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Restaurant Reservation Tips By Experts In The Industry

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

Follow these seven tips to turn your staff into reservation experts:

Restaurant reservation searches are up about 107%. Reservation culture has absolutely skyrocketed, especially in major cities like New York. The ability or inability to get a reservation on a weekend night has made restaurants even more popular, making them feel exclusive. With this boost in popularity, the reservation process has become more complex for the hospitality industry. Businesses find themselves accidentally double-booking or not having room for walk-ins, and questioning if they should require guests to add a credit card to their online reservation. There are many different cloud-based reservation providers, but how do you use them best?

In this article, we’ll outline restaurant reservation tips from experts in the industry. These tips can help you organize your reservation process and make sure your tables are getting filled.

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Why You Need an Online Restaurant Reservation System

Online restaurant reservation systems are a convenient way to track reservations without using an old-school restaurant reservation book or a phone. Making a reservation at a restaurant online reduces human error — there’s no mistake with recording the date and time of reservations or fumbling through booklets. 

Online reservation platforms do the work for you — guests simply go through your restaurant’s website to reserve a table, and they can cancel or modify their reservation at any time. This platform can add reservation times to guests’ calendars, log their reservation history, and even send reminders! 

Restaurant reservation system tips

Now that we’ve reviewed the importance of implementing a reservation system, here are some tips from experts in the industry.

1. Use SMS automation

“Simple SMS text automation can streamline your operations and improve the guest experience. Using SMS features like automatic confirmation and cancellation (e.g. "Reminder that you're booked at Toast Taverna tomorrow at 5 PM for 6 people. Please reply 1 to confirm, and 9 to cancel") can help guests tell you ahead of time whether they're coming, with a simple one-tap reply. Using 2-way SMS communication from the host stand, guests can communicate that they're running late by replying directly to their confirmation. No more calling every guest to confirm each reservation, or hosts manning phones to see who's running late!”

- Sonora Braun, Product Lead, Toast Tables

SMS messaging can help make the check-in process a lot smoother. This way, when a guest is going to no-show they can respond to your message and let you know. With this knowledge, you can seat a walk-in or someone on the waitlist instead. SMS messaging can help keep your dining room fuller faster.

2. Be everywhere your guests are searching

“Be everywhere your guests are searching. No matter how skilled your servers are or how delicious your dishes are, your guests can't book a table if they can't find the reservation button. Guests are searching by restaurant name, cuisine type, and even by specific menu items on a variety of platforms like Google and Yelp.

You’ll want to make sure that your profiles are all optimized and up to date, and that your reservation system lets guests book a table straight from wherever they found you. The faster and more seamless the booking process, the more likely guests are to book the first time, and to continue choosing you in the future.”

- Matt McAllister, Head of Marketing, Yelp for Restaurants

Optimizing your website and social media channels is essential in 2024. Guests should be able to easily navigate your website and find what they’re looking for. This includes basic contact information, reservations, and more. For more information check out this article.

3. Consider requiring deposits

“Use payment features like reservation deposits to deter no-shows and recoup any potential losses for larger parties. By paying a small deposit upfront to secure a larger reservation, customers are less likely to no-show. Keep in mind that while using deposits will reduce no-shows, it could result in fewer reservations when guests who were likely to no-show may be unwilling to pay a deposit. This will depend on the overall guest demand for your restaurant and many other factors unique to your restaurant.

Here are a few things to consider as you build out deposit rules: 

1. Large parties: Consider using deposits to secure only large party tables that operationally will cost a lot if they don't show. Guests are more used to this across the market.

2. Peak hours: Consider only using deposits for tables during peak times. For example, make a service period from 7-8 p.m. called Peak and assign deposits only to these reservations. This pushes guests to book earlier and later times to avoid the deposit. Those guests who are serious about your restaurant and want these time slots may have a higher willingness to pay for peak times. 

3. Size of deposit: Consider playing around with the deposit amount until you find your sweet spot that is most palatable to your guests. For example, $20 per person may be too high, but $5 or $10 per person might be less of a deterrent for your guest market.” 

- Sonora Braun, Product Lead, Toast Tables

When it comes to deposits, communication is key. If you test this, consider adding a blurb about why this is necessary, and make sure guests know they won’t be charged unless they no-show. Including your cancelation policy on your reservation site is another great wait to communicate with your potential customers. Lastly, make sure your pricing is warranted but fair. A large fee can result in fewer customers.

4. Reservation marketing should be frequent

“Make sure that guests can make reservations at your restaurant from every channel possible whether that be your website, social media, or your Google Business Profile. Every marketing or advertising effort should end with a call to action, namely booking a reservation.” 

- Ashley Do, Strategic Partnerships, Google

Reservation marketing is not a one-time occurrence. Posting your reservation link often can be extremely helpful. For example, whenever you’re running specials or hosting events, post about it with the reservation link. Simply putting the option in front of your guests can increase your direct bookings.

Looking for weekend brunch plans? Make a reservation for bottomless brunch here!

5. Integrate your POS

“Take the guesswork out of table management by using a solution that's integrated with your POS. Being able to see what items have been ordered and sent to or fulfilled by the kitchen, and when a guest pays, can help your hosts know where guests are in their meal without ever looking at the table, helping you turn tables faster.” 

- Sonora Braun, Product Lead, Toast Tables

A POS integration allows for updates and notifications in real-time, making day-to-day operations easier. For example, when a guest swipes their credit card to pay their tab, it will update your reservation system so your host can plan to seat that table soon. This way, your restaurant host time checking the status of tables and more time greeting and accommodating your guests. For more information check out this article.

6. Help your hosts run a more efficient restaurant

“The host stand is the ‘mission control’ for restaurant staff. When selecting a reservation management system, it’s important to look for a versatile platform that has the ability to track reservations, seat tables, switch shifts, manage orders, and provide real-time updates to guests. But above all, in order to get the most out of a reservation system, data will make the difference.  

A connected Guest Data Platform (GDP), adds valuable customer data, including guest notes, visit history, and previous feedback, to individual guest profiles stored on the reservation platform. This empowers brands to tailor every guest’s dining experience to their personal preferences and behavior—regardless of who’s working. For example, based on data logged within the reservation system, servers can greet guests by name, anticipate needs, acknowledge special occasions, and more. These data-driven anticipated actions – like knowing when to sing happy birthday to John or adding a lemon to Sally’s water – help staff make every guest feel like a regular and ultimately foster Guest Lifetime Value.”

Ray Gallagher, VP and GM, Olo Engage

Keeping track of guests’ dining preferences can help lead to a better overall dining experience. Using a reservation system that stores guest data can help your hosts become better informants for your servers. For example, if a guest has an extreme allergy, that data allows the server to immediately acknowledge it. This makes the guest feel special. For more information check out this article on How to Run an Efficient Restaurant Host Stand in 2024.

7. Update your guestbook

“Mark guests as VIPs or take notes about your regulars and big spenders so you can identify them ahead of time and keep them coming back. “

- Sonora Braun, Product Lead, Toast Tables

If you’re looking to build relationships with customers and turn them into regulars, your guestbook is your best bet. Similar to the tip we discussed above, guest knowledge is power. Updating your guestbook regularly can help build customer loyalty.

Use the best reservation software for your business

While having a reservation system isn’t necessarily mandatory, they’re greatly beneficial for restaurants. Reservation software provides an important guide for anticipating busy periods, scheduling staff, and projecting revenue. Implementing a modern, online-based reservation system (especially one that is integrated with your POS) doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, either. With online restaurant reservation systems, communication between your guests, host, and servers can be seamless, letting you focus on what matters most: delivering exceptional service, time and time again.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.