Lauren Olson, August 25, 2016
Whether you’re a brand new restaurant owner, or are in charge of an existing establishment, you’ve figured out that new technology (and apps) have changed the food game forever - for you, AND your customers.
These days, it’s not about mailing coupons and menus, or even just waiting with a chalk sign on your patio for hungry patrons to pour in.
That’s true across the board. Yes, even if you make the best pies in the city. Even if your cocktails are those of Carrie Bradshaw-esq legends.
You certainly have a website (a complete must for any business in 2017), but you might be overlooking integrations for your restaurant website that your customers have grown to depend on - online reservation and booking systems.
This kind of software is intended to drive customers to your restaurant, facilitate easy booking, and often will work with the practices and processes you already have in place with your staff.
Founded by internet entrepreneur Chuck Templeton in 1998, OpenTable was revolutionizing online best practices for restaurants well before online restaurant booking platforms became a viable business market.
OpenTable has developed their software based on real in-market experience that spans almost two decades, and offers a great deal in terms of features for restaurant industry veterans. OpenTable seats about 23 million people a month, and serves 40,000 restaurants worldwide.
Suffice to say, they have worked with countless restaurants and retained them as engaged clients.
If you're brand new to the restaurant biz, the truth is you likely won’t make use of all the features they’re offering, and the cost may be prohibitive.
The features that make OpenTable stand out the most are their detailed analytics reports, as well as their fully integrated hardware system that works in the restaurant, and online. OpenTable also offers free training for your staff, which is a huge bonus and will help your restaurant run smoothly with their service offerings.
The ability to for a restaurant to embed the OpenTable online booking widget directly on a website homepage is also key, because your customers won’t have to navigate away from your website to book a reservation online.
OpenTable fees are based by region, and they do not advertise or quote over phone or email (we tried). Past reports have claimed $1,200 and up for the initial set up, with $249 monthly fees, PLUS $1.00 - $2.50 fee per head (not per reservation) booked with their software.
Hailing themselves as a direct competitor (and solution to, after partnering with) OpenTable, Yelp boasts a diner network of 92 million with 142 million Yelp visitors every month.
In 2013, Yelp acquired online reservation and floor management startup SeatMe and renamed it Yelp Reservations. Then in 2015, they went on to acquire Eat24 for online deliveries and takeout (now serving over 35,000 restaurants in over 1,500 cities). And most recently, Yelp partnered with the restaurant technology company NoWait to help foodies skip the line at their favorite local spots.
So what does Yelp do? They offer table and waitlist management solutions, and your customers can book their reservation online. The one downside is that with Yelp, you cannot put an online reservation booking widget directly on your website homepage. That means customers will have to look for you on Yelp to book online.
Yelp offers straight-forward pricing, regardless of the size or location of your restaurant. You’ll pay $249/month with no extra fees. They throw in an iPad to help you run your restaurant bookings, which is a pretty sweet bonus. There are no contracts - if you cancel, you return the iPad or pay for it if you choose to keep it.
Independently owned, Eveve launched in 2007 as a global supplier of online reservation systems designed specifically for restaurants.
Originally established in the UK, Eveve’s largest market is now the USA, where they manage more than 4 million online reservations per year, in restaurants across 27 states. Today, their total business roster includes 1,500 restaurants in 14 countries across 5 continents.
Features include remote access for management, to monitor their business from any location. Furthermore, a customer database is auto-constructed based on the day to day reservations activities, giving owners insight into their respective demographics.
They also provide an electronic point of sale (EPOS) system.
Like OpenTable, Eveve’s flat-fee structure is arbitrary, and based on the size and location of each restaurant. You can expect to pay between $150-$300 month, but unlike OpenTable there are no extra fees per diner.
Zomato (which has always built its business to be mobile-centric) bought NexTable in 2015 to create Zomato Book. NexTable had developed technology that would let restaurants update information from smartphones and tablets and now those features have been folded into Zomato Book’s CRM.
Zomato’s main claim is that restaurant owners can maximize table occupancy using real-time, digitized data on table availability, status tracking and utilization rates.
Your restaurant will be listed on Zomato.com, but you are also able to take reservations directly from your website using their widget, giving you extra exposure and more convenience for your customers.
There is no information regarding pricing for Zomato Book online, but comments in threads on Quora suggest the fees are based on a percentage of your profits. Zomato does not charge to list your restaurant on their directory, but if you want to take advantage of the features like online booking, you need to enter into a contract with Zomato Book, and can expect to pay out between 7%-10% of your profit, depending on your contract.
Sagenda is the only free booking system in the lineup. Although they are not marketed directly to restaurants, this innovative booking app can still handle the basic functions of booking reservations online if you set it up correctly.
To use Sagenda, you would put your tables as bookable items. Sagenda does not include the same table management systems or full sales systems offered by the other players on this list, but for those who have made the initial investment into a new brick and mortar location, the fact that this tool is free is highly appealing.
The online appointment scheduler can be embedded on your main website, and it sends emails to your customers at every step of booking, confirmation or cancellation.
Sagenda is completely free. You will only pay a monthly fee if you decide you want to accept payments through PayPal ($14.99 /month), or if you want to add a feature for SMS texting to those who have booked a reservation with you ($9.50/month). This is a great feature, because it can greatly reduce no-shows.
No matter which system works best for your restaurant and your budget, online reservations are a MUST to succeed. You can lean towards the high end services, for a system that offers in-depth analytics and SMS options, or you can take simple reservations with a few less-costly alternatives.
Embedding an online reservation option right onto your website homepage is always ideal, but if you go for a service without an embed option, you can still link to the online booking address. The most important thing is to find the service and tool that works best for you, and allows you to give your hungry customers a way to book online.
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