What you need to know about how diners book tables now

With every month that passes, more information about how we’ll live with the COVID-19 virus comes to light. And this is especially true for the restaurant sector, which has been especially affected by the events of the pandemic. 

Restaurants can use data to identify significant patterns and trends that can shape your business. OpenTable dug into the data to understand how diners book restaurants today compared to pre-pandemic. People simply don’t search for restaurants and book tables the way they used to. This intel provides facts, context, and valuable understanding about how diners book in an ever-changing situation. 

Here are the latest numbers and insights from OpenTable data. These are key findings to stay aware of as you make decisions going forward.

The decline of walk-ins

Walk-ins have declined markedly because of the pandemic. When many restaurants started to cautiously reopen amid punishing post-lockdown restrictions, walk-ins dropped by more than 6%. People called for reservations over the phone or booked online reservations instead of stopping by to check the availability of tables. 

Around this time, some restaurants were, in fact, requiring reservations for all seatings, contributing to the trend of declining walk-ins. These circumstances set the stage for what was to come as COVID restrictions were loosened and lifted. 

New habits took hold among diners. Even when capacity limits were lifted and vaccines gave people greater confidence about being out in the world, walk-ins continued to drop, losing an additional 3% share of bookings. 

Interestingly, phone bookings dropped as well at this time. The diners who used to be walk-ins seemed to have changed their tendencies. This group was now primarily booking their tables online. All of this points to a future in which online reservations are more important than they’ve ever been. 

Even when they’re already out and undecided about where to have a meal, they’ll whip out their phones to search for available tables “near me” rather than pop into a restaurant and ask a host for a table. They’re booking through online channels primarily.

The evolution of booking trends

In 2020 as regulations lifted and diners returned to restaurants, the majority of these formerly walk-in diners turned to your websites and booked through your OpenTable widget to reserve their table. While walk-ins have continued to decline, by mid-2021 these bookings have shifted to other online channels like OpenTable.

While bookings have yet to return to 2019 numbers, how diners are choosing restaurants has changed with a shift to other online channels like OpenTable. In June 2021, online bookings were 42% higher than they were in the same month pre-pandemic—June 2019. This is at least partially because online reservations are the new norm for dining.

The rise of regulars

A major bright spot in the data is an increasing number of repeat diners. In 2019, 7.6% of diners were likely to make another reservation at any given restaurant. Even pre-pandemic, diners who booked through OpenTable were almost twice as likely to become repeat guests compared to people who booked through search engines or a restaurant website reservation form. 

In 2021, diners seem to be finding “their” restaurant and becoming regulars. This could have something to do with trust and comfort—it’s human nature to return to places that feel secure and the past 17 months has only amplified that desire for safety and familiarity in many people. 

Perhaps people are drawn to certain safety policies and precautions, such as ample distance between tables, or restaurants that require guests to show proof of vaccination

As mandates continue to change and vary across cities, towns, and restaurants, communication with guests has become more important than ever. For this reason, OpenTable provides you with tools to help you communicate safety protocols and set guest expectations in advance. Update safety precautions on your profile, including the newly added “Proof of vaccination required to dine indoors” option.

Their reasons for making repeat visits will likely come into focus during the months ahead. But so far this year, the data shows that repeat dining frequency within a month has increased by 28%: As in the past, diners who book through OpenTable are even more likely to become regulars. 

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