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65% Of Diners Go Directly To A Restaurant’s Website To Book A Reservation

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

In 2024, restaurant reservations are a bit like a game for restaurant operators. Balancing walk-ins while determining the right amount of reservation slots to offer each night can take some time. However, when done correctly, restaurants can fill their seats and turn tables several times throughout service, all while making guests happy. 

Toast conducted a blind survey on how, where, and why guests are booking restaurant reservations and what might influence them to increase their booking frequency. This article delves into the data points behind what diners are thinking. 

Join us as we explore how these insights impact restaurateurs in 2024.

Quick Insights:

  • Males are 2x more likely to always make a reservation compared to women. 

  • 65% of diners surveyed go directly to the restaurant’s website to book a reservation, as opposed to booking on reservation sites like OpenTable.

  • 72% of guests will wait no more than 30 minutes for a table. 

  • 68% of guests are more likely to book a reservation if a restaurant offers a limited-time food special. 

  • 55% of respondents search Google for restaurants when booking a reservation.

  • 44% of respondents find a restaurant less appealing and get frustrated/stop trying to book when it’s difficult to make a reservation.

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Males are 2x more likely to always make a reservation when compared to women

Only 12% of diners answered that they always make a dinner reservation, and over 50% of diners either never or rarely make a reservation at all. Our hypothesis here is that guests are only sometimes booking reservations (34%) because they only do so for a special occasion. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays only happen so many times a year, but when they do it’s important that guests can book at their favorite restaurants.

So who is booking restaurant reservations? Turns out it’s most likely a married man between the ages of 25-45. We found that males are 2x more likely (17%) to always make a reservation compared to women (8%). Specifically, married men make reservations at a very high rate with 27% vs 16% (for men overall). Shoutout to all the husbands out there planning date night! When looking at age, guests between the ages of 25-45 were twice as likely to make a reservation when compared to the youngest (18-24) and oldest generations (54+). 

65% of diners surveyed go directly to the restaurant’s website and use whatever reservation option they have available

Where are guests going to make restaurant reservations? Of those we polled, 65% of respondents go directly to the restaurant’s website and use whichever reservation option they have available. Needless to say, your website should include a clear, dedicated section for reservations. Don’t worry, we also have this Restaurant Website Checklist you can use to make sure your site is up to date!

Similarly, your website should also be optimized to rank highly in Google’s search results. When searching for a restaurant to make reservations in the first place, 55% of respondents turn to Google. This means potential customers are searching Google for restaurants near them to book. By implementing strong SEO practices, you can not only improve your online presence but also create opportunities to connect with local customers. This is especially important in 2024 because of the number of third-party businesses that compete against restaurants in the search results.

We weren’t surprised to find out that Google dominates the restaurant search for reservations, as we found in another Toast survey, 46% of diners are likely to check Google Reviews first when looking at restaurant reviews and ratings. Overall, if your website has a strong online presence, positive reviews, and a reservation section, you’re likely to bring in new customers. 

However, while Google is the go-to spot to search for restaurants to make a reservation at, we see a decline in usage for younger generations. About 63% of respondents ages 54 and older selected Google search as their first choice, declining to 46% for those between the ages of 18-24. This is where we start to see the rise of social media.

After Google, the second most popular source for discovering a restaurant is social media (21%)

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially thanks to the younger generations. Younger respondents (between the ages of 18 and 34) are more likely to use social media (46%) to discover a restaurant compared to older guests (35+). More specifically, women (23%) are more likely than men to find restaurants on social media. Consider targeting women between the ages of 18 and 34 in your social media campaigns.

You don’t need to hire a social media expert to promote open reservations on your social channels. Instead, consider snapping a shot of your beautiful space and adding a reservation link to your Instagram story. If you see covers are low one week, don’t underestimate the power of posting about reservation availability the day before, or even the day of, on your social account. Over half (52%)1 of reservations Toast observed in Q3 2023 on the Toast Tables platform were booked less than a day ahead of the reserved time slot. Approximately 23% of those reservations made on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 were made less than two hours in advance! It’s never too late to try to get more traffic into your restaurant. Get to posting! 

According to Toast Tables 2023 data, Saturday has about 85% more reservations than the weekly average.  

It comes as no surprise that the most popular day of the week for reservations on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 was Saturday, which had approximately 85%2 more reservations than the weekly average. On Saturdays, more restaurants are open for longer hours, and more guests are available to go out. This ever-popular day is followed by Friday, which had approximately 54% more reservations than the weekly average. Surprisingly, Sunday was the third busiest day in Q3 2023 for reservations on the Toast Tables platform, with about 8% more than the weekly average, followed by Thursday, 12% below the weekly average for reservations.

Furthermore, the most popular hour for dinner reservations between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. local time on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 was 6:00 p.m. (37%), followed by 7:00 p.m. (26%), and 5:00 p.m. (22%). You can use this information to staff your restaurant accordingly, and possibly avoid having a full staff on the floor until around 5:45pm. 

Naturally, guests are dining out Thursday-Sunday around 6-7pm. This might not be groundbreaking news, but what about those slower weekdays? How can you get guests through the door on a Tuesday at 4pm? This is where restaurant promotions and marketing come into play.

68% of guests are more likely to book a reservation if a restaurant offers a limited-time food special

Alongside your reservation posts, consider promoting food specials on your social media. Approximately 68% of guests are more likely to book a reservation if a restaurant offers a limited-time food special. Limited-time food specials are attractive for all ages but for different reasons. To get specific, 49% of respondents who are over the age of 54 are most interested in limited-time food specials. They’re less interested in drink specials (20%) and particularly don’t care for prix-fixe menus (12%) or restaurant week (19%).

Meanwhile, the concept of “limited time” in any capacity, has been especially popular amongst the younger generations. Crumbl, a cookie bakery, releases new flavors for its delectable cookies every week. There are TikTok accounts by Gen Zers that are dedicated just to trying the flavors each week. When Gen Z sees these offerings like this on Instagram they’re more inclined to come into your restaurant, giving you the opportunity to make them a repeat visitor.

The second most popular option (44%) is an alcohol promotion such as bottomless drinks, buckets, or pitchers of beer. You can use the same marketing tactic here, explaining that a cocktail is only available for a limited time, or only on certain days you offer bottomless mimosas and Aperol spritz. These deals particularly register with men, as 54% of respondents who chose alcoholic promotions as their top option are male. When considering which alcoholic beverages to promote, take into account that a higher percentage of alcohol drinkers order cocktails (24%) at bars or restaurants than even beer (22%) or wine (20%). Specifically, females most commonly ordered cocktails (33%), while men chose beer (36%).

72% of guests will wait up to 30 minutes for a table

Don’t worry, we’re not forgetting walk-ins! POV: your guests are walking into your restaurant on a busy Friday night- start a timer for 30 minutes, as 72%3 of respondents told us they’ll wait no more than 30 minutes for a table. Diners between the ages of 45-54 are less likely to wait for a table for over an hour (less than 2%), whereas guests between the ages of 25-35 might consider waiting (11%).

To avoid long wait times, make sure your reservation policy is clearly outlined so guests know how long they have with the table before they arrive. Your host should also avoid seating impartial parties, as the steps of service greatly get slowed down. For more table management tips, check out this article, and to turn tables faster, reference this one.  

Above all, booking a reservation greatly helps avoid table wait times. Approximately 50% of reservations on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 were seated within 5 minutes of the slotted booking time, and nearly 10% were seated exactly on time. Needless to say, if you can convince your guests to book reservations they’re more likely to get seated on time, enhancing their overall experience. If all your reservation slots are booked, you can then focus on seating walk-ins.  

66% of guests might be influenced to wait longer for a table if there’s a comfortable waiting area

Your restaurant is (hopefully) greeting plenty of walk-ins each night. When that waitlist starts getting long, there are ways to help convince your guests to stick around. Around 66% of guests could be influenced to wait longer for a table if there’s a comfortable waiting area. This could include couches, armchairs, or high-top tables. Make sure there is enough space for customers to sit comfortably and that the area is clean.

Another option, especially when the party is a group of men, is to offer guests a spot at the bar. Men are most likely (58%) to be influenced to wait longer for a table if there’s bar seating available. This is a win-win as the guests are happy, and your business gets a sale before the guest has even sat down for their reservation. Make sure your staff communicates whether the bar cashes the guests out before they’re seated or if the tab gets transferred to the table. To avoid confusion, consider implementing a policy here that’s outlined in your Restaurant Operations Manual

Lastly, 59% of guests between the ages of 18-34 prefer a mobile waitlist/text message option when waiting for their table. A mobile waitlist allows guests to see where they are on the list without having to ask the host. 

Toast Tables is Toast's integrated waitlist & reservation solution built to enhance hospitality, simplify table management, and keep guests coming back. We’ve all been there, waiting for a table wondering how much longer? Instead, guests can sit at the bar, in their car, or in your waiting area with the comfort of knowing exactly how much longer. A mobile waitlist like Toast Tables makes things simpler for your host while improving the guest experience.

44% of respondents find a restaurant less appealing and get frustrated/stop trying to book when it’s difficult to make a reservation

Reservation culture has gotten out of hand in some cities as social media platforms like TikTok have greatly boosted local restaurants' popularity.  Spots that might have only served residents in their neighborhood are experiencing a rush of business from all over. Although this isn’t a bad thing, it makes it difficult to keep guests happy when it’s impossible to make a reservation. 

44% of respondents find a restaurant less appealing and get frustrated or stop trying to book when it’s difficult to make a reservation. However, male respondents expressed that they might find the restaurant more appealing if this was the case, as 41% of men answered that they would continue to try to get a reservation and only 38% answered they would find it less appealing. Whereas females are more likely to find these restaurants less appealing (48%) vs. only 26% of women find them more appealing. One way to combat this problem is to only open up reservations a week or two in advance and make it clear when those times will be. 

When looking at what times your restaurant should open up reservation slots, the most popular times guests booked their reservations in Q3 2023 were at 4 p.m. (11%), 5 p.m. (10%), and 3 p.m. (9%). However, many bookings were also made during off hours when many full-service restaurants were typically closed. Consider meeting your guests halfway. For example,  announce your reservations will be available 2 weeks in advance at 4 pm (or whatever time you choose). This way, potential customers can set reminders on their calendars and book the popular restaurant they’ve been wanting to try. 

Set your restaurant up for success

By leveraging this information, your restaurant can optimize its reservation and waitlist operations, ultimately fostering stronger customer relationships. Don’t forget that technology is here to help! Check out Toast Tables to help you seat guests efficiently, personalize their experience, and turn first-timers into regulars. Remember, getting sat at a table (or not) is a customer’s first impression of your business. Let’s make their first impression a great one! 

Methodology 

Toast conducted a blind survey on this topic of 850 U.S. adults ages 18 and older on March 14, 2024. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3 - 5%.

1Toast analyzed the time and number of reservation bookings at full-service restaurants relative to the booking slot on the Toast Tables platform to determine how far in advance guests were booking reservations in Q3 2023.

2Toast analyzed the number of reservations each day of the week at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 to determine which days had the highest number of reservations

3Toast analyzed the time of reservations at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 and compared it to the time the bookings were marked as sat by a host to determine how early, late, or on-time reservations were seated in the restaurant.

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