In a 2019 report, 47% of restaurateurs said they’d repair or update their equipment if they had the money to hand. A broken refrigeration unit or oven will have an obvious impact on a business, but is it that clear when digital systems aren’t fit for purpose?
Take online booking systems for example. It has, understandably, taken some restaurants a while to move to the digital realm when it comes to bookings, but if you’re yet to make the leap, it could be one of the most important things you do in 2021.
How many people are booking restaurants online?
Last year, table reservation system provider ResDiary revealed that online bookings processed by its restaurant partners had increased by 130% in five years.
This should come as little surprise. Think about the last time you needed to book or buy something; chances are, you’ll have picked up your smartphone to complete the task.
In the UK, the number of people who used the phone to book restaurant tables between 2015 and 2019 dropped from 58% to just 20%. In 2019, the most popular method of booking a table was online.
If you’re not offering online table booking, you’re missing out on a potentially huge number of reservations - that’s all you need to know.
Why do you need an online table booking system?
It’s thought that around 90% of guests research a restaurant before dining, and that’s more than any other business type.
That alone should be enough to convince you than online table booking systems are worth it, but there are some other compelling reasons they’re such a good investment.
Here are five reasons online table booking systems benefit restaurants.
1. Less dead table space
We’ve all turned up at a restaurant only to be turned away because there aren’t any tables available.
However, those in the industry will know that, often, those ‘reserved’ tables will sit unused for far too long - until the booker arrives. With an intelligent online table booking system, you can make reserved tables work harder by offering specific time slots for dining.
2. Remain booking-ready when closed (and during service)
As a restaurateur, there’s nothing worse than knowing that you’re unable to take and process bookings because you’re either closed or too busy.
An online table booking system completely negates that issue by working hard to take bookings while you sleep or run a busy front of house.
3. Creates a simple booking process
Sure, calling a restaurant to book a table isn’t exactly a taxing endeavour, but smartphones have arguably made tasks like this even easier. And a simple booking process makes customers happier; what a great way to start a relationship!
4. Slots perfectly into your marketing campaigns
Online table booking and email marketing go hand-in-hand. Arguably, these days, one can’t exist without the other.
In fact, the ability to accept table bookings digitally will slot perfectly into any marketing campaign you run and provides the perfect call-to-action which is so often lacking.
5. You’ll gain access to better customer data
Customer data is currency in the digital economy. It’ll help you create targeted, relevant marketing campaigns and deliver a personalised service which lives long in the memory.
Obtaining that data is made much easier - and more compliant - if you use a trusted online booking system.
How much do online table booking systems cost?
Let’s put one myth to bed: online table booking systems don’t have to cost the earth. But we do need to make one important distinction.
There are two types of table booking system you might be thinking of:
- third-party platforms (such as OpenTable)
- direct booking systems
This guide refers to the latter. Third-party platforms absolutely have their place, but they’re a different kettle of fish when it comes to strategy and the price you’ll pay for the privilege of a listing.
Direct booking systems are completely under your control and, usually, there aren’t any booking commissions to take into account. Instead, you’ll play a flat monthly fee for ‘rental’ of the online software which varies depending on a number of factors.
However, it’s always important to check for hidden costs or extras which may come at a cost (this is sometimes the case with SMS fees, setup or training).
That said, there’s a price point for every venue’s budget. Keep reading to find out what you can expect to pay in our run down of the systems to check out.
What to look for in an online table booking system
Not all online table booking systems are created equal, but there are some common features you’ll need to look out for:
simple, seamless integration with your website (with branding options) secure payment options if you take deposits for bookings (even if you don’t now, it’s nice to have the option)
- a customer-friendly booking journey with as few steps as possible
- fully mobile-ready interface (it needs to work flawlessly on any sized device)
- calendar view for internal use
- ability to customise the customer data you request
- menu integration and meal pre-ordering option
- automated guest communication to help you create both email and SMS loyalty sequences
The above list isn’t exhaustive, and new features are arriving constantly, so it’s important to fully scout out your shortlisted systems to see what they can offer above and beyond the obvious stuff.
Some systems will excel at specific features above, while others will provide the perfect, broad coverage of them all for your requirements.
So, which system should you choose?
4 online table booking systems to check out
There are plenty of options on the market when it comes to online table booking systems, but here are four which deserve special mention.
GloriaFood is a simple, completely free table booking system for restaurants. There’s no contract and nothing to pay per seat or booking. As a result, it represents a brilliant way to dip your toe into the world of direct table booking thanks to its “easy to spot” table reservation button which can be easily installed on any website. There are also paid upgrades (as you’d guess) including online payments and a branded mobile app.
Price: free (paid additional features available)
Tablein is used by restaurants across the world and offers a comprehensive range of features including table ready notifications, payments, email marketing and integration with social platforms like Facebook.
There’s even a bird’s eye view of your tables to accompany the traditional calendar view, if that’s something you’ve been yearning for.
Price: €65 to €95 per month
ResDiary is actually a third-party booking engine, a bit like OpenTable, but it deserves a place in this list because its roots lay firmly in offering a direct online booking solution for restaurants.
It’s certainly not the cheapest option on this list, but ResDiary features pretty much everything you’d ever need and is particularly worth a look if you run a chain of restaurants.
Price: £99 setup fee, £89-£245 per month
SimplyBook.me makes a big play for the mobile versions of its online booking system, and not just from the guests’ perspective; their management app is also available on both iOS and Android devices.
That means you can manage your bookings wherever you are and benefit from an impressive feature set which includes social media integration, integrated payments and a full marketing suite.
Price: Free - $59.99 per month
Before you go…
We hope our guide to online table booking systems has proven useful. As you’ll have noted, there’s a fair bit to take on board, but the affordability and availability of such systems these days at least means you won’t have to blow your budget.
If you’re at the start of your restaurant journey, online table booking is just one of many considerations and investments you’ll need to make. Click the guide below to ensure you don’t overlook anything else.