Bookings are expected to increase this summer as an estimated 37m Brits plan to stay in the UK, while tourists will be visiting to take advantage of the weak pound. But will you be able to benefit from all this extra trade if customers find it difficult to book a table at your restaurant or pub, or a room in your hotel?
With many people short on time as well as money, many will be looking for the quickest and simplest way to plan their break. To help prevent your business from falling at the first hurdle, BigHospitality looks at some of the electronic bookings systems on the market that will not only help you manage your reservations better, but could also help the rest of your business run more smoothly, and ensure you`re a winner this summer.
Restaurant bookings systems
Enabling customers to reserve a table online not only allows them to see what`s available quickly, but also frees up staff from having to take reservations over the phone.
Online booking system Livebookings supplies a free booking interface which sits inside restaurants’ own web sites and can also operate through partner sites like yell.com, lastminute.com and timeout.com. It also has the added advantage of allowing restaurants to capture customer data for future marketing purposes if customers opt in to be contacted about news and promotions at the booking stage, and including special offers for customers.
Restaurants can join the network for free and only pay for confirmed diners – 75p per cover if diners book through the restaurant’s own web site or £2 per cover if it’s booked through a partner web site.
Olivia FitzGerald, general manager, Livebookings UK and Ireland, says “A single restaurant benefits as much as a big brand, as the restaurant isn’t paying upfront to get on web sites – it’s a bit like ‘pay as you go’”.
Livebookings` clients include The Ritz, D&D London, The Fat Duck, Gordon Ramsay Holdings and Carluccios (pictured above), which has processed 17,000 covers through the system since it installed it last September.
"Web bookings have increased since the levels we first saw in September and peaked in January this year," says Carluccio`s marketing manager Raquel Pirola. "They have been extremely effective to drive bookings for to drive bookings for breakfast and dinners.”
Some online booking systems may not be worth the initial outlay, however. The Compasses at Pattiswick in Essex, the supreme champion at the Great British Pub of the Year Awards, has been using the Open Table system for online bookings for four years, but owner Jono Clark decided to discontinue its use at its sister pub The Swan at Felsted in Essex, because the monthly licence fee of £250 wasn’t justified.
“We kept it at the Compasses because we do 1,000 covers a week but only 400 a week at the smaller Swan,” says Jono Clark, owner. “You must do your figures,” he says. “There’s also an installation fee of £1,000.”
Key benefits of the Open Table system, according to Clark, are that it holds a database into which any details can be added such as wheelchair access, ‘prefers rioja’ or ‘doesn’t like sitting next to the kitchen’. “It helps us – if a customer walks in during a busy session, we can flick to a screen and see at a glance what is available,” he adds. It helps managing shifts – if a member of staff has entered details about a function even if they are not present, other staff can still organise it because they have all the information such as what wine and food preferences.
Hotel bookings systems
You may be able to receive online bookings, but if it doesn`t respond quickly enough you could lose potential customers. Clarity Commerce`s Phoenix Hotel Management Suite links online booking engines directly into the reservations system in `real time` to avoid any delays when a customer checks availability. It can also tell hotel managers where and when empty rooms are available so they can be used for other purposes if needed.
“Hotel properties are a great business asset and can be very profitable, but only if hotel owners make the best use of them. Hotel managers must be prepared to adjust what facilities are available to accommodate the changing needs of their customers, particularly during the recession," says Clarity Commerce chief executive Ken Smith.
“We’re finding that many hotels are struggling to fill their restaurants and may be able to generate more revenue by transforming that space into an upmarket coffee shop. Similarly, they could change empty accommodation into meeting rooms to attract local businesses.”
While signing up to an online booking system can make life easier for customers and staff, they do not guarantee that once booked, customers will actually turn up.
Whitbread`s budget hotel chain Premier Inn has reduced its no-show rate by nearly 20 per cent in the last year by using Rapide Communication`s enhanced text service.
The system is an extension of the hotel chain’s current text messaging system which sends guests a text confirmation at the time of booking and a text reminder on the day of arrival.
Directions to their hotel and an option to book dinner at the local Whitbread restaurant can also be included and if directions, including sat nav co-ordinates are insufficient, a second text message provides a colour map of the hotel location.
Using this service, Premier Inn has already sold over 7,000 meals and helped over 13,000 guests with directions or a map to their hotel.
Booking systems that connect to other services within a restaurant, hotel or pub have advantages and most notably can make the business run more efficiently.
ConnectSmart Hospitality Automation Solution from QSR Automations not only offers a booking system, but can link it up to other areas of the business to improve communication between waiting staff and the kitchen.
Waiting staff enter orders on the EPOS system which are then displayed in different parts of the kitchen. Working out how long each part of the order will take to cook, it tells each chef when to start cooking it. Waiting staff can check an order’s progress by checking the screen and are paged when it ready to go out.
If you want to boost the takeaway side of your business without having to use up waiting staff`s valuable time putting orders through, there are online systems that can also take care of that. Micros Systems recently developed a site for noodle chain Wagamama, wagamamatakeout.com which enables customers to make an order online and then pick it up from their nearest restaurant.
The website directly connects to the EPOS system that then sends the order through to the kitchen 15 minutes before its pick up time.