How Charleston’s beloved restaurant Maison held strong during COVID

Just one year before the COVID pandemic, Vandy Vanderwarker, former chef de cuisine at The Ordinary, and restaurant heavyweight Will Love opened their doors at French restaurant Maison in Charleston, South Carolina. Will Love tells the story of how newly opened Maison endured COVID and found a way to take their hospitality to new heights using creativity, resiliency, and tools. 

How did your new restaurant Maison get through the pandemic?

We survived COVID by dialing in on and eliminating superfluous expenses. There are lots of “luxury” expenses in the food and beverage industry. Our team is great at controlling costs so we don’t have many ancillary expenses, but we cut the few that we did during COVID. The fact that OpenTable didn’t charge throughout COVID was amazing! We were able to save so much money while still being able to use OpenTable to manage our front of house.

How did you manage the operations with takeout, to-go orders, and limited in-person dining?

For our team, it starts with the floor plan everyday: OpenTable is the quarterback to our entire shift. The software is the logistics of our entire business. Click and drag, turn-time analysis, and guest history are a few of my favorite features. The software is so intuitive, easy to modify and when I need help, the local support is incredibly helpful. OpenTable’s software is the Cadillac of restaurant software. 

Why has CRM been so important at Maison?

Customer relationship management is my personal favorite acronym. We’ve used OpenTable’s built-in CRM technology a ton (before and) during COVID to track everything from dietary restrictions, family member details, allergies, and general preferences. During COVID we did fewer covers than pre-COVID, so we used that time as an opportunity to take even more notes and build even stronger relationships. Our ability to track guests’ behavior patterns has been extraordinary. OpenTable continues to be a seamless way for our team to keep track of thousands of our guests’ information. 

What role does marketing play in your business?

I see a lot of value in marketing if there’s a positive ROI. I love being able to track our efforts with OpenTable’s marketing engine. We know exactly what the return is. For example, I knew if we spent $500, we would get 200 diners, which equates to $10,000 in sales. Essentially, it creates a tangible metric for our return on marketing. I appreciate that there are no costs for searches or direct bookings. We control when we use OpenTable’s marketing and when we don’t need it, which has been helpful especially during COVID.

How do you incorporate marketing?

For our business, OpenTable is more reliable than general searches. You get real-time feedback, you get ratings and up-to-date information. 

With the technology aspect of the OpenTable app, it’s definitely a younger diner, but even our older guests joke about how easy the app is to navigate. OpenTable attracts a more food and beverage focused clientele. OpenTable diners leave helpful reviews and feedback that we apply right away to continue to elevate our hospitality. I even use OpenTable when I am out of town because I know if I want to eat good Italian food I will instantly get 13 great options. 

What do you think the restaurant industry has learned from COVID? 

A lot of restaurateurs have so much passion for what they do, that they forget they are running a business. They focus on delicious food and beverages but don’t think through cost vs profit margin/analysis. The industry is moving toward seeing restaurants as a business in addition to a passion.

After the pandemic, I think the restaurant scene is going to blow up for those of us that were able to hang on through COVID. We’re also seeing a lot of restaurateurs moving from big cities like New York and Chicago to Charleston. This gives me hope that collectively we can put Charleston back on the culinary map.