The Seattle Times says that restaurant reservations are a "tricky business." Telephone reservations can lead to costly no shows. Conversely, not accepting reservations and relying on walk-ins can lead to a long wait for a table. Is there a better way? (Hint: Yes, restaurant ticketing software.)
A rock and a hard place
Seattle Times food columnist Providence Cicero recently published ‘Reservations Are A Tricky Business For Restaurants’ which chronicles Jet City restaurants grappling with reservations versus walk-ins. It seems that some have abandoned reservations and now rely on walk-ins - sometimes to the detriment of the customers.
Walk-up policies are a short term fix to no shows, but not taking reservations places the onus on paying customers in the long term.
Ethan Stowell, owner of two Seattle area restaurants, says that he was one of the first to abandon reservations and make people wait for a table, but the no reservations policy changed after about a year. One day Stowell ran into a former steady customer who lived two blocks away. The former customer said he had stopped coming in because he couldn't make a reservation and didn't want to eat at five o’clock.
After citing other restaurants that have replaced telephone reservations with walk-ins, Cicero goes on to write:
The restaurateurs I talked to agree that not taking reservations is more profitable.You don’t run the risk of empty seats because of no-shows, or last minute cancellations, or having customers occupy tables far longer than calculated. But that works best when you have a steady stream of customers willing to wait, or to dine very early, or very late.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia...
...the opposite scenario has manifested itself, albeit with a slightly happier ending for the customers.
On Philly.com, Michael Klein reports that a popular gastropub in the city of brotherly love has gone from walk-ins back to accepting reservations. Owner of the Standard Tap, William Reed, says that after 14 years of walk-ins he is now requiring reservations for dining in the upstairs area (Note - downstairs retains its open seating format). The reversal in policy is the result of customer feedback, as Klien explains:
Every restaurateur wrestles with reservations. Accept them, and prepare for inevitable no-shows. Don't accept them, and cringe as customers hear "a 45-minute wait" during busy nights and go elsewhere.
Standard Tap owner Reed says he "realized after 14 years that we're saying no to people a lot...I asked, 'Why are we doing that?' We were kicking ourselves for keeping an old idea alive longer."
Standard Tap now uses one of the online reservation systems that requires a small down payment, which could solve the issue of telling his customers "no" but the looming specter of costly no-shows is yet to be addressed. Online reservation services that require a fee do not solve the problem of no shows since the risk of a few dollars isn't enough of a disincentive to prevent fickle diners from changing their mind at the last minute - as described in a previous post.
Next restaurant owner Nick Kokonas said that “diners who neglect to cancel in time would place stops on their credit cards to prevent the cancellation fee from being paid.” Nick Kokonas was once in the same "rock and a hard place position" of reservations vs. walk-ins, but ultimately turned to selling tickets as the solution.
One need not commit all available tables to selling restaurant tickets either. Noted above, the Standard Tap has divided its service area into two parts, one with reservations and one without. The restaurant owner hesitant to commit to selling ticket can adapt the Standard Tap business plan but be as profitable as Next in Chicago.
Doing so would serve the best interests of both the restaurant and the customers. Unlike the small fee that online reservation services charge, restaurant ticking software requires a full payment in advance (which guarantees a table at a specific time). And for the customers unable to make that kind of commitment, the open seating section is still available.
ThunderTix Restaurant Ticketing Software
ThunderTix can help you start selling tickets online in as little as one business day with no long-term contract commitments. We make nightly deposits of your sales dollars directly into your bank account, giving you the liquidity to buy only what you need for the menu – no waste.
When you say “table d’hôte” we know what you mean. In addition to being the most restaurant friendly ticketing software available, know that ThunderTix has years of experience helping venues to sell tickets online. You will inherit our expertise when you make the move from telephone reservation to selling tickets, either all-at-once or gradually.
If you would like help planning the transition, or have specific questions about selling tickets at your restaurant, please contact us at your convenience.
Image source: Flickr user 7ty9