Reserved decision

Guaranteeing seats, increasing productivity and maximising space are just some of the reasons why the region's restaurants are jumping on the reservation bandwagon.
Reserved decision
By Administrator
Sun 22 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

Guaranteeing seats, increasing productivity and maximising space are just some of the reasons why the region's restaurants are jumping on the reservation bandwagon.

Arerestaurant reservation systems popular in the Middle East?

Melanie Koestler:Restaurants require online reservation systems, which will not only monitor the phone and walk-in bookings, but also accept bookings over the internet. It is also crucial to use systems that collect guests' information for the database, and in turn assists future direct marketing possibilities. Trader Vic's, Sakura, Zinc, Certo, Chef's House, Casa Mia and Sukothai have already subscribed to Table-booking.com, and users have the opportunity to save their top 10 restaurants in cities around the world, which allows frequent flyers to access their favourite outlets effortlessly.

As quality staff are increasingly difficult to source, owners and managers are turning to IT for solutions.

Masood Al Janahi:This is definitely a growing trend, as the industry has been very labour-intensive until now. However, as quality staff are increasingly difficult to source, owners and managers are turning to IT for solutions. Customers are demanding practicality, ease of use and reporting functions, with particularly high demand for the products to be supported locally.

Mike Conyers:The Middle East market for reservation systems is maturing roughly in line with other market areas, but operators have been slow to appreciate the benefits of moving processes away from data centres and on to servers hosted remotely by suppliers. Many operators are still working on highly fallible and unreliable pen and paper processes or simple computerised reservations processes with running orders lists, with no focus on optimisation or yield management.

Phil Benson:Reservation systems have shot up in significance across the globe, as not only will a great system tell restaurateurs their top 20 customers immediately, but it also displays that information in ways that are valuable to marketing.

What type of software do you offer the Middle Eastindustry?

Melanie Koestler:We offer an online system, so guests can log-in and have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from on our search engine before making a booking on the website. It works as both a portal website and an individual restaurant management system, and has the ability to cooperate with offline systems via a gateway.

Mike Conyers:We have signed an exclusive agency agreement with Universal Concepts to see Restaurantdiary.com in the UAE, and we hope to provide internet bookings in real time to restaurants.

Masood Al Janahi:The Table Management System for POS is a comprehensive tool for adding, organising and managing table assignments. Restaurant staff can estimate table turn times, allow guests to view their current waitlist status via an external monitor, page guests when tables are ready, access system reports that document the customer's experience, and even interface with third party applications to create a web service for handling internet reservations.

What are the mainchallenges facing the sector?

Mike Conyers:Restaurant managers can be in a comfort zone about what they can cope with comfortably and how to fill up a restaurant at certain times. These managers sometimes have to be motivated to see the real improvements that our system can bring to an organisation.

Melanie Koestler:Creating awareness of these systems to both the hotel industry and the public, and encouraging people to use the systems properly are perhaps the key challenges we face.

Masood Al Janahi:The sector is falling due to a skills gap in terms of utilising the software to its maximum potential, yet this comes down to the quality and quantity of employees.

How can table managementsystems revamp front-of-house operations?

Melanie Koestler:It helps the restaurant staff to identify the guests' needs, which adds an extra personal touch and allows management to manage the seating and enjoy hassle-free, maximum utilisation of their resources. We developed Table-booking.com with a restaurant in Berlin, which has an event space for 3000 guests, and we have continually changed and upgraded its features while paying attention to the requirement for smooth and efficient restaurant management.

Masood Al Janahi:Improved output and customer satisfaction are achieved by processing table requests in an efficient and timely fashion. This involves a constant review of table assignments to ensure that the restaurant is functioning at maximum capacity, that customers are seated promptly, and in accordance with their preferences.

What do you offer to reduce the number of ‘How doI...' calls made into the helpdesk?

Masood Al Janahi:We offer user-friendly functionalities for managing the waitlist requests, with keys such as add, edit, greet, call, seat, unseat or abandon a table request. The notes function allows the user to enter additional information about a guest, and pre-configured table preference categories are provided such as view, table type and smoking.

Phil Benson:Designed to resemble an old-fashioned reservations book, our software offers ease of use, and does not require formal training at the front desk, as it can be taught in 10 minutes.

Melanie Koestler:Our system is self-explanatory and extremely user friendly, with icons to explain everything on the portal. If required, we also conduct an initial training session for our clients.
What do you expect to see included in reservation systemsin the future?

Mike Conyers:The biggest crime for a busy restaurant operation is actually to be turning custom away or under-utilising its cover capacity, but with a bit of thought, these extra covers can be accommodated, and eased into the smooth flow.

Masood Al Janahi:Hosting of these solutions is changing in restaurant environments, and central hosting of non-critical applications in central servers is the main consensus that the industry needs to heed. It permits servicing, upgrading and changing databases over multiple outlets from one location. This reduces upgrade and maintenance costs, along with down time, and makes the point of sale system easier to manage.

Money-spinningsystems

Technological advancements have been responsible for the obliteration of pencil and paper bookings, and in turn have become profit-making vehicles for the region's restaurant industry.

The fast food home delivery market has been particularly receptive of the new systems. According to Masood Al Janahi, Pizza Hut for example, has integrated its website directly to its points of sale. He says the move has resulted in a financially fruitful, customer focused model, with reduced labour costs and increased speed.

Escalating numbers of restaurants in the Middle East are now turning to systems that offer information formerly offered by staff, like table assignments based on availability and when tables are ready, yet with increased speed.

With advancements in these systems, they now allow front-of-house staff to post reservations, maintain and display the current status of all tables in the restaurant, create and manage a list of customers waiting to be seated, suggest table assignments based on customer preferences, and table availability.

Melanie Koestler, CEO of Table-booking.com says the region's high level of tourists has created a boom in reservation systems, as restaurants are often fully booked and need that extra support. She says waiters must also recognise guests, even if they come only once a month.

Having launched in Dubai earlier this year, the company now plans to introduce an SMS notification service for restaurant bookings in the future, as well as building terminals at airports so travellers can view the website and book restaurants in advance.

"Placing a restaurant reservation online is not the norm yet in the UAE, but in other countries there is hardly anyone who will still use the phone just to end up in a waiting loop and have to spell out their name five times to book a table," comments Koestler.

Commenting that reservation systems can also report the revenue generated over a set period of time, Masood Al Janahi, managing director of Key Information Technology adds that restaurant management teams, whether in casual or fine dining surroundings, can benefit from the systems when approaching essential business decisions, for example by altering menu items, the location of tables, and work procedures.

Maximising the highest amount of revenue at any point during the service, and then producing reports on the revenue generated is one bonus of reservation systems. Not only that but repeat business is also encouraged with the systems, says Koestler, as restaurant staff can instantly identify guests' needs and offer a personalised service.

Ensuring that the restaurant is performing at maximum capacity, systems have been hailed as sales and profit producers, yet software providers must offer user-friendly functions to contend with rivals in the market, as new players start to emerge.

Space control – popular features of the latest systems on the market

• Restaurants can maintain and display the status of all of its tables, such as whether the table is available, closed, seated, joined, reserved, dirty, in receipt of the check, or paid in full.

• Reports can be accessed documenting the customer's experience, including wait quote accuracy, timeliness of reservation seating, and their relationship to waitlist abandonment.

• Systems can retain notes on the diner's likes and dislikes, note VIP status, and track the number of no-shows and reservation cancellations whenever a new reservation request is made.

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