- Posted by The CorkGuru
The best way to make people “get” a new technology? Give them context: Explain what familiar thing or service the bright shiny thing replaces. Then show how the new improves upon the old. In that spirit, here’s the past, present, and imminent future of restaurant guest management, in several different applications.
Past: Diners pick a restaurant via word of mouth, printed or broadcast ad, coupon mailer, or even Yellow Pages. They then phone to inquire about menu, directions, and open timeslots. Restaurateurs hope a) the calls don’t take up too much worker time, b) workers return the voicemails left during off hours, c) communication doesn’t suffer due to accents, limited English or noise and d) the callers show up.
Present: Online search sites display restaurants by cuisine, geography and reviews, while also showing availability. Consumers click to make their own reservations, and restaurateurs pay the site operators per seated guest.
Alternatively, guests browsing a restaurant’s menu online can enter their reservation by clicking a widget — before they can return to other search results. Payment models vary.
Imminent Future: Search/review sites will not only show local restaurants and their ratings, but wait times in real time. This quote will be based not only on the digital wait list and number of tables, but on the status of existing orders in the kitchen.
Past: The hostess enters the names of walk-ins on her hand-written list, next to the reservation book. Using worksheets (or oral tradition, passed from hostess to hostess), she calculates and quotes a rough wait time. When a table of the right size comes free, she hollers the name out the door or in the bar. Or she communicates availability through vibrating pagers, which have more class but the same range as a holler. If the party has abandoned the wait, she must decide when to give up calling their name along with those next in line.
Present: Restaurant patrons give the host their mobile phone numbers as well as their names. When a table becomes available, the host uses a web-based app to send them an SMS message. The same app combines the reservation-holders and the wait listed for an accurate picture of incoming load.
Patrons may also download a third-party app that tells them where they are in the queue, shows them trending dishes on the menu, and encourages sharing this information with friends through social media links. If guests abandon the wait, they can take their names off the queue. Restaurant operators build consumer profiles, mapping phone number to orders, frequency, spend, and preferences over time. The wait list app also gateways into loyalty apps that collect more guests data while rewarding subsequent visits.
Operators also have online dashboards that show higher level analytics over time.
Leading-edge Present: In chains where the POS system is integrated with the kitchen system, wait times can be quoted based on knowledge of the status of all orders at all tables, without having to walk the floor. Based on accumulated knowledge of how long diners tend to stay after dessert is ordered or check presented, the system can accurately predict when x number of tables and seats will be made available. With the restaurant app always ready in his apron pocket, a busser, manager or server can capture the missing piece of the guest reporting cycle: table clearing and re-setting. Synced with all other screens, this info maximizes table turns and helps prevent traffic jams of guests on the way to their tables.
Future: Pagers are entirely replaced by SMS or app. Branded, mounted display screens show guests promotions, specials and upcoming events, as well as their place in the wait list, eliminating “how much longer” pestering.
Past: Maitre d’s spend years accumulating guests’ preferences and particulars in a dog-eared, zealously guarded notebook. When that maitre d’ leave a restaurant’s employ, that guest book goes with him.
Present: Once identified via waitlist or reservation system, guests can be clocked and tracked and their experience added to their histories, from the time they make a reservation till the moment they leave. The guest management app knows how long they waited to be seated. Integrated with the POS, it knows what they ordered, how long they took to be served, and — if integrated with the kitchen system — if anything was sent back to be redone. Integrated with loyalty systems, the app can show how many points they’ve racked up and when and if they’ve been redeemed.
Leading-edge Present: CRM systems, integrated with POS and guest management systems, can pop a guest’s particulars (birthdays, children’s names, allergies, preferences) to the host stand screen or server’s iPad when their names are entered. Hostesses can add additional notes for the future.
Future variation: Guest records can be triggered to pop on screen when beacons mounted at the door detect the guest’s smartphone. Hosts and managers are instantly notified, via app, to the presence of a VIP. Provisioned as a cloud service, this intelligence can be shared across multiple properties under one ownership.
Past: Hostesses consult a printed floor map with a plastic overlay to mark guests onto tables and dry-erase them off. They also keep a running tally of server assignments to make sure all waitstaff are apportioned equal loads and ergo, tipping opportunities.
Present: Hostesses touch a screen representation of tables and drag parties from wait list to table. Tables change colors as diners step from menu presentation, through drinks and appetizer, to payment and clearance. Another tap on the table brings up check detail. Server rotation logic is built in.
Future: In seat-yourself restaurants, diners who’ve opted in can be automatically recognized when they enter by a Bluetooth Low Energy beacon that senses their particular smartphone. If they’ve pre-ordered their meal online, this triggers the POS to fire the order. A table-mounted beacon shows the server, via screen display, which table they’ve chosen.
Past: Spreadsheets and manual entry are used to track everything but orders, which can be pulled from the POS. But orders are not pegged to guests.
Present: Instant reports can show detail or averages of every step in the guest experience. Quoted wait time can be compared with actual wait time, showing what matters to the guest: meeting expectations. Secured online portals let area managers who happen to be in store A check the number of plates in the expo window in store J.
Future: Kitchen-mounted displays can compare several regional properties along different productivity metrics, for friendly competition and objectively scored incentive programs.
What so many of these “advances” do, of course, is try to replicate the personal touch we associate with neighborhood establishments of years gone by, when everybody knew your name and proprietors had a good sense of your average check. The challenge of the future will be keeping it real and personal, when both guests and operators know they’re drawing on digital intelligence to drive those touches.