The clients are crucial for every business success and the restaurant industry doen't make an exception. One of the challenges for the venues is to create loyal customers which requires a good strategy, but also the usage of the exact tools. There are many technical solutions on the market enabling restaurants to manage customer relations at all levels as operations related to the building and usage of customers data base including contacts, reservation information and analysis and planning.
These solutions represents booking systems that offer many benefits in terms of both technical functionalities and marketing and sales activities.The different booking systems on the market at first glance seem similar. However, there are significant differencies between the products and the present article intends to reveal them in order to help restaurants get a better decision by choosing the right solution according to their needs.
Most important factors to consider when choosing a reservation system
When you are about to choose a reservation system for your restaurant, you need to understand what functionalities includes each platform. Only this way, you can manage successfully the customer relationship at all levels. The existing solutions on the market include very basic ones and others which offer rich number of options, covering almost entirely the needs of the restaurants related to reservation management.
This gap is due to the different business strategies of the service providers. For some of them the development of the reservation system represents their course business and they invest a lot in activities of product upgrades and optimization.
Others, use their booking systems as a secondary product focusing mainly on their online market places for restaurants (another product they promote together with the reservation system). In this case, the reservation system is not so well developed.
All this is to say, that when you choose a solution for your business you need to make a detailed research and compare the different products on the market.
One of the functionalities that needs a special attentions is weather or not is possible integration with external platforms. The integrations with the restaurant Facebook page and website in general are assured by most of the platforms, but only few companies allow integrations with external platforms from where could come additional reservations. The reason is that most of the providers have they own online market places and don’t want to open the booking system for other similar platforms. This way, when a restaurant is present on more than one market places in order to get higher visibility and attract more customers, it will be limited in its operations because of the lack of a central hub through which it can receive and manage all the reservations coming from all the channels.
Тhe companies which offer the reservation system as a first solution without engaging its use to the obligatory use of a market place (ex. Reservation.Tools) generally allow flexible integrations. This way, they procure restaurants with a central hub through which they can manage all their reservations and customer relations.
In brief, the basic solutions lack a lot of functionalities, most of them don’t have modules for sms and email notifications, neither options for various functionality customizations (such as splited working time etc.), the interfaces aren’t so user-friendly which makes the reservation process much slower and difficult, there is no well developed administration for customer relations etc.
Who and how manages the customer relationship and communication
The customers are the main “capital” of a venue, crucial for the maintainance and development of the business activity. This is why the successful customer relations management is very important. Here are included the daily communication with the clients who are making reservations, as well as the management of the customer data base. When you choose a booking system, you need to check well all the functionalities related to these two levels of operations.
Direct communication with customers
Some of the service providers are taking in their hands the communication with the customers on behalf of the restaurants, operating as an intermediary. These are the companies owning an online market place and. their strategy presents some benefits for the venues, but generally include also many negative sides. The problem consists in the fact that when online users want to make an online reservation, they find first the market place website in internet, instead of the venue website because these companies invest a lot of money in promoting their platforms. Thus, when customers make reservations through the online platform, in reality they communicate mainly with the platform brand and not with the venue. As a result, some statistics show an increase of no-shows when it is about reservations made through an intermediary. The clients don’t have a direct connection with the venue and therefore they don’t feel really engaged to call and cancel the reservation.
Moreover, it happens also the following paradox – many users have the intention to use the market place when making a reservation for a specific venue but subsequently they choose another one because the last one is promoted and more visible than their first choice. This way the venue is losing a potential client due to the fact that the provider is promoting another restaurant which is paying for that. The promotion can happen in different ways as providing a positioning on the top of the searching results or stimulating online users to make a reservation at specific venues giving them loyalty points etc.
In this regard, the venue is losing the direct contact with its customer, as well as the opportunity freely use and interact through its brand. The control remain in the hands of the intermediary, who decides where to forward the traffic (according to their financial interests) without considering to which specific venue was intended at the beginning the reservation.
Customer data base and relationship management
The customer relationship management is an important part of the reservation system and when you are about to choose one for your restaurant, you need to be sure that it includes the necessary functionalities. Some of the reservation system on the market, don’t offer such options, or if they are included, they have basic characteristics. In the best case, you will find a system with a dynamic data base, which allows you to archive all the information related to the clients and their reservations, as well as subsequently to use these data automatically for new reservations, analysis and business forecast. Check if the data base allows the information export in an user-friendly format (.cvs, xls и др.) because this is an important condition to have the control over all the information you gather and use it with external analytical softwares. This is necessary also in the case in which you want to pass to another booking system. Then you need to transfer all the present data base. However, many providers don’t offer such an alternative trying to stop restaurants passing to another reservation system.
Also, as it was mentioned in another paragraph in this article, some booking apps have only basic functionalities because of the lack of product investment and optimization. In this relation the customer management tool is not well developed due to the fact that the companies promote more their online market place.
Increase sales by attracting new potential online customers
Last but not least, it should be considered the question of the venue website positioning in the search results of search platforms as Google. The good positioning under the needed keywords is very important for the online traffic generation to the website, i.e. for eventual reservations and sales. When the restaurant uses a booking system part of an online market place, there is a conflict of interests between the venue and the service provider. They are entering in competition in the search results when an user is searching, for example, using as a keyword the venue brand name. The online market place, mostly the international ones, have partnerships with Google, Bing, Yahoo, Trip Advisor and others which makes the venue page in the market place rating higher in the results than the own website, which means a higher probability to be chosen by the user. Thus, the platform becomes a monopolist for the online reservations and after that a venue is registered there, the probability to attract online users to its website are minimal.
The real problem here is that, in most cases, the price which the restaurant pays to the provider for a reservation made through the market place is higher than the proce for the one made on its own website. In this regard, the restaurant is in a situation to pay always higher fees per reservations because the whole online traffic has been forwarded to the market place. This situation is more negative for big brands where the probability that users are searching on Google directly by using their brand names is higher. However, instead of finding the venue website to make a reseravtion, they find first the venue page on the online market place.
How to choose the best pricing offer
The main difference in the pricing offers is based on the fact weather or not the service provider manage an online market place.
If yes, the prices are linked also to the usage of the online platform, not only to the booking system. There is a fixed monthly fee for the venue presence on the market place in addition to a commission fee paid for each reservation or each attracted client managed by the booking system. This way, no matter if the restaurant has a real benefit from its market place presence, it should pay both fees. As it has been already said, not always this presence is useful for the venue because of a possible conflict of interests or because of the necessity to pay additional advertising fees to get the necessary visibility and online traffic. This is to say that the fixed monthly fee doesn’t guarantee always visibility and reservations.
At the same time, providers, who offer as a main product a booking system, generally apply only a fixed monthly fee without any additional commissions per reservation or attracted client. The restaurants pay only for the concrete service use.
The conclusion after the review of the main offers on the market is that the restaurants owners who search for efficient solution for their businesses have to make a detailed research of all parameters and functionalities of the reservations app in order to choose the corresponding to their nees and expectations. It is important to take into consideration all advantages and disadvantages in order to manage successfully customer relationship and business activities.