The restaurant industry has seen so many changes over the last few years and is in recovery mode, but even with the continuing surge in delivery and takeout, more Canadians are making reservations and visiting restaurants now than ever. In fact, the rebound in indoor dining has been so strong that Canada and the US have even surpassed pre-pandemic in-restaurant dining numbers.
“The Canadian restaurant business enjoyed a very busy summer, buoyed by strong consumer demand, increased reservations, and the desire to get out there and dine in restaurants again,” Matt Davis, OpenTable Canada’s country director, told RestoBiz.
This has led customers to make plans further in advance to compete for seats, causing a spike in online reservations. Restaurant reservations have always been a thing, of course, for large parties or on busy nights, but they are increasingly being employed as a standard by some restaurants and diners. This trend first gathered pace during the pandemic, when many restaurants required reservations to dine in, but as people have become more used to booking online, it’s a consumer habit that’s continued.
Historically, online reservations were often used as a last-minute availability confirmation, but with 36 per cent of consumers dining out more now than they did six months ago, the increased demand has created scarcity in availability. OpenTable’s data shows that the number of people who book reservations eight to 14 days in advance has now risen 50 per cent, compared to the same time period in 2019.
Will this trend continue? As an industry battling ongoing labour shortages and rising costs, looking at a typically slower season before the holidays, there’s promising news. OpenTable reports that reservations were up 21 per cent for the first half of September compared to 2019.
Davis suggests that because people have missed out on three years of in-person dining, they’re making up for that lost time, and may bridge that gap between summer and the holiday season.
As we look at the data, there are some lessons to be learned here, according to Davis. Many restaurants are doing more with less these days, documenting higher revenues with less staff. While customer service is more challenging, there’s also an opportunity for restaurants to take a look at their operations and fine-tune their processes.
Automation has allowed for many restaurants to streamline their operations, bettering their online reservation system to maintain a smaller staff without giving up their margins.
“This is one of the silver linings of the pandemic,” says Davis. “For example, some restaurants may have had to let go of a lunch service but that service was not driving their bottom line, so focusing instead on the dinner service means higher covers and sales in the end.”
The pandemic has forced restaurants to re-evaluate the way things are running to become more efficient, initiating innovation that allows restaurants to zero-in on the customer experience. It’s important for restaurants to make the most of the technology they have to continue and increase these efficiencies.
Reservation systems offering direct messaging for instant communication, and more robust deposit and credit card functionality to limit no-shows and short-term cancellations, will help simplify operations and improve communication.
As winter approaches, what can restaurants do to get the most out of their reservation systems, and attract and retain new customers? The next six to 12 months are still critical as the industry faces a long road to recovery.
Davis recommends restauranteurs take a look at the tools at their disposal. Carve out some valuable time for what they hope to achieve through their reservation system, use the reporting tools, determine trends, and set things up with goals in mind. Davis sums it up succinctly: “Let the tools do the work so you can focus on what’s most important: your customer.”