I’m going to get all kinds of opinions here, but I want you to think about something that’s often taken for granted by customers and just about a given with most restaurants. I’m talking about reservations.
We spend endless time filling in a book or using automated software every night of the week, and then this all changes as we make constant adjustments based on real life and a sometimes fickle public.
First, let me ask, does your restaurant take reservations? If you’re a white table cloth, fine dining place it probably makes sense, but there are all types of restaurants big and small, family and casual, and everything in between. If you take them, are you taking reservations for all the right reasons?
The public naturally call restaurants and ask for reservations. It’s kind of expected, isn’t it? People call all the time at the last minute requesting a table, even on a Saturday night just because it’s the thing to do or they want to make sure they can get in. I get it.
But what would happen if your restaurant didn’t take reservations? Would you create a sort of demand for your place? It’s human nature to want what you can’t have. It lends a certain sense of intrigue and the customer wants it even more.
This was certainly my experience with all my restaurants. I made the choice right from the get-go to NOT take reservations. We had a first come-first serve Only policy and yes the phone rang off the hook on a nightly basis with customers trying to reserve tables. I trained my host team well to make our place sound so fun, so great that convinced guests to come anyway. We told them it was just as much fun waiting for a table as it was actually getting that table, and we delivered on that promise.
We made our place super social, the front of house team and bar staff would treat each and every customer as an old friend, and we all entertained the customers. We passed out samples of our most popular appetizers which whet their appetites and of course increased sales of those apps. We had trivia contests, games, live music and entertainment several nights each week which kept people having more fun longer and spending more money.
You see, you’re not just serving food & drink, you’re serving entertainment and experiences. You want everyone to say “Wow” in the moment and then leave feeling like these moments were an event, not just another meal at a good restaurant. Once our reputation was built, customers would actually throw money at us for a table. It was not uncommon on a typical busy night for our hosts to say “this customer just offered $200 for a table if they can be seated right now”. Of course we would politely decline, but then the buzz would kick in. The customer had a story they would tell to everyone they knew. I recall a couple times actually seeing social media posts from customers about how we refused to take their money for a reservation. This certainly did not hurt our popularity one bit. In fact, it was good press!
But the most important reason for not taking reservations was that it limited my overall weekly covers and profits. You see if you take a reservation, 9 times out of 10 the guest shows up late. Now you are holding a table that could have been instantly served and then turned over again quicker.
Even if the person who made the reservation is on time, again more often than not, the rest of the party trickle in at different times. It could be 5 or 10 minutes or even more downtime before the service team can actually begin the dining service. Imagine that half of your tables or more are left unseated for just 10 minutes for each of your table turns every night you’re open. In this case taking reservations is limiting your table turns, total number of covers and ultimate sales and profits. This really adds up. The plain fact is a first come-first serve policy is just more efficient.
This next point is really important. If your service team is well trained and strong communicators, they’ll know at an instant which stage of the meal guests are at each table, how long it will be before tables will open up to be cleaned and re-set, and then have the information to give accurate wait times. This is where efficiency and communication makes all the difference. It is better to underpromise and overdeliver and not make promises that can’t be kept. It takes a certain composure and personality for a host to tell a customer that it might be forty five minutes to an hour wait for a table, but the wait will be worth it and that the customer will enjoy their experience. Hopefully more often than not the guest is pleased and surprised when their table opens up and they are seated sooner than promised.
I’m not suggesting that a No reservations policy is the right thing to do for every restaurant, but I’m certain there are lots of places out there that just might benefit in a big way from this way of thinking.
Now get out there and Rock Your Restaurant!