People are craving more than a meal out these days—they want an experience. An experience can be as casual and frequent as a happy hour special or more specialized and seasonal as a holiday tasting menu.
Here, we share best practices for offering successful Experiences on OpenTable, from creating and pricing to strategy and promotion.
Experiences give both new and returning guests a compelling reason to dine out, and provide that personal connection we’ve all been missing. Jennifer McDonnell, Director of Events at E3 Chophouse in Nashville, says that offering a unique experience is a great opportunity to give guests a “wow” moment with your restaurant that they truly look forward to, and turn passive guests into engaged guests. “An engaged customer is definitely going to talk about their experience, and share that with their family and friends, or post about it on social media,” she shares, “but they’re also more than likely going to return as well.”
And not only are guests likely to return, but guests who book Experiences are also less likely to no-show, especially when they prepay, providing more control and predictability for your shifts. Knowing which guests are interested in an experience ahead of time can help your restaurant plan ahead better and run smoother shifts.
Allison Crawford, Wine Experiences Manager at JUSTIN winery, loves having their tastings on OpenTable and has found that providing a clear and concise description of an experience also helps communicate important information to the guest, which often translates to less work for her and her staff. That way the staff can focus more on connecting with guests and providing a high-quality experience.
Whether you already have experiences or are looking to add them to your restaurant’s offerings, you can promote special menus, announcements, and more on OpenTable. Experiences give you the flexibility to choose what you offer and when.
Get the word out about happy hour and complimentary items
To get the word out about a promotion, a happy hour or complimentary item Experience is a great choice. These experiences can drive awareness about unique offerings and inform guests of specials or events, without requiring guests to reserve or book an experience. Put simply, they act as announcements on your restaurant profile and alongside your booking policies when guests make reservations.
SWB in Scottsdale promotes live music, while Hearsay in Market Square in Houston showcases a fun twist on a classic masquerade.
Stand out with special menus
Special menu experiences, as the name implies, are the perfect fit for traditional offerings such as chef or holiday menus, but can also be used for unique experiences you’d like guests to book ahead of time such as tastings and classes, ticketed wine dinners, or even unique dining settings like an igloo.
This experience type is great for:
Five and Ten in Athens, GA, offers a weekly Ramen Night and knows in advance how many tables will be ordering ramen. “We’ve noticed a lot of our guests selected that menu through OpenTable,” says Hank Sully, office manager at Five and Ten, “so we know in advance that we have six or seven tables that are explicitly interested in ramen so it helps us with our prep as well. It’s something we only offer once a week so we have to be careful with how much we make.”
Sun Sun at the Casa Marina in Key West is crafting something extraordinary for celebrating beachgoers.
Morgan MFG in Chicago’s West Loop offers guests a fully immersive (and a little scary) dining adventure.
The Urban Stillhouse in St. Petersburg guides guests through the joys and complexities of one of their favorite bourbons.
Offering set menus with special menu Experiences not only gives you a predictable revenue stream, but also helps you streamline service and do more with fewer people. Get our tips on designing and marketing a set menu.
Not everything is an Experience
When considering adding Experiences on OpenTable, keep what guests are looking for in mind. Don’t mistake a new menu item, special hours, table types, or delivery offerings as an experience.
If guests’ first impression of your Experiences are things that are not really an experience at all, they are less likely to pay attention to your offerings and dampen excitement for events in the future.
This is your opportunity to delight and connect with your guests around something truly special and different from your standard menu. With limited opportunities to capture your guests’ attention outside of the restaurant, being thoughtful and intentional with what you choose to highlight as an Experience is important.
Once you’ve decided the type of experience(s) you’re offering, the next step is to figure out the pricing and whether to require guests to pay in advance. Take into account what other restaurants are charging in your neighborhood and the type of value you’re providing.
Look at neighborhood competition
Take a look at the experiences other restaurants in your neighborhood are offering and how they’re priced. When diners are looking to book with you, they’re likely looking at similar restaurants nearby and comparing them side by side. You want to make sure that you’re priced competitively but also differentiate your experiences. See the types of Experiences that restaurants are running in your area.
Use common pricing as a baseline
Source: OpenTable Experiences data (US & Canada, July 8 to October 28, 2020)
Consider having guests pay upfront
Requiring guests to pay in advance for an experience can help bring in more committed and engaged guests and give you the certainty of bookings for that shift. With prepaid experiences, you can also have greater cash flow and control by collecting money upfront and planning ahead with a confirmed number of guests.
“Prepayment decreased our no-show rate for reservations from 10 to 12 percent to 2 percent of covers, which is very good for us,” says Alex Rudolf, food and beverage director at Lucille at Drury Lane.
When guests select an experience, even if it’s not prepaid, they are less likely to no-show, since they’re more engaged and committed. Compared to all reservations, no-show rates for experiences are significantly lower with parties for pre-paid experiences no showing less than 2% of the time, and parties for non-prepaid experiences no-showing less than 5% of the time.
Source: OpenTable reservation and no show data (US, July 8 to September 3, 2020)
Calculating the price listed on OpenTable
When you add an experience on OpenTable, experience pricing is all-inclusive, meaning in addition to the cost of the menu the price must also include any taxes or gratuities you need to collect from the guest.
Tip: When indicating the price or requiring prepayment, be sure to include all costs/fees in the total price and call out what is included in the Experience description.
How you describe your experience can be just as important as your menu. Think of it as an opportunity to catch the attention of people and set accurate expectations. Consider these top tips when writing the name and description of your experience.
You’ve created your experience and now it’s time to get the word out to bring diners in. Promote your experiences across all of your marketing channels. Highlight them on your website with your OpenTable booking widget, email them to prior guests and VIPs, promote them across your social channels, and mention them in your in-restaurant marketing materials.
To get even more eyes on your experience in OpenTable search results, you can add a boost campaign, resulting in more bookings and revenue for your restaurant.
Experiences offer a myriad of benefits for both diners and your restaurant, but before adding experiences, make sure it’s a good business decision. In short, don’t offer an experience just for the sake of it. Be strategic in what you offer when, so you bring in incremental covers and revenue—and don’t cannibalize what you already have.
“Make sure you are promoting something people actually want, and that is part of a bigger plan for the restaurant at that time,” says Alex Levin, director of strategic business initiatives and pastry at Tico D.C.