You’re reading this on a smartphone, aren’t you?

You might be anticipating catching a ride home by calling an Uber. The world we live in has been fundamentally changed by technology. Why shouldn’t that apply to your work, or the way you eat out, as well?

For almost a decade now, services like OpenTable, NoWait, and a bevy of others have been changing the way both customers and restaurateurs make reservations and manage wait lists. By bringing analytics into the equation, along with simple-to-use technology, these text-to-table services have changed the way the modern restaurant operates.

But is using such a service right for your business? And if so, which one?

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OpenTable: The Goliath in the Room

The largest provider of reservation booking and management software for the last decade is OpenTable. OpenTable brings both experience and a vast customer base to the table. For consumers, this is a boon on many levels. They’re more likely to find their favorite restaurants and bars on the site, with more reviews by more patrons. This also makes OpenTable desirable for restaurants that are looking to fill more tables, more efficiently.

Businesses that make use of all of OpenTable’s functionality and find that it draws in enough customers to compensate for the cost of using their software will gain an increase not just in customers but in efficiency and online footprint via OpenTable’s review and suggestion service. However, some businesses find the initial and recurring fees costly. But, these same businesses can feel like not paying for such a service would push their customers to competitor restaurants who do list on OpenTable.

The Competition: NoWait, Waitlist Me, Resy, and More

Once upon a time, OpenTable’s dominated 90% of the market, but a flood of similar services has dropped their ownership significantly. Some of these competitors offer the same features, while others go after a slightly different crowd. But they all have a similar goal—help restaurants get patrons in the door.

The most recent splash in the market was made by NoWait, recently acquired by Yelp. NoWait tackles a slightly different angle than OpenTable. Rather than placing firm reservations, NoWait allows guests to remotely add their names to waiting lists at over 4000 restaurants and chains. Combined with Yelp’s mammoth customer base and reach they present a challenge to OpenTable’s hold on the market. Like OpenTable, NoWait offers a streamlined customer service interface, the ability to more efficiently and quickly turn tables, and an analytical data dive into your customer’s info and dining patterns. While some of the higher end packages offered by NoWait do match OpenTable’s high price, they also offer cost-friendly options that are lighter on features for businesses that don’t need to make use of all the available bells and whistles.

Tables Ready, Waitlist Me, Resy and a dozen other competitors offer up similar waitlisting and guest management services to OpenTable, at much lower prices than OpenTable. While not all of them offer the same features, for the business on a budget, they offer a cheaper alternative to a giant that keeps restaurants in the online reservation game.

Three Recommendations for Integrating Online Reservation

Online reservations and digital table management are a welcome addition to the restaurant industry, both to businesses and their customers. The methods are many, and the risks are real. Here’s our three top tips for making a successful transition from analog to online and digital guest management:

  1. Know What You’re Getting: Each service offer different options of varying worth to differing people. Understand what’s important to you What features do you want? Which do you need? What’s superfluous? What’s your budget and expected ROI (return on investment)? Be informed.
  2. Go All In: Integrating any new service into your business will be a big change. Take advantage of every feature you can. Learn all the ins and outs of what you can do with it, and what you can’t. These services have help centers, and OpenTable even has a training page available. Have any particularly good trainers on your staff? Institute a training program at your business to make sure everyone knows the ins and outs of the software your restaurant now relies on. This ensures you aren’t bottlenecked by having only a handful of employees who fully understand all your new capabilities. You’re paying hard earned money for the service—make it count.
  3. Don’t Lose Yourself: Remember that while new technology is exciting, and enthusiasm is one of the keys to successful implementation, don’t find yourself over-focused on this new technology. It should be a tool in your belt meant to strengthen the implementation of the principles and passions that got you to where you are, not a completely new and all-consuming business model. Keep hold of the core values of your business. Integrate. Don’t substitute.

With so many options available and a younger market more likely to find your business through Yelp or a similar service, adopting an online reservation system is a no-brainer. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into, and what you expect to get out of it. Research well, and, hopefully, watch the tables fill.

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