Before he joined OpenTable, Charlie Roberts spent a decade working in restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area — he was a GM at Oliveto in Oakland and also held positions at Aperto and NOLA. After two years as an OpenTable Account Manager and another year as a Sales and Restaurant Relations team trainer, Charlie is a pro at helping restaurants maximize their reservation books. We asked him for an insider’s tricks of the trade to get the most out of OpenTable.
Congratulations! You recently made it through the busiest time of the year for restaurants. Since January is notoriously slow, take some time to review the settings you have in place in your OpenTable account and make sure they’re customized to your business. Think of it like skiing: this is your opportunity to groom the slopes so everything moves as smoothly and predictably as possible.
Start over now, then be sure to revisit your default settings every quarter. As the seasons change, so will your business — and if you’re not using the system as well as you could be, it may be costing you money. Here are some things to stay on top of.
Maximum Party Size. Because of the size, style, or configuration of your restaurant, you may have decided early on that the largest online reservation you want to book is for eight or 10 people. (Check your OpenTable account settings for your maximum online party size limit.) But that number can be dangerous, because it works at all times of day, every day of the week. Even if it’s 5:30 p.m. on a Monday, your restaurant will never show up in searches for a group of 12. Instead of keeping it stagnant, you can bump up the max party size limit, but only offer large-party availability during certain time frames.
Turn Times. We all know a table that comes in at 5 p.m. will turn a lot faster than one at 7:30 p.m. — the staff and line move faster, because they have less going on. Plus, you may assume an early party has somewhere else to go after dining. Thus, the automatically designated turn time assigned to a party of two (say, 90 minutes) doesn’t always hold up. With the latest OpenTable software for the ERB, you can set turn times according to the time of day and day of week, without having to change them manually – the party of two that comes in at 5:30 is automatically set to a 60-minute turn time, while a party of two that comes in at 7 p.m. is set to 90 minutes. That way, the turn times will better represent your overall business patterns and help you move more efficiently.
Advance Booking Range. Often, the default number of days in advance that guests are able to reserve a table at a restaurant is set to 90. For resorts and destinations like Las Vegas or Hawaii, it makes sense to push that time range to six months or even a year. People book flights and hotels that far in advance, and many of them want to book special-occasion dinner reservations, too.
Waitlist Texting. Did you know that you can text your guests directly from OpenTable? Waitlist texting is a free feature available to all OpenTable customers. Let’s say a party walks in and you give them a 20-minute estimated wait time for a table. Minutes after they walk out to go shopping next door, their table gets up. In the ERB and Guest Center, our system can send a text message to guests who are waiting to let them know their table is ready, just by tapping a few buttons. You can get a quick answer as to whether they’re coming back, close the books on that party, and not waste valuable time deciding how long to wait before seating another party.
Again, it’s important to revisit these settings every quarter to optimize them for your restaurant. In the summer, people will eat later than they will in the winter, so you may want to change your pacing. In January, business is slower than in December — don’t exclude your online diner demand when you need and want it.
As a former Account Manager for San Francisco restaurants, I can tell you your best resource for this kind of stuff is your local Account Manager. If you don’t know who that is, call 1-800-OpenTable and they can help you get in touch.