Rail Disruption - Tips for Restaurants

by John Jones | Dec 09, 2022

The UK is currently experiencing a raft of industrial action on its rail networks, causing timetable havoc and transportless customers right when restaurants need their trade the most. After a difficult few years, restaurateurs who rely on functioning rail routes to bring in customers over the Christmas period may well be crying into their cash drawers at yet another blow to their livelihoods.

In this week's blog, we take a look at some ideas which might help those businesses to retain a degree of trade normality during the rail strikes.

Get the info

The first and probably most important thing to do is establish the facts in what is a constantly changing situation. Being completely up to speed with the current planned action is key, so make sure you have dates and times prominently displayed in your reservations diary. This approach will ensure you start your planning from a sound base-point, from which your subsequent actions will hang. For up to date information on confirmed strikes, go to national rail.

A helping hand

Once you have established the dates and times of strikes, don't keep them to yourself. Instead be a good Samaritan and offer the information to your customers to help them plan, too. A good starting point is to add a pop-up or banner on your website, or those with a marketing module within their restaurant reservation software can send out an email to customers. 

The nice thing about offering a helpful hand is that customers not only get useful information to help them plan, but their perception of your restaurant will be very positive which in turn will create a sense of advocacy. That's great, because advocacy equals being more attractive than the competition and, hopefully, guaranteed future bookings when the strikes end.

One last point on this subject: if you're going to email customers with helpful information, why not go the the next stage and think about using the exercise to generate forward bookings? There's nothing to stop restaurants including in their messages a compelling special offer or two, ready to be taken up by customers when they can use the trains again. If necessary, take a longer-term view and keep communicating.

Think laterally & do deals

So, customers can't hop on a train for a great night out at your restaurant, so they have to stay at home, right? Not necessarily, because with a little lateral thinking the problem could be solvable. For example, some customers eager to have a meal with you might be able to hitch a lift (or ride, for our US readers) into town but not be able to get back again. Similarly, they may be able to drive themselves to you, but have no solution for getting home again after a few glasses of fizz.

Deal-making is your answer in both the above scenarios. Speak with local hoteliers and negotiate a better price for overnight accommodation for your customers. With a little deal-making you could put together a nice little package for diners whereby they eat with you and stay at the hotel. It is a possible win-win-win for you, the hotel and the customers.

A similar approach could be made to local taxi companies, to roll together an eat-and-ride offer which would see customers happily fed, watered and safely delivered back to their homes at the end of the night. The taxi company would get the extra (and returning) trade, at the same time that you retain live bookings and get to be seen as they good guys engaging with fellow local businesses.

Don't forget to broadcast those offers to customers, as outlined in our second point above, using your restaurant system's marketing functionality

If they really can't travel, all is not lost

Sometimes even lateral thinking and deal-making won't yield a workable solution, no matter how hard you have tried. But all is not lost because with the right infrastructure and software in place you can take your restaurant to the customer. 

The market for dine-at-home services (aka high-end take-away) is booming in our post-pandemic society, and customers' appetite for restaurant food in their own surroundings has never been greater. It is an ideal way to keep chefs cooking and tills ringing or beeping, provided you (a) have a way for customer to order online, (b) a robust and error-free way of scheduling everything and (c) can provide the means of transporting the food.

Most restaurant table booking systems come with an online booking system for your website, but to operate dine-out services seamlessly you really need a dedicated take-away module. Epos companies have been quick to cobble together rudimentary systems for this during the pandemic, but you really need something which allows customers to pre-order their dishes, pay online and book their delivery slots. To increase your reach, consider connecting your restaurant management system to Deliverect, a company which specialises in consolidating multiple online order channels into one.

With that done, you need a way to get the food to the customers. The best way is to use an in-house vehicle (suitably insured, of course) and the services of a willing staff member who fancies some time on the road. However, the cost for this can be high so many restaurants turn to out-sourced delivery agents such as Stuart

Wrapping Up

The current wave of rail strikes have the potential to rob town and city centre restaurants of bookings, or deprive those in rural train-served areas of trade. All is not lost, however, because with a little lateral thinking, a bit of deal-making and the right technology, it may be not only possible to retain trade levels but to improve them, while creating new sales channels and forward bookings.

Have you seen our Online Menu Pre-Ordering?  Book your January demo today!

Favouritetable is contemporary, easy to use restaurant management software designed to increase bookings, efficiency, revenue and profits. Loved by restaurateurs and UK-based, it's the best value full-function restaurant management software on the market. 

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