Sync and swim: managing online bookings

By Ashley Sheppard

- Last updated on GMT

Sync and swim: managing online bookings
According to industry research, 50% of all online bookings are made on a phone or tablet.

Consumers are now more programmed than ever before to think digitally when it comes to choosing where and how they book in for a restaurant occasion. However, while it’s essential for customers to have a choice, be it digital or through traditional methods – choosing the right booking tools can sometimes feel like a minefield for operators.

Increasingly, I’m seeing a trend towards diners wanting to be able to interact with technology in the restaurant space.

Consumers are most engaged with technology at the start and end of their visit – browsing and booking online then turning to social media or review sites to document their experience. This got me thinking, at what point in the booking process should digital be switched off?

In truth, I don’t think it needs to be switched off. It just has its place. While bookings by phone are still happening, they are becoming less common, with more customers preferring instead to be contacted via text – leaving operators to keep the decks manned.

Online reservation platforms were a revelation when they started to make their mark in the early 2000s. More recently, the tech is being blamed for putting restaurant operators at greater risk of no-shows. However, there are solutions that can counteract this – really robust, personalised systems, which – and here’s the irony – allow for a more ‘preferred’ way of communicating with customers, (albeit digitally) sending timely reminders of the booking and requesting the restaurant be told about changes or cancellations.

One of the perceived problems with aggregate reservation apps is that they can be unforgiving when it comes to unusual party sizes, special requests or when providing access to primetime slots. It’s called ‘the cookie cutter approach’ but one size definitely does not fit all.

It only takes one request that a blanket app can’t handle for an instant ‘computer says no’ moment, creating the likelihood that the customer will move on. Bookings still need a personal conversation, whether that’s through the more traditional call on the phone, or via more considered tech.

However, this can be fixed. Online booking platforms can be tailored to suit the needs of individual operators, taking into account other digital systems to integrate closely with them: information can leap cleanly from reservation to guest book, prioritising those all-important communications using two-way text channels, before smoothly feeding into table management. Operators need only add a simple widget to their website for bookings, which can then be synced to the restaurant’s app and other in-house management systems.

Right now, tech really is at the top of its game and never more so than across the UK hospitality space. Daily, I’m reading about new apps, start-ups and increasingly huge global tech businesses coming into our sphere. It really is very exciting to witness and especially within the current climate. The good news is, very soon, choosing the right tech won’t feel like a minefield.

Related topics: People