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April 29, 2020

Using Reservations To Manage Restaurant Dining Rooms During Covid Transition Periods

We’re headquartered in Austin and the state of Texas has announced they’re allowing restaurants to open dining rooms at 25% capacity on May 1st as long as they adhere to certain restrictions. It’s likely other states will use a similar strategy when they’re ready to open. We want to suggest our clients encourage customers to book reservations and then configure settings strategically to maximize sales while simultaneously adhere to the guidelines.

Website Suggestions
We recommend restaurants have a pop up on their website featuring two options for information about Coronavirus changes regarding ordering online and dining room service. Each of those calls to action should feature a link to more info. If you don’t have an online ordering solution in place, please consider our new commission free online ordering tool for restaurants. For dining in, we suggest you send customers to a page explaining your safety efforts, dine in options, and ask customers to book a reservation to help safely manage your customer flow. You can see a sample of the pop up message we’re suggesting below.

Tips for Your Dining Room Service Page
We recommend you explain your safety protocols, the general rules mandated by your city and/or state, and how your restaurant intends to make those rules easier to follow. On the dining room service page request that customers book reservations to help distribute the flow of customers and maintain social distancing.

Using Schedule Override to Limit and Distribute Customers
Reservation Genie features two layers of reservation inventory: the main settings that apply to your regular weekly inventory, and a schedule override tool that you can use to change inventory for a particular day. We’re hearing two strategies from restaurants regarding using inventory to limit how many people are in the restaurant

  1. Limit Customers Per Time Slot: You can create schedule overrides for the next few weeks that limit customers to a max number of people per time slot. As customers book reservations, the full times will get quickly get removed keeping flow steady, but minimal throughout the night. An example is to limit the flow to 4 or 6 people per 15 or 30 minute increment. This should help maximize your number of customers served over a given day without crowding the dining room at any particular time.
  2. Set up 3 Seatings Per Shift: Another example is creating three times for customers to come in and limit the total covers per time slot to fall within the capacity guidelines. You could set up seatings at 5pm, 6:45pm, and 8:30pm that represent the appropriate number of seats to stay within the capacity guidelines. You can see an example of this configuration in the image below.

Use Reservation Policy to Limit Time Spent Per Reservation
Since you’re likely only allowed to have a certain number of people in the dining room, you want to encourage customers to limit how long they spend so you can turn those limited tables more than once. Consider using your dining room service page to request customers limit their stay. Also use your reservation policy to verify customers understand that message. For example, you could add a message in your Reservation Policy that says “Due to Coronavirus limitations on the number of guests allowed in the dining room, we respectfully request that you limit the time spent while dining to help us spread out the flow of customers. Please aim for 60 minutes for a party of 2 and 90 minutes for parties of 3 or more.” Of course, you can adjust those numbers as appropriate for your style of dining. Customers will have to check the box stating they have read the reservation policy, which is also included in their confirmation emails and text messages. You can see how that is displayed below.

Use Max Party Size to Prevent Large Parties
Depending on your state, you may be limited to parties of 4 or 6. Rather than let customers try to overbook the guidelines, go ahead and limit your max party size so customers cannot book large parties. Max Party Size is one of the fields in Settings > Reservation Details.

In closing, we want to mention that there are many different types of customers. How America reopens will likely follow the technology adoption lifecycle with some “innovators” getting out and giving feedback to their friends who are early adopters. Eventually, that will lead to mainstream, late adopters and then laggards. The sooner you can start this cycle with your restaurant the better. Make sure your guests see you following the guidelines as they will tell their friends. All customers are going to want reassurance that you’re opening up with a strategy that is safe and coordinated.