As several restaurants start to plan their reopening strategies during COVID-19, many restaurateurs may be interested in signing up for a restaurant reservation platform to plan out and control dining crowds, as well as to help with other priorities such as take-out.
I looked into a few platforms and found some useful information about what platforms are doing to help and how owners can take advantage of this as they manage Coronavirus.
OpenTable: Arguably one of the most popular online reservation platforms is OpenTable. For years they have dominated the space, but also have been quite expensive for restaurateurs to use – which has led to their clientele being mostly high-end restaurants and diners. OpenTable is waiving subscription fees through the end of 2020 and cover fees through September 30th, 2020 as well as a 50% cover fee discount through the end of 2020 for restaurants who sign up for their “Open Door” pricing program. Standard subscription and cover fee pricing will be reintroduced in 2021. The large customer base that OpenTable has could be a draw for restaurateurs. Make sure to read the fine print though as always.
Resy: One of OpenTable’s big competitors, Resy, is also offering no fees through the rest of 2020 for restaurants. It applies to both existing and new restaurant partners. They have added new features like a Mobile Waitlist, Automated Capacity Monitor, and Takeout and Contactless pickup are also in the works.
Tock: Tock is a reservation and takeout/delivery platform that is ran by Nick Kokonas of Alinea Group. Several of the people running and advising the platform are hospitality industry affiliated names. Many of the members of Tock seem to be smaller, local restaurants. Fees start at $199 a month, Tock has waived fees through the end of May for restaurants.
Yelp Reservations: One of the more expensive options has a flat rate of $249 a month, but is integrated with Yelp which is one of the busiest websites online for restaurants. There are no cover fees, setup fees, or web access fees added on for monthly service. Yelp offers table management and waitlist management. Yelp is offering 3 months of free access to Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist through the end of May 2020 as part of their COVID-19 relief. Call (844) 889-1617 to sign up.
Eat App: This platform has some features in place to help restaurants navigating COVID-19 including switching to reservations only, the ability to change floor plans, configure shifts to automatically restrict covers, manage capacity minute by minute, and waitlists. They also offer phone integrations, custom tags and notes, SMS capabilities, and contact list information as well as other features. Pricing starts at $129 a month which is one of the lowest in the pack.
These are just a few of the tools out there for restaurants looking to get back on their feet during COVID-19. You will also look into your POS system and see if there is features on there for reservations or if it is compatible with these services.
As always, be sure to read the contract terms before proceeding with any deal.
The Coronavirus or COVID-19 is drastically changing the restaurant industry like never before. Numerous restaurant chains and corporations are changing their entire business models to try and survive in this quickly moving economic scenario. Many will not survive.
Dine-in traffic is imploding as more Americans wake up to the fact that COVID-19 is very contagious and that social norms of dining out just won’t work for the forseeable future. A vaccine could be at least 14-18 months away according to some experts.
How can you prepare your restaurant for this new reality? Here are a few tips:
Pivot to delivery and take-out
Delivery was already rapidly growing before COVID-19 entered the mix. The number of people ordering on Uber EATS, DoorDash, and the like has been growing rapidly over the last few years even though those business models have yet to become profitable.
You should explore each delivery platform to see which one works best and think about how you can make the numbers add-up to make your business succeed on the platform. If you can provide your own delivery, consider that as well.
Consumers will be spending more time at home and no doubt many will not want to cook 24-7, which is an opportunity for your business to sell to customers directly in their homes.
To be successful you will need to make your list of products available to be as competitive as every chain on earth and local businesses trying to stick around all go online. You may need to simplify your menu to more profitable items and adjust with to online habits.
Most delivery services will claim anything from 10%-30% on delivery fees. Consider offering a discount for take-out service to convince customers to pick-up their own orders.
This won’t be easy in the least and your business will no doubt still suffer from the lack of dine-in traffic, but if you want to survive this may be the only path forward.
Prioritize safety and cleanliness
During a pandemic virus, people are going to be very nervous about cleanliness and whether their food is being handled with care, whether it is for delivery or pick-up. Safety and cleanliness for both customers and employees will be key.
The last thing you want is for an investigation to be done into your restaurant for making people work sick and for negative press to accumulate.
At the high stress levels people are experiencing right now, the chances of this happening may actually be quite high. Consider paid sick leave and absolutely do not allow sick workers to come to work and find a way to compensate them.
Institute plans for how you will verify that your workers are healthy and able to serve and be transparent with your customers about how you are protecting their safety.
It goes far beyond just an e-mail and will need to be done regularly as cases come up in the news about outbreaks in restaurants.
Consumer confidence is the key during this time. Any indication that customers should not eat at your business may lead them running to another one or instead to the grocery stores.
Marketing + Social Media could give an advantage
Social Media will be an important way to maintain your brand and still reach customers who will be either working from home, going to school at home, or just home – depending on how economic forces change in the next few months.
Don’t forget that many platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer targeted advertising so you can reach your ideal customers. While it’s true that your budget is certainly strained, if you use it wisely it will pay off.
Remember to think about what people want to click and not just what you want to say.
Consider other ways to reach customers like e-mails and text message outreach. Most customers will have be spending more time online and you need to reach them there.
Brainstorm daily deals or packages that customers can draw on like family deals, couple deals, or themed deals.
Even if your business does end up closing during this economic time, maintaining your online presence may keep your brand alive for the future when everyone eventually gets back on their feet and outside. Come up with a marketing plan that reflects this.
If you’re a known chef or restaurant consider making videos at home with cooking tips, advice for people on grocery shopping decisions, use Facebook LIVE and Instagram LIVE, there are tools out there that you can use to try and keep your brand going in this time of uncertainty. Stay in front of the face of your customers.
Reach out to influencers and media
Influencers have already-built channels as does the media that may be locally tied to your business. Many influencer events, cross-promotions, and advertisements have been canceled as the COVID-19 virus makes its mark.
If your restaurant is going to continue fighting to stay in business, consider reaching out to influencers and to the media. Consider how you can position your business in a way that is relevant to their audience during this difficult time.
Influencers have an interest in maintaining their outreach during this time and no doubt probably have some extra time on their hands. Consider how you can reach out to them in a way that is beneficial for your business…after all you want people to reach out to your business for takeout and delivery right?
As for the media, this may become more tricky as many media companies are experiencing an exodus of advertisers due to COVID-19 which is straining their staff. As with any other time period, the key is relevance for the media. Subscribe to all media sites and channels and watch what they are talking about. Follow journalists on Twitter.
When you see something relevant to your business, reach out. There is a public interest in helping both local businesses and restaurants during this time, but first you have to reach out to get your story out there. How are you coping? What are your plans for your staff? How can they help you? Messaging is the key.
Support other businesses and organizations
COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on a wide range of businesses including many local ones and organizations that are involved in helping our communities. Consider how your business can help those other groups out.
Your business will be stronger by working with others and supporting each other. Restaurants have always played a big role in the communities around them, but during COVID-19 you may need some out of the box ideas to help your fellow community partners out. They will be sure to return the favor if you do.
The “social distancing” required during COVID-19 will make people feel isolated, but if your business is proactive and tries to bring people together for a group or cause it could make a difference. Share posts from other partners in related community fields on your feed or important government updates. We are all in this together!