Every restaurant operator wants more reservations on the books. While it’s easy to think all bookings are created equal, reservations that are made through legacy reservation apps like OpenTable cost your business more than you may realize.
Beyond fees and cover charges, using third-party booking systems dilutes your brand and causes you to miss out on valuable relationship-building opportunities.
The good news is that you can save money and create a better guest experience by transitioning from reservation apps to direct reservation channels.
In this article, we’ll explore:
Exploring Third-Party Reservation Apps vs. Direct Booking Channels
Third-party reservation apps like OpenTable and Resy staked their claim in the hospitality world 20 years ago. However, today only 12% of consumers actually use marketplace reservation channels like OpenTable and Resy to find restaurants. And in an age where customers expect a more personalized experience. Direct bookings represent a more cost-efficient alternative.
Why Aren’t Third-Party Reservation Apps Beneficial to Restaurants?
Reservation apps want you to think they’re on your side, but the reality is that they often do more harm than good — especially for established restaurants that already have a solid customer base.
The truth is reservation apps don’t prioritize restaurants as their customers — their primary focus is consumers. The drawbacks of reservation marketplaces impact both your finances and your overall branding. Here’s why:
Other Discovery Channels Took Over
When reservation marketplaces were first released, they seemed like the way of the future. However, research shows that more and more people are leaving legacy discovery networks to find and book restaurants for more modern platforms like:
- Google & Yelp
- AI (e.g., Alexa and ChatGPT)
Since these channels are so important, it’s crucial to focus on your overall social media strategy, seo and search engine rankings. Using a template to create your posts, sticking to a content calendar, and posting consistently can all help you stay ahead of the curve.
Reservation Apps Don’t Drive Profit — They Drain It
It can seem like marketplaces drive profit when you see the reservations rolling in. These platforms do technically boost revenue, though the bump is minimal once you account for the fees and commissions they charge for using their services.
Some systems charge per cover, so if you book a large party through an external source, your profit on the entire booking decreases. In these instances, you’ll need guests to spend more than average at your restaurant to make up the difference.
Valuable Guest Data Is Limited
Personalizing the guest experience is a key element of fostering a loyal customer base. You can’t cater to guests’ preferences unless you know them, which is why leveraging guest data is essential. Reservation apps limit the amount of data you can access since it’s only coming from a single source. Plus, they own the data and maintain full control over the information you need.
Third-Parties Compete for Guest Loyalty
As consumers become more selective over where they spend, brands must respond by being intentional in their efforts to foster guest loyalty. In fact, a recent study found that 43% of consumers would be more inclined to purchase from restaurants if they had a loyalty program — and savvy restaurant owners are taking note of how booking behavior is driven by guest loyalty.
Reservation marketplaces make fostering brand loyalty more difficult since they essentially compete against you by promoting their own loyalty programs. They also add their own branding to your reservations and confirmation emails, advertise other restaurants and limit opportunities for you to build guest relationships.
FYI: Restaurants aren’t the only ones who are plagued by booking engine issues. Online travel agencies like booking.com, Expedia and Priceline are notorious for saddling hoteliers with steep commissions. Hoteliers are fighting back with the Book Direct Movement, using direct booking platforms to cut out the (expensive) middleman.
Why Should Restaurants Consider Direct? What’s the Difference?
If destination venues are standing up against price gouging, so can restaurants. When you transition your guests to book directly on your website instead of through a third-party reservation platform, you create more opportunities to build guest relationships, drive loyalty and save money on cover fees. The benefits of direct booking can’t be understated since they include:
- Taking ownership of your guest data allows you to easily leverage it to create personalized guest experiences and marketing opportunities that drive loyalty and repeat business.
- You gain more control when you can remove other logos to focus solely on your own branding. Direct solutions make it easier to establish stronger brand awareness and consistency.
- You slash the costly cover fees that cut into your profit margins. Direct booking solutions charge flat, transparent rates, which allow you to control expenses better.
Pro Tip: When you move away from marketplaces, you can reallocate the money you would have spent on getting people in the door towards improving the guest experience once they’re there.
Who Should/Shouldn’t Use Third-Party Reservation Apps?
Now that omnichannel marketing is paving the way for restaurant success, reservation apps shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone tool. Established, busy restaurants with a loyal following don’t need marketplaces to drive reservations.
However, there can be a case for incorporating them into your marketing strategy if you haven’t yet established a customer base or need help drumming up new business.
Direct in Action: When Altamarea Group (a restaurant with a strong customer base) switched to SevenRooms to leverage direct booking, they reduced third-party cover fees by an impressive 50%. If you’re an established restaurant, you shouldn’t be afraid to take the plunge. Read about their success here.
How to Transition Your Guests to Book Direct
From fostering strong relationships with your guests to being strategic about how you use reservation marketplaces, there are plenty of ways you can funnel business to your direct booking site. Add Your Direct Booking Link to Your Online Channels
Guests should be able to book with you wherever they can find you. Take note of each place your restaurant shows up online (your social channels, Google listing and review sites) and make sure guests can click a link to your direct reservation page. All of your marketing campaigns should include direct booking links as well.
Add a Book Direct Option to Your Marketplace Listing
If a potential guest discovers your restaurant through a marketplace, don’t worry — you can still manage to secure a direct booking by encouraging them to visit your direct booking website. Marketplaces allow you to add custom text to your page, so you can add a note like, “if no reservations are available, visit our website or call.” A simple “visit our website for more availability” under the reservation section also works.
Incentivize Direct Bookings While They’re Dining With You
There’s no better time to let guests know about direct booking options than when they’re physically in your dining room. Adding an insert that encourages guests to “book direct next time” and includes a link or QR code to your website ensures they’ll receive the message.
Promote (or Create) a Restaurant Loyalty Program
It’s well known that developing a loyalty program unique to your business incentives repeat visits. But did you know that loyalty programs also provide avenues through which you can promote direct bookings? When you email loyalty members about special offers, promotions or perks, include a link to your direct reservation system.
Turn Off Marketplace Reservation Inventory During Peak Hours and Days
When business is slow and you need every reservation you can get, marketplaces can be helpful tools. However, if you consistently find that there are days or shifts when every table is full with a 45-minute waitlist, you should turn off or reduce your marketplace listings for online booking during these periods in order to leverage direct channels.
Send Post-Visit Follow-Up Emails
Email marketing is a multifaceted tool, and sending a post-visit email helps build relationships and incentivizes return visits. It can also help you encourage marketplace diners to book direct next time. Email gives you the opportunity to educate diners on why booking direct is more beneficial to your business.
Pro Tip: Be sure to make your direct booking link visible, and the call to action clear. The easier it is for guests to “book now,” the greater your chances of securing a reservation.
Consider a Direct Booking Solution Like SevenRooms
While there’s merit in using third-party reservation apps to drum up business when you really need it, transitioning to a direct booking solution will have a positive trickle-down effect on several important facets of your business.
Switching to a direct reservation system like SevenRooms (which includes Google Reserve integration functionality) will save you money, strengthen your brand and allow you to harness the power of omnichannel marketing — a strategy that focuses on diversifying your marketing sources while creating a cohesive experience for your guests.
To learn more about leveraging a direct booking solution like SevenRooms, book a demo today.
Direct Booking FAQs
What Is a Restaurant Booking System?
There are two main categories of restaurant booking systems: direct booking systems, which allow guests to reserve tables through their own website, and marketplaces, which operate as an external entity.
How Do I Get More Restaurant Bookings?
Ensuring potential guests can discover your restaurant across a wide range of channels — and maintaining consistent branding across all of them — can help increase bookings. You should also make sure all your channels include direct booking integrations.
What Is the Basic Procedure for Taking Restaurant Bookings?
To create a profitable direct booking strategy, you’ll need to allocate how many bookings you can accommodate during any given time, take the reservation, confirm the reservation and then send a post-visit follow-up email.