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Booking and Reservations

The advantages and disadvantages of online booking systems

Your customers are increasingly starting their journey online when it comes to finding a place to eat or drink. Our Tech Report series revealed that diners are looking up everything about your venue ahead of time, checking out reviews, pictures and your menu before they even head out of their front door. And a whopping 54% of those surveyed said they would be deterred from visiting a venue if they couldn’t book online in advance.  

But plenty of businesses still prefer to count on foot traffic to fill their venues. So, if you’re here, I bet you’re wondering whether you should be offering bookings at your venue or not.  

Well, luckily for you, we’re breaking down the advantages and disadvantages of having an online reservation system in place. Here at Access Hospitality, we have years of experience in guiding hospitality business owners through the process so they can feel confident in making the right decision.  

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In this article, we’ll use our experience to outline the advantages and disadvantages of online reservation systems and explore whether it’s right for your business. 

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Advantages of online reservation systems

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Disadvantages of online reservation systems

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Is an online booking system right for your business?

How do hospitality companies use online booking systems?

The main function of an online booking system is to manage reservations made via your website, over the phone or through social media channels, which are then held in one central place.

The details held on the system can then be used to plan your restaurant space, staffing and stock levels according to the number of customers expected to turn up for each service. Operators may also use the software to communicate with customers both before and after bookings.

Remember, not all online booking systems are the same and the functionality they offer will differ depending on the supplier.

What are the advantages of an online reservation system?

The main benefit of an online booking system is that your customers are able to manage their booking themselves online at a time that suits them. This means that you can still take bookings for your venue even when it’s closed.

In addition, the benefits of an online booking system include; providing a better guest experience, freeing up your staff’s time, maximising your venue space and being able to manage bookings from multiple channels in one place.

In addition, think about the following advantages they can:    

1. Relieve pressure on your phone lines and other booking channels

If your venue only receives bookings over the phone or waits until a customer visits your site to book a table in person, you can expect your phone lines to be busy and queues to form. 

Most people are not prepared to wait for long periods of time, whether that be on the phone or in a physical queue, in order to secure a reservation. Plus, customers with other queries will be frustrated if they can’t get through to your team because the line is occupied with those making reservations.  

An online booking system allows your customers to make their reservation quickly and easily from anywhere they have internet access, relieving pressure on your phone lines and leading to less frustration from potential diners.  

2. Gives restaurant staff the freedom to do their job

Manual handling of bookings requires manpower. This means your staff are required to always be on hand to answer the phone for bookings whilst seating walk-ins.  

With staffing continuing to be a challenge for the industry, you may find it hard and uneconomical to employ a dedicated reservations manager. This will then put pressure on the front-of-house staff, who will be required to incorporate reservation management into their roles.   

One of the biggest advantages of using an online booking system is that it relieves staff pressure, allowing them to continue front of house duties without the need to focus on bookings on top of that.  

3. Aid planning and maximises space

An online booking system usually gives you access to more information than the time of booking and number of covers. This helps with optimal preparation prior to each service, allowing you to maximise the use of available space. Some systems can collect pre-visit information like pre-orders and allergen information, enabling your chefs to plan their purchasing orders.  

If your chosen software includes table management functionality, you can review a visual floor plan so you can see where to place bookings and understand which tables can be turned quicker than others.  

Software can also help break down the different types of bookings, allowing you to make a more informed decision about where to seat each party, improving the experience for all. For example, you know to seat a large (and potentially loud) birthday booking away from smaller tables, who are more likely wanting a quieter experience.   

4. Help reduce no-shows

No-shows are a continual problem for restaurants costing the sector as much as £18 billion a year. While an online reservation system won’t stop them completely, it can help reduce them substantially.    

Because the system captures contact details from the customer at the time of booking, it can also send them automated reminders by email and/or text prompting them to turn up.  

Online reservation systems can also include the functionality to collect deposits at the point of booking which can help ensure your customers show up. 

What are the disadvantages of an online reservation system?

The main disadvantage to using an online reservation system is that it is dependent on reliable internet connectivity to check bookings, which can be an issue if your venue has internet problems.
In addition, some disadvantages to consider include the fees, the impact on foot traffic and the ability to be reactive and flexible on the day.

1. There’s typically an upfront or monthly fee

Investing in software means paying out before you see the benefits. Some providers charge a monthly fee, so there is no upfront cost, but you will need to find the funds to pay the flat monthly rate.

If you already have a paper diary or Excel system set up and it’s working efficiently for your business, the added expense of an online restaurant system fee each month might not be worthwhile.

2. Reduced queues and sense of ‘buzz’ at the entrance to the restaurant

Online reservations may help manage your bookings better and mean that long queues of walk-ins are no-longer seen, but is this what you really want?

Perhaps the buzz created by no-bookings makes your restaurant more appealing to your customers. Maybe they enjoy being spontaneous and don’t mind waiting in line for a coveted table instead of having to plan ahead.

Sometimes queues can be a good thing for a business because they show that your food and service are in-demand. If you take all bookings online you lose the queues and that level of intrigue.

3. They make it harder to be flexible

As online booking system encourages forward bookings, and you could inadvertently miss out on unforeseen opportunities to boost your profits.

Say a supplier has a certain ingredient, like steak, on offer. A dedicated steak night could be a great way to fill your restaurant with loyal customers on your database, but if you already have tables booked out it will be impossible to run the promotion.

It’s not impossible to capitalise on opportunities like these, but it is certainly harder.

Find out how software can help you manage your bookings and streamline operations

Ready to take the next step?

In this article, we’ve looked at the advantages and disadvantages of implementing an online booking system in your venue. Ultimately, no two businesses are the same, and that’s why we advocate matching operators with the right software for them.

There are plenty of positives to offering online bookings. Not only does it free up the availability of front-of-house staff, but it also improves space optimisation, helps relieve pressure from phone bookings and prevents long queues. Of course, we also have to consider the possibility of this system not aligning with your current set-up. Therefore, it may beneficial for you to seek a different method.

Access Collins booking and reservation software is a great fit for businesses who are looking for a more efficient way to manage their bookings. We often help customers implement more efficient software after trying another system that hasn’t worked out, so if you’re looking to try a new solution – make sure you talk to us about your needs.

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Get in touch to find out how we can help you manage your bookings and streamline operations.

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