3 ways to bin the throw-way booking culture

  • Jan 24, 2022  |  John Jones  |  4 min read
3 ways to bin the throw-way booking culture

With the restaurant sector in a state of flux, stifled by ever-changing rules and unpredictable consumer behaviour, it is no wonder that restaurateurs find themselves frustrated or worse, out of pocket. Not only are they now looking for new ways to win business by expanding their product offer, opening new sales channels and innovating their menus, they have to cope with the double whammy of increased no-shows and cancellations. 

Nothing knocks a hospitality business more off-course than cancelled bookings, because managing the infrastructure necessary to provide for those bookings becomes increasingly difficult when the actual number of customers is totally different to what was forecast. While F&B business owners do understand the uncertainties faced by consumers, customers themselves have little understanding of the impact of their cancellation, from perishable inventories being junked, staff rotas going to pot and, of course, the loss of supporting revenues. Despite the plight of restaurateurs, there appears to be little legal recourse in the event of no-shows and, even if there were, applying it without losing the customers’ loyalties would be very difficult. 

In this short blog we will look at three practical steps restaurateurs can take to reduce no-shows and retain their income.

1. Online menu selection

There’s no reason why implementing clever technology (well get onto that below) should reduce the customer experience or be less convenient. In fact, one sure-to-please restaurant technology which bosses can offer today is online menu pre-ordering. 

Put simply, menu pre-ordering is a clever way to collect the customer’s menu choices when they book a table through the web. Gone are the days of boring, downloadable PDF files being customers’ only access to menus online – nowadays savvy restaurateurs display their wares using fully dynamic menus, which allow the customer to browse at their leisure and choose all of their courses for all of their guests, and book them there and then.

Not convinced? Here are some key benefits of online menu-pre-ordering:

For customers:

  • time savings over ordering in-restaurant; less waiting time on arrival
  • No unexpected and disappointing non-availabilty on-visit
  • Total pricing transparency
  • More time to peruse with less stress
  • Better decisions around the quantities ordered
  • Transparency of calories, allergens and ingredients

And finally, customers increasingly used to ordering products and services online and for many, such as millennials and “gen Zs”, outlets not offering online services will be avoided.

For restaurants

  • Increased brand loyalty created by technology comforts
  • Better inventory management/forecasting
  • Improved cost control
  • Less waste
  • Improved time management
  • Enhanced staff planning
  • Greater opportunities for customer engagement and upselling via offers & promotions
  • Access to customers’ purchasing habits data, for the purpose of future marketing.

2. Take online deposits

Giving customers the added benefits of online menu pre-ordering is a great step forward in its own right. However, it can also be used as a “sweetener” for what is about to come: deposits. For too long, restaurants have been expected to absorb the costs of no-shows and cancellations as part and parcel of traditional restaurant practices, creating a virtuous circle in which customers expect to cancel for free. The majority of restaurants having experienced a large increase in cancellations are increasingly taking a more robust stand in an effort to counter the throw-away booking culture and recoup lost revenue.

Deciding to implement such a policy and actually making it work in practice can be difficult, however, and the creation of paperwork to record deposits taken and availability of staff out of hours to take payment are particular barriers. 

Seen as just part of an overall package of changes online wrapped around online menu pre-ordering, asking for deposits makes sense. Why? Because it is the logical next step in the web-based booking journey and, of course, allows some degree of security for restaurateurs. 

Using the right technology, a simple pop-up dialogue box appears when the online booking process is nearly complete, to take the customer’s deposit. Embedded within this step are clear terms & conditions for booking which form a binding contract between both parties and stipulate the amount of deposit to be required together with any stipulations regarding their returnablity in the event the customer doesn’t show.

The net effect? Customers are safe in the knowledge that their booking and menu choices are secured, and clear about their commitment (financial or otherwise) to the restaurant. Further, and most importantly from the restaurateur’s point of view, the business receives much-needed tangible revenue there and then.

3. Take full payment online. 

The great thing about these systems is their configurability – for the first time in a long time, they are in control of how they do business and can set their own rules. For those businesses wanting to go a step further, technologies are out there which will facilitate the demand for full payment at the time of booking. Working in the same way as deposits, the process collects the customer’s order and booking, but requires payment by card before the reservation is confirmed.

Wrapping up

The change in customer engagement with the online economy, coupled with restaurateurs unable to continue shouldering the financial burden of cancellations, has created convergence in the way both sides approach restaurant bookings. 

The environment has never been more primed for the sustained use of online booking technology and in particular the principle of “pay before you play”. By introducing readily available and easy-to-use systems, restaurateurs no longer need to accept loss of revenue through no-shows as a hazard of the profession. On the contrary, in parallel with consumers’ increasing appetite for a digital journey restaurant owners are fully able to introduce measures which work for them, too.

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