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New tactics in the reservation wars

New tactics in the reservation wars

A list of strategic moves customers can make to snag hard-to-get tables doubles as an idea-starter for operators. • See more Operations articles

Companies like OpenTable and Yelp-owned SeatMe make it easy for customers to make a reservation at your operation. And emerging web-based services like Last Minute Eatin and Rezhound can help them score a table, too.

But now Seattle-based restaurant review aggregation site Urbanspoon is telling its users they have to be even more proactive to get the reservations they really want. As a byproduct, some of the tips the company presents also hint at marketing moves restaurants might make to lure customers into their dining rooms at less-desirable times. If you want to maximize table utilization in your restaurant, take a look at the list below and think about how you could meet some of these reservation seekers half way.

Here are UrbanSpoon’s Top 10 Tips consumers should follow to increase their chances of scoring a coveted reservation in a restaurant like yours:

1. Tweet for your seat. Social media isn't just for finding new dining spots and sharing favorites with friends. In fact, more top restaurants are looking to social media to share exclusive offers with fans and followers and engage with new diners. Restaurants sometimes release last minute tables on their social media accounts. Don't be afraid to send a public message as well. Often a heartfelt story of an anniversary or other event, played out in a public forum, can help secure a spot from a restaurant that wants to be seen accommodating their customers.

2. Membership has its rewards. Credit card companies frequently run special deals and exclusive seatings with top restaurants. Check your statements or call your credit card rewards hotline to inquire about exclusive dining offers.

3. Persistence pays. If every phone call is met with the dreaded busy signal, use multiple lines simultaneously to increase your chances of getting through. Leave messages and be clear that you're open to last minute cancellations. In addition, check online at all hours of the night. Sometimes restaurants will release reservations in the middle of the night so set your alarm and check around 1-2 a.m. for those desired reservations.

4. Walk in to book... If all that persistence still leaves you waiting to talk to a live person, stop by the restaurant to inquire about openings. Go early in the day, when the restaurant first opens, or near the end of the night, when it's off-peak hours and you're less likely to encounter a frazzled host.

5. ...and walk in to eat. Usually restaurants will try to accommodate you if 
you're willing to wait. Missed reservations or tables held for VIP guests are released back to the public toward the end of the night. And if the restaurant commits to accommodating you, don't be afraid to check in with the host frequently—ultimately you are responsible for getting your table.

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6. Watch the clock. If you are trying to snag a table as a walk-in, ask the host or hostess when they need the table back. Restaurants often pad reservation times because they don't want to have to kick a diner out. Assure the host you'll be out well in advance of the next booking for the table to increase your chances of being seated.

7. Open minds mean open tables. You're unlikely to snag the hottest ticket in town if you're only willing to dine at 8 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night. Ask for mid-week reservations or be open to dining at times you'd typically associate with the early bird special or late night munchies. Also, be flexible on where you're willing to sit. Being open to smaller tables, or being seated near the bathroom or kitchen make you more likely to actually get a seat at all.

8. Don't bite the hand that seats you. Being a good tipper is great but don't forget the maître d after you've dined as well. A small thank-you tip on the way out, or inexpensive gift around the holidays will ensure a prime seat the next time you visit.

9. Cozy up to the concierge. Restaurants often hold a few tables for guests of top local hotels and in return, the hotel will recommend the eatery to their guests. If you're traveling, don't hesitate to ask the front desk about that new trendy spot—they might be able to get you in even if your own efforts weren't successful.

10. Sup at the stools. While there might be only one or two spots available at a time, this is still an option for singles or couples that are dining. Not only do most places serve food at the bar, your bartender might be less rushed than the on-duty wait staff.

TAGS: Management
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