Customer engagement beyond
There are several computerized online
restaurant reservation tools on the market
to help operators take reservations even
when the restaurant is closed. The most
widely used is Open Table, which has more
than 13,000 participating restaurants.
Others are Urbanspoon, Reservation
Genie, RezBook, Savvydiner, Dinnerbroker
and Reservationist from Blue Skies
Hospitality Management Systems (HMS),
Austin, Texas. Each tool offers different
features, widely varying startup fees and
other user perks.
restaurant staff create special moments
before and during the guest’s visit.”
Several of the reservation tools, such as
Blue Skies, allow guests to create a dining
profile that includes information about
food preferences, wine choices, server
preferences, allergies and special events,
as well as a photo, the number of times
they have dined and other key stats.
Because restaurants have such small
marketing budgets, world-of-mouth
advertising plays an important role in
growing a restaurant’s following. “When you
can create and capture special moments,
and people talk about the wonderful dining
experience, a restaurant will find success,
because a rhythm of setting up expectations
is established and people show up and they
get that special moment,” Christopher says.
“Online reservation software says to guests
you are ready for business, ready to create
special moments and ready to deliver a
memorable dining experience.”
“What our system does is reinforce the
restaurant’s brand and its customer
loyalty,” says Adam Christopher, president/
CEO/co-founder of Blue Skies HMS.
“Having the capability for staff to know
what a guest likes or dislikes before they
even step foot in the restaurant gives the
restaurant such an advantage to create a
memorable dining experience and engage
The Bristol Bar & Grille opened its first
location 30 years ago in Louisville, Ky.
Today it has five locations in Kentucky and
Indiana. “When we first opened, the dining
options were limited, so getting repeat
customers was easier back then,” says
Doug Gossmann, president.
Linda Duke, chief executive of Duke
Marketing, LLC, San Rafael, Calif.,
says there are several local-store
marketing tactics any restaurant can
undertake without incurring great out-of-pocket expense:
• E-mail your best customers with
news about new menu items and
special events and offers, and invite
them to participate in a survey for
gift cards and prizes.
• Consider curbside pickup.
Customers love the convenience
of being able to fax or phone in an
order and have it paid for and ready.
• Celebrate your business
anniversary with a customer
appreciation event at a time of year
that would result in the best return
for your operation.
• Call lunch customers the same
afternoon they visit. Thank them for
their business and ask if everything
met their expectations.
• Hold an open house for your
customer list, especially in October
or early November. Set up a tasting
and take orders for the holidays.
• Promote the children’s lunch
menu with a promotional tie-in with
child-oriented businesses, and post
fliers with coupons at those venues.
“A lot of restaurants know that the guest
is why they are there, but once a guest
arrives, staff often forget about the guest
and begin to go through the motions of
taking orders and serving food, without
really engaging the customer and making
the dining experience as memorable as
it can be. This thinking enters into our
software—as well as that of others—to help
“Today there is so much diversity being
offered on where to eat that it takes much
more work to get customers coming back
on a frequent basis. So what we need to
do is keep our restaurant on their list of
favorites, so when they start to think about
where to go out to eat, we are always in
the hunt. No matter how well you satisfy
guests when they visit your restaurant,
every potential restaurant-goer is
bombarded with all types of coupons and
invitations to go somewhere else.”
of new guests, Gossmann experimented
with several customer-engagement
strategies. He tried LivingSocial.com,
which allows users to purchase discounted
coupons. Bristol Bar & Grille offered a $30
coupon that cost a user $15, of which the
restaurant received 70%, or $10.50.
To keep the attention of his current
customer base and grab the attention
“What we found was that people would
spend up to $50 when visiting the
restaurant, so as long as they spend $20
extra, it turns into a much better deal