Are Restaurant Reservations the Way to Go in a Post-COVID-19 World?

Redhead smiling man holding open sign inviting to cafeteria, bearded barista, waiter or business owner looking at camera presenting coffee shop welcoming to public place, new cafe concept, portrait

The landscape of restaurants is rapidly changing in the COVID-19 world and business owners need to be ready. There is no doubt that when restaurants are able to open they will be dealing with new capacity rules, precautions, and safety procedures. 

Which begs the question: are restaurant waiting areas gone for good? 

There will be no more huddling around the hostess station, jockeying for a table. No six people jammed on a bench that comfortably fits four, while others look on with jealousy as they’re blasted with the draft of the front door and are standing. This petri dish experiment will not work in these times. Going back to a reservations system (at least for awhile) may be a great solution for restaurants to bring back their first guests. 

Many restaurants initially moved away from taking reservations. Customers would be no-shows or late, clogging the seamless flow of constant table inhabitation. If patrons were required to wait for the next table, they could be diverted to the bar and begin to rack up a bill, an opportunity unavailable if they went straight to their reserved spot. There was also the perception of it all. Restaurants that had a line out the door were perceived as popular and successful. Even restaurants that added a call-ahead system could still create a pool of people just waiting for their turn at the menu. 

But now, for restaurants to be able to open at all, a reservation-only system may be in their best interest. This type of system would help restaurants:

  • Reduced Crowding- The most important thing restaurants can do is reduce the amount of unnecessary crowding and touching that can happen just by flowing through the same spaces as others. This is no small feat to overcome, but a reservation system can help by not having excess customers in the vicinity.
  • Easier to Forecast Staffing Needs- With restaurants unable to be open with their full capacity of patrons, reservation systems can help determine the staff needed for the day. When the available table spots are full for the day, it’s clear more staff is needed to get the job done and vice versa when it’s looking slow. 
  • Greater Confidence in Customers- Knowing a restaurant is operating at a lower capacity can actually help customers feel more safe and less exposed to unknown contagions that come with being in larger groups of people. Consumers are already taking a risk leaving their homes, this can add a sense of security that they are making a good choice.

Many of the reasons that restaurants shied away from using reservations aren’t as relevant now with the stipulations and precautions restaurants will be required to take as they are able to reopen. Setting dedicated slots for customers while restaurants are open for a limited amount of time pools resources more efficiently. 

So how can restaurants use these reservations to be effective during the COVID-19 crisis?

Give an Incentive

Customers are much more likely to show up on time if there is a benefit to them. Restaurants can offer a 5% discount to punctual customers who come five minutes early to their reservation. Quietly raised prices can handle this discount and offers a little punishment to latecomers. 

Give Customers the Opportunity

Customers will no longer have the option to head to the bar for a few drinks while they wait because there won’t be a wait! Still, restaurants can give them the opportunity to add drinks to their meal by arming staff with an updated cocktail menu or draft list. Restaurants can also increase items sold by offering drinks or desserts to-go if their operating state allows it. The chance for add-ons is still present; the timing is just a little different.

Give the Most Transparent Communication

Most people’s inboxes and news feeds are overflowing with messages about how businesses are handling the COVID-19 crisis, and for good reason. Restaurants transitioning to a reservation system can show their customers that they care about their safety by communicating via emails, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Showing diners how their future experience with a restaurant will look can be a powerful tool to connect with them. 

Reservation-based systems can seem intimidating, especially if it isn’t a familiar practice, but by combining it with a takeout/delivery program, restaurants can maximize their bottom line during this uncertain time.

Is your restaurant considering moving to a more reservation-based system as you open? We’d love to know what your plan is!

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