurant’s website so that it appears consistently in searches based on the location of the searcher. The reasons for investing in this type of SEO are impossible to ignore:
- 46% of all Google’s searches are based on the need for local information;
- mobile devices are expected to influence over $1.4 trillion in local sales;
- 97% of consumers learn more about a company local to them online than anywhere else;
- if a local business has a mobile-friendly website, it can expect up to 61% of searchers to contact it; and
- in just two years, the number of “near me” and “close by” searches grew by over 900%.
If you're yet to spend some budget on local SEO, now is the time.
The role of social media and hashtags
Did you know that 30% of diners would avoid a restaurant if its Instagram presence was weak?
There’s a good reason for this; we now live in an age where social media drives purchasing decisions, and that’s certainly the case in the restaurant industry.
In 2017, the Independent revealed how Instagram has transformed the restaurant industry for millennials, and that’s a trend that continues to grow for all generations. Pictures really do tell a thousand words, and if your restaurant invests time in its own Instagram presence along with that of its diners (by encouraging them to share their experience on their own feeds), it’ll discover another brilliant touchpoint in the modern diner journey.
Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t be avoided (particularly Facebook’s ‘check in’ feature which can reveal your restaurant to a significant number of people), but there’s no escaping Instagram’s dominance in this sector. Nor should we look past the importance of hashtags.
The Independent piece also revealed that people between the age of 18-35 spend five days a year browsing food images on Instagram. But, how do they find them?
By using hashtags judiciously on your Instagram posts, you should be able to draw in plenty of potential diners.
Here’s some of the best hashtags for likes, according to Oberlo (we’ve picked out those most likely to be used by restaurants):
Do delivery companies play a role?
As some of the statistics we’ve drawn on have demonstrated, a presence on third-party restaurant booking sites like OpenTable and Resdiary is vitally important. Sure, you’ll give up a portion of the sale for a commission, but if you can work hard to tempt that guest back directly in future, you’ll reap the benefits in loyalty for a long time.
But what about delivery companies? Do they play a role in attracting diners?
Absolutely. Deliveroo, for instance, offers hand-picked restaurant recommendations and lots of different ways to conduct a restaurant search.
The same goes for Ubereats, which is rapidly expanding its coverage across the globe and providing detailed listings for its restaurant partners.
The role these services provide is rather different to that of traditional Google searches, because they bank on the restaurant be willing to offer a delivery service. For some independents, this is a stretch too far, but with Deliveroo alone serving 45,000 users each day in the UK, it’s clearly a trend that needs further investigation.
The Ultimate Guide: Growing Your Venue with Food Delivery Apps
The role of reviews
TripAdvisor and Google business reviews are often feared, but they play a big role in the customer journey - and it’s one you simply can’t ignore.
It’s thought that 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations. That makes your listing on TripAdvisor critical to the success of the business.
The key lies in monitoring it regularly and responding to reviews - good and bad - because your reaction to the stuff people are saying about your restaurant will go a long way to tempting a new booking from those researching a perfect table for the night.
Where else should I list my restaurant?
Research shows that 78% of online restaurant bookers include the type of cuisine they fancy in search terms, and one of the best ways to ensure you show up in the results is to list your establishment on as many relevant directory sites as possible.
Here’s some you may not have thought of.
- Allmenus (create listing)
- Bing Places (create listing)
- Foursquare (create/claim listing)
- Google My Business (create listing)
- OpenTable (create listing)
- Zomato (create listing)
The modern diner journey changes like the wind, therefore please check back for updates to our advice. Equally, if you think we’ve missed a trick above and know of a route your diners take that’s resulting in lots of juicy direct bookings, please let us know so we can share with fellow independent operators!