Blog / October 25, 2022
The Hotspot’s Guide to Guest Relations
Many factors have the potential to begin a new restaurant’s proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. Sometimes all it takes is a favorable review, a viral TikTok or Instagram post or a well-orchestrated PR push to open the floodgates.
Soon, phone lines — if they exist — are jammed. Waitlists stretch into the thousands. The hungriest and most deep-pocketed of diners may even resort to bribing the maître d’, playing the secondary market for reservations or buying NFTs in order to gain access to the toughest tables in town.
For a time, this surplus of demand is a boon for the restaurant. But what happens when things inevitably cool down? And how can operators make sure that by the time it does, they have already cultivated strong relationships with the guests who have managed to visit? Read on for five best practices that can help turn your hot, new restaurant into an enduring institution.
- Drive direct bookings.
- Leverage powerful CRM software complete with auto-tags.
- Set up a virtual waitlist.
- Prioritize requests from regulars and high-value clients.
- Follow up with every guest, every time—automatically.
1. Facilitate direct bookings for a healthier bottom line.
With reservation searches up 107 percent in Q1 2022 as compared to the same time last year, it’s clear that on-premise dining is back in full swing. But while so-called “discovery diners” may enter more general search parameters like “best tapas SoHo” to figure out where to eat, guests tend to seek out the most buzzworthy restaurants by name. Leverage a direct reservation solution to make sure these “decided diners” have a seamless booking experience across your restaurant’s owned social channels like your website, Google My Business and Facebook profiles.
Besides avoiding the cover fees associated with traditional third-party marketplaces, these direct reservations allow you to capture valuable guest data and expand your client database automatically. Meanwhile, a white-labeled booking solution keeps your brand front and center across every digital touchpoint, and makes it easy to share booking policies and other important information with this flood of new guests.
2. “Show me that you know me.”
With so many new faces coming through the door—and many restaurants understaffed to begin with—knowledge sharing amongst your team members can be difficult. Fortunately, powerful CRM software can serve as a centralized source of truth, where comprehensive guest profiles provide crucial insights that empower your staff before, during and after every service.
Greeting a guest by name as they approach the host stand, offering a Champagne toast on their anniversary, following up via email to thank them for making their first visit—these are the small touches that have a huge impact on boosting guest loyalty. The best CRM systems come with robust client tagging capabilities, allowing your team to treat every guest like a well-known regular and reach them with targeted email marketing campaigns that keep your restaurant top of mind long after their dining experience.
3. Give walk-ins a chance to get in on the action.
While some argue that pent-up demand for reservations has made a spontaneous meal out “an endangered activity,” there are still plenty of diners willing to try their luck as walk-ins. These guests can often become your most loyal — think of them as zealous future fans. But with so many venues short-staffed right now, it’s more important than ever to be strategic in balancing how you welcome guests with reservations while accommodating those on the waitlist.
By setting up a virtual waitlist, your restaurant can avoid traffic jams at the host stand and allow guests to join your waitlist from anywhere. Besides creating a more seamless guest experience, accepting some walk-in parties can act as an insurance policy, filling tables that may have otherwise been left empty due to no-shows or late cancellations. Better yet, every waitlist entry adds another email address and phone number to your growing client database.
4. Turn anonymous requests into acknowledged regulars.
Guest data is pure marketing gold, the only currency that is never subject to inflation. For popular restaurants that get inundated with booking inquiries, it also provides operators with a systematic way to identify and accommodate VIPs, regulars and big spenders.
A direct booking solution allows you to field reservation requests directly through your website and automatically link contact information to guest profiles in your CRM database. This wealth of information — including guest preferences, visit counts, historical spend and more — allows your front-of-house team to be highly selective. With the right data in place, they can prioritize reservation requests from your most loyal and highest-value clients, enabling them to create truly personalized hospitality experiences, at scale, once the guest is on-site.
5. Follow up with every guest, every time—automatically.
Given industry-wide labor shortages and the shock of inflation, most, if not all, restaurants today are running with a leaner-than-usual team, making it much harder to carve out time for one-on-one interactions between your staff and your guests. Yet, the savviest operators know that marketing automation software can help you create additional touch points throughout the guest journey that can enhance their experience with data-driven hospitality.
In addition to offering the ability to automatically send feedback surveys to every guest after every experience, the best marketing automation solutions come with a ready-built library of emails proven to bring guests back. Campaigns like the following are perfect for the busiest restaurants:
- Abandoned Waitlist – Reach out to walk-in guests who you were unable to accommodate and offer them a reservation for next time.
- Re-Engagement – Touch base with guests who haven’t visited in a given period of time in an effort to bring them back.
- Late Cancellations & No-Shows – Things happen. You understand. Why not encourage these truant guests to re-book another time?
- Guest Feedback – Thank guests who leave positive feedback, or buy valuable time to follow up with any who leave negative feedback.
- Booked Through a Third-Party – Encourage these guests to book through your direct channels in the future.
Collectively, these strategies allow you to build rapport with each and every guest from day one. Leaning on today’s technology solutions to help you identify and acknowledge these early adopters opens up endless opportunities to create enhanced hospitality experiences while guests are on-site and send automated, targeted marketing emails to follow-up. In a business built on relationships, staying connected with your guests before, during and after every experience is the key to cultivating regulars for the long haul.