Online reservations offer restaurants an excellent opportunity to drive in-person patronage and revenues.

Going out to eat is back: 84 percent of consumers say on-premises dining at restaurants with family and friends is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up. 

With a summer of hospitality in front of restaurants—Americans historically eat out more during warmer months than any other time of year—online reservations offer restaurants an excellent opportunity to drive in-person patronage and revenues. Online reservations can also help achieve other critical goals such as improving the guest experience, simplifying operations, maximizing the number of tables served and reducing waste of food and ingredients. 

Let’s dig in even deeper. Here are six reasons why online reservations can be game-changers for restaurants. 

Make discovery easier

Making it easy for guests to find a restaurant online and book a reservation without navigating through various web pages is a powerful way to drive consumer discovery. 

According to new research from Toast’s Voice of the Restaurant Guest survey, when it comes to finding full-service restaurants online, guests use navigation apps and social media more than any other discoverability channel. Compare that to third-party reservation platforms which only account for 3 percent of guests’ restaurant discovery and often charge restaurants commissions for the reservations they drive. 

Hosts get the visibility they need

Restaurant hosts have many responsibilities across different dining rooms that can even be on multiple floors, making visibility into the status of tables difficult and time-consuming. Modern online reservation platforms are here to help with real-time table status updates from their integrated point-of-sale and kitchen display systems. 

With an integrated restaurant management system, hosts can monitor the status of guests’ orders, track the fulfillment of their requests, and keep tabs on when payments are completed. Additionally, hosts can assist servers by using the system to seat guests according to built-in cover counts and rotating servers in the “next up” sequence.  

Moreover, modern restaurant platforms provide operators with tools to help circumvent no-shows by utilizing estimated wait times, automated notifications, and two-way SMS messaging. This comprehensive approach simplifies the process for guests to stay informed and communicate any changes in their plans.

While these functions can improve the efficiency of a restaurant, only 14 percent of restaurants use a booking service that is mostly or fully automated, leaving 86 percent still going about it “the old-fashioned way.” 

Automated waitlists can mean more time with guests

Online reservation platforms that offer automated waitlists should allow restaurant staffers to spend less time updating the queue and more time serving their guests, bolstering the guest experience. These platforms can also allow restaurants to automatically import their floor plan and server roster while eliminating the need to manage a separate reservation and waitlist provider.

It’s the kind of efficiency that today’s restaurants should expect from their technology stacks, which can be overly complex and are one of operators’ main pain points. Today’s reservation systems need to be easily integrated and simple, syncing with other tech features.

Personalize to create loyalty

One key thing technology and online reservations do is help restaurants personalize their experience to turn first-time guests into regulars. 

Today, with the help of individualized guest profiles, restaurants can anticipate and cater to guest preferences, acknowledge significant occasions, incentivize frequent visitors or VIPs, and expand their marketing opportunities. Before their visit, guests can browse through the menu and even choose to enroll in the restaurant’s loyalty program, which helps owners and operators encourage repeat business by reconnecting with guests through helpful conversations and attractive promotions. 

Higher table turnover can mean more revenue and tips for servers

By taking online reservations, restaurants can more effectively manage the flow of customers, helping utilize tables to their fullest potential. This can increase the number of customers served daily, leading to higher revenue and profit.

Further, it is possible that the more tables served, the higher the wages earned by servers. Online reservations can work in tandem with touch-screen POS systems to increase servers’ gratuity income. The restaurant operator or manager can prepopulate tip percentages to help boost tips—with 15 percent as the lowest option instead of 10 percent, for example—pleasing servers who need to build lives outside of work and pay their bills. And with the ongoing restaurant labor shortage, the importance of employee happiness cannot be understated.

Efficient use of resources

But labor is just one resource restaurants need to be thinking about. Online reservations, restaurants can also help restaurants better forecast inventory needs to better manage cost and improve efficiency.

Inventory management can also help reduce food waste, which is increasingly important to restaurants and consumers. For instance, according to a 2021 report, 72 percent of guests in the U.S. care about how restaurants handle food waste, and 47 percent are willing to spend more at restaurants with a food recovery program.

Online reservations can aid with resource efficiency and more, helping restaurants improve their customer satisfaction along with the many operational benefits detailed above. They represent a dynamic set of competitive advantages that any restaurant today should consider in order to get the most out of their business.

Teddy Tsang is Vice President of Product Marketing at Toast. He has spent the past six years working in restaurant technology after previous career stops with organizations across sectors in executive management roles.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology