Experiences offer a way to make memories and money

Across the country, diners are returning excited to make reservations this summer. They have a whole year of missed special occasions and get-togethers to catch up on and they are ready to celebrate, indoors and outdoors. That’s why now is the perfect time to create special experiences for them to enjoy. 

Whether it’s a fun happy hour or a multi-course extravaganza, experiences feel more special than a standard lunch or dinner out. Sometimes people are looking for something that will make their visit to a restaurant feel memorable, and experiences are likely to catch their attention. Crucially, experiences can also increase a restaurant’s revenue and give guests exactly what they want at the same time. Here’s how to make the most of this feature:

Make slow times busy with happy hours

People love happy hour—it’s a scientific fact. No, really: OpenTable data reveals that a whopping 69% of diners say they’re more likely to book at a restaurant offering happy hours or similar specials. Half of the diners OpenTable surveyed said they want to go to happy hour at least once a month, and creating an event gives you a simple way to draw in this large group of happy hour-loving people.

At the moment, it’s possible you’re already booked during your prime days and times. The real beauty of happy hour lies in its ability to fill your restaurant during otherwise slow times. Traditionally, it’s before the dinner rush. But there’s no reason it can’t work later in the evening or weekend afternoons as well. 

Go big or go … small (it’s up to you)

When it comes to designing experiences, you have options. Hosting a happy hour requires no crackerjack event planning skills, but for guests, it’s a party they don’t have to clean up after. They love it. However, you can also use experiences to create a somewhat more elaborate event. Maybe a Sunday brunch with live music, menu specials, or bottomless beverages is the right fit for your crowd. Or you could take it over the top with something even more ambitious: In February, Morimoto in Philadelphia devised a luxury experience that combined a two-hour omakase tasting menu with a self-guided tour of the art gallery upstairs from the restaurant.

When you offer people an experience they love, it deepens their connection to you and increases their loyalty. Check out what the average experience costs in your region here to get a feel for what local guests might want and expect in an experience.

Get increased visibility on OpenTable search

Often people come to OpenTable without a specific restaurant or plans in mind. Some are looking for ideas, and your experience can inspire them. When you launch an experience, it’s automatically displayed on your profile page where these potential guests can easily see it. When browsing for restaurant options and night-out ideas, it can pop up in their searches. Additionally, your experience appears just under the available reservation times. This can either draw in guests all by itself or lead them to book both an experience (like happy hour) and a reservation. Then, they’ll spend more time (and money) soaking in your food, drinks, and hospitality.

Take a creative approach to seasonal experiences

When most people picture a summer cookout, they see their own backyard. But as people emerge from the pandemic, they may be pretty tired of that particular view. Make Labor Day or any summer afternoon a restaurant occasion with an experience. How? Offer your chef’s take on backyard barbecue classics or have a build-your-own burger night to celebrate. Low country boils and pig roasts could also make for successful summer experiences. Or you can always take a lesser-known “holiday” and run with it. Mark your calendar for National Hot Dog Day (July 21), National Watermelon Day (August 3), and National S’mores Day (August 10), and then brainstorm possible experiences with your team.

Use a unique URL to spread the word

Once you’ve got your experience all teed up, use OpenTable to create a unique URL to promote the event. A quirky, creative experience gives you something to talk about online and a link to share on social media and in your email newsletter. The ease and simplicity of a one-click URL can help your regulars spread the word, too.

Host a wine or beer tasting

Given the appeal of happy hour, it’s no surprise that wine and beer tastings are also a hit with diners. OpenTable data shows that 41% of people would be most likely to book at a restaurant offering these tastings, and 49% said they want to go once or twice a year. It’s a natural opportunity to showcase your draft and wine list, but it also presents the opportunity to partner with another local business. Collaborate on your experience with your favorite winery or brewery to create a night local food enthusiasts won’t want to miss. Typically offered at a higher price point, wine and beer tastings can be a reliable way to boost revenue. 

Plan a special prix fixe dinner

Everyone endured at least one socially distant birthday, without the fun of gathering their gang at a favorite restaurant. Now, diners want to go all out. 52% say that they want to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions with special prix fixe dinner menus. This is a win-win situation because set menus take the guesswork out of the night’s covers and revenue. They can also fill the restaurant on an otherwise slow night, like Monday or Tuesday. 

These multicourse events give your chef the chance to get creative and stray from the regular set menu. Highlight a fleeting seasonal ingredient (ramps!), choose a culinary theme (lasagna, family-style), invite a guest chef, or try something out of the box (spotlight local grains). Use add-ons to set a base price with optional upgrades. For example, it’s an easy way to upsell a special bottle of wine, add wine pairings, or offer a high-end supplement, like shaved truffle. 

Combat no-shows

Unfortunately, guests’ post-pandemic zeal for restaurants has not erased the headache of no-shows. With experiences, you can choose to make your event prepaid, which removes the looming threat of no-shows from your evening. A prepayment isn’t the right move for every situation, which is why you have the flexibility to decide to make an experience prepaid or not. You choose what works for you. 

This is a historic moment in the restaurant business. The industry has faced (and continues to face) challenges and changes born of the pandemic. This moment of public reemergence is a big opportunity for restaurants. Creating experiences that work for you and resonate with your guests can help you make the most of it.


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