Five things your table management system needs

by John Jones | Jan 19, 2023

For restaurateurs looking for their first table management system or a replacement for their existing software, choosing the right product can be difficult. Software for restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars comes in many sizes and there is a lot of of choice out there, but one size certainly does not fit all.

Here are five things you’ll want your table management software to to do, beyond managing tables.

Menu pre-orders

Long seen as one of the worst parts of dealing with group and party bookings, gathering customers’ menu choices has for years been the bane of restaurateurs’ lives. Large group or party bookings are complex to manage successfully and getting menu choices accurately recorded – then delivered on the day – traditionally requires never-ending paperwork, disparate spreadsheets, scraps of paper and multiple phone calls. Sometimes the old manual methods are best, but with pre-orders they are really not because the possibility of errors is huge, leading to unhappy customers declaring “we’re never going there again”. You really don’t want that.

Instead, look for a system which allows the party organiser or lead booker to manage their booking online, rather like a vacation itinerary. Such online pre-ordering systems mean that instead of calling you, the organiser will log-in to the software and manage their booking themselves and save hours of phone calls right when you need them least. They should be able to see their event menu within an online portal and map individual dishes to their guests, with the software seamlessly sending the instructions and changes to the restaurant via the software.

Web-based menu pre-ordering for party and group bookings is a real win-win, because it gives the customer far more direct control of their big event yet reduces errors and operational problems for the restaurateur. The nice thing is that the restaurant owner or manager sets the system rules around what the customer can or cannot do online, so is always in true overall control of the process.

Reservation Management

Restaurant reservations are rarely treated by restaurateurs as transactional sales because, ultimately, there are real people behind the booking seeking not a commodity but an experience. The demands of the customer coupled with the operating environment of the restaurant, pub, bar or cafe mean that food & beverage businesses must work flexibly to deliver a memorable meal and manage the reservation all the way through to completion.

If you’re evaluating table management software, you really do want to find a product which allows you and your staff to manage a reservation as widely as possible. Having the reservation “in the system” is all well and good, but without the ability to change key parameters such as date, time, menu pre-orders, number of diners, table allocation and a host of other critical details the system is not better than pen & paper. Check what you can actually do with a booking once it’s made, because maximum flexibility is your friend here.

Online bookings

Along with its arrival across most service sectors – from plane tickets to taxis, to hotel bookings and gym sessions – restaurant online booking has been around for a few years now. During that time the best software vendors have listened to their customers’ feedback and refined their online table management platforms to make them fast, reliable and a joy to use. The worst vendors have not!

While restaurant software is predominantly the preserve of the restaurateur, online booking is one of the rare areas of the system which gets seen and used by the public and so it needs to be good. As we mentioned above, booking a restaurant is not a transactional or commodity purchase because the customers’ buying decisions are driven far more by emotion. They are looking for a great, memorable experience and setting the tone for that starts with their online journey.

The part seen by the booker/diner must follow all of the rules of conventional, contemporary software design: there’s a lot to consider here but, broadly, it must look nice, be easy to use, fast, secure and reliable. Beware of anything which looks clunky or feels like an afterthought and if in doubt use the age-old test: “Would I enjoy using this, if I were the customer?”.

Online Ordering

In some ways, the benefits brought about by software are their biggest challenge for restaurants, because with solid technology platforms the possibilities for doing new things become apparent very quickly. Realising that they now have the power to introduce new processes or offer something new is a joy for restaurateurs but sometimes the endless possibilities for improvement can lead a sense of not knowing quite what to do first.

The best table management systems come with clearly defined modules which restaurant owners can use in order to take new directions in one step, rather than have to build the process themselves using the inner workings of the software. Online ordering is one such example.

The rise in demand for dine-at-home restaurant meals has been a game-changer for many businesses seeking to diversify their offer and make a quick and effective pivot in their strategies. The early days of the pandemic saw some software companies gallantly produce hastily-designed take-away software which was okay as a quick fix at the time but by now really ought to to have been heavily refined. Unfortunately there are quite a few instances of those original legacy systems soldiering on in 2023, looking rather tired and providing sub-optimal performance in a post-covid world.

You need to look for a table management system which has a tried and trusted solution for offering expanding into the dine-at-home market. The key here is in the first part of the above sentence: “..look for a table management system…” because stand-alone take-away systems designed for traditional fast-food outlets will rarely cut it for restaurants wishing to make the distinction between high-street burger joint and restaurant-quality-food-at-home.

Try to find a table management system which includes an integrated module for high-end food ordering, offered by a software company which understands the unique dynamics of restaurants, not fast food outlets. Stand-alone systems for pizza-and-fries-type businesses will very quickly prove inadequate for restaurants.

Card payments

We mentioned above that, from the customers’ points of view, making a reservation is not a transactional activity. We stand by that, but nonetheless the restaurateur – however adept at providing a beautiful dining experience – must at some point take payment.

The key here is to find a system which takes the “end process” of collecting payment and turns it into a real positive for bookers. Rather than creating an environment where diners view the payment section as painful, the best restaurant software vendors have built systems which add value and leave customers with a sense of money well spent.

It goes without saying that the table booking system you seek should feature online credit card payments, linked directly to the customers’ bookings and the wider card payments infrastructure. But in order to add that extra value, you should definitely try to find a system which allows diners to not just pay for the booking ahead of time, but leave deposits too. Why? The answer is twofold: making a payment and/or leaving a deposit gives the booker a sense of security and finality around their reservation; for the restaurateur it increases customer commitment and forecastable revenue by reducing no-shows.

Wrapping Up

Buying table management software for restaurants can be difficult due to the brands and functionality available. It is important that restaurant owners are clear about their priorities when evaluating software products based on their current and future needs. Menu-pre-ordering, reservation management, online booking, online ordering and card payments should be top of their list.

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