Taking smart steps now will ensure future-proofing for years to come…
2020 saw the Irish restaurant industry upended, featuring scenes, situations and sentences we couldn’t have even imagined the year before. While 2021 has had a sluggish start, hope is on the horizon thanks to the vaccine roll-out, and when restaurants finally reopen they need to be ready to capitalise on pent-up demand, with the appetite for dining out predicted to be at an all-time high.
In the three weeks that hospitality reopened last December, demand for seats was unprecedented, and many diners learnt the hard way that venturing out without a booking was a bad idea. According to Statista, on Sunday 20th December, diner numbers were a massive 46.64% higher than the same day a year earlier, showing how eager diners were for any table, anywhere.
With the Irish restaurant and takeaway industry worth approximately €3bn yearly to the Irish economy, and employing 65,000 people, a swift and effective recovery is going to be vital in getting society’s cogs turning again. Here are five things that restaurants can do to ensure maximum covers and spend from the minute doors open…
1. Get smart with seating
With restaurants likely to be working with reduced covers initially, it’s going to be crucial to get smart with seating. NPHET is predicting a summer of outdoor dining, so any available space should be utilised. Sprezzatura put a gazebo over an alleyway beside their restaurant. Featherblade made a piece of path into a Parisian style, people-watching burger bar. Saba turned a car park behind their Baggot Street restaurant into a ‘secret garden’, complete with holiday-style lighting and art by subset.
The Commons at Moli found their courtyard area was “a lifesaver” when customers were anxious about eating indoors, with owner Domini Kemp saying it gave people “a real sense of comfort and relaxation”. If you have any extra space to use, OpenTable’s online restaurant reservations system lets you add a new seating area and set up your table plan in minutes.
2. Use meal kits and takeaway to work your kitchen harder
Bord Bia are predicting a continued investment in takeout and delivery as a strategy for diversifying risk, and meal kits have unveiled a previously untapped demand for high-end restaurant food at home. A recent survey by Dublin food guide All The Food found that 67% of readers wanted at home options from their favourite restaurants to continue once restaurants reopen, with parents in particular loving the ability to have great food at home without the need for a babysitter or a taxi.
Mister S on Camden Street plan to keep their meal kits going indefinitely, while restaurant group Press Up’s delivery options are expanding by the week, with cocktails from the Vintage Cocktail Club, movie kits from The Stella, and brunch platters from Mackenzies all now available.
Brother Hubbard will lose 40-50% of their seating in both locations with social distancing measures in place. They expect their recently launched evening meal kits, along with whatever outdoor dining they can create, to be their two main sources of revenue in the initial reopening phase.
Warmer weather will also bring more opportunities. Lou Leahy from Ukiyo told OpenTable that takeaway food and cocktails for the park were very popular last summer, and they plan to restart this as soon as the weather gets warmer.
OpenTable lets you add a take-away/delivery option linked with one of our delivery partners or directing diners straight to your own website to order. Whichever you choose, it ensures that customers know you’re open for business and can place an order in a couple of clicks.
3. Add experiences to attract customers during off-peak times
Thinking outside the breakfast/lunch/dinner box will help to maximise seating and increase spend. Adding unique dining experiences like a live music brunch or early evening wine tasting can fill what would be otherwise empty seats, and OpenTable’s newly launched experiences option means diners pay in advance, so losing out to no-shows won’t be an issue.
For The Press Up group, offering experiences like their rosé Afternoon Tea at The Grayson will be a large part of their reopening plan, and for the Gourmet Food Parlour, themed food and live music evenings are in the works.
4. Use marketing to get your message out
Using social media and email marketing will be vital for getting promotions and new offerings out, as well as covid-related safety precautions to reassure apprehensive diners. For vegetarian/vegan restaurant Glas on Chatham Street, who have been closed for nine of the 17 months they’ve been open, marketing campaigns are at the forefront of their minds. “We are still relatively new”, says general manager Mateo Saina. “We will need to up the ante once things reopen to maintain our profile in a competitive market.”
Lorraine Heskin, CEO of the Gourmet Food Parlour, has used restaurant bookings from OpenTable to build a strong email database. It gives her team direct access to their customers’ inboxes, and also allows them to see a large amount of useful data at a glance, including how often customers have visited and any special requests they’ve made. “Having access to that kind of historical data, and the ability to preempt our customers’ needs, has really been pivotal for our business.”
Tracking customer bookings and details through OpenTable also ensures easy contact-tracing without having to manually record and store details, something that Domini Kemp, owner of The Commons at Moli and Hugh Brown’s in Brown Thomas found “super helpful”.
OpenTable’s marketing can help you reach brand new customers who are looking for exactly what you’re offering, whether it’s a type of cuisine, a new experience, or a table in a specific area at a specific time.
5. Take deposits and avoid empty seats
With less available seats, it’s going to be crucial that none are empty. While some restaurants still feel uncomfortable taking deposits, customers are becoming increasingly happy to pay a deposit for a table as they would for a concert or hotel.
Many restaurants who declined to take deposits last December regretted it, sharing their no-show numbers anonymously with the media. OpenTable’s restaurant booking system helps managing no shows easier by taking deposits with an option to opt in or out at any time. It also prevents customers from making multiple reservations for the same time, reminds diners about upcoming reservations and has a ‘four strikes and you’re out’ rule.
A full return to normality will take time, but if restaurants can take anything from last year, it’s the opportunity to future-proof their business and come back even stronger.