Restaurant Startup Tips: Should your restaurant take reservations?

If you haven’t figured it out already, there are tons of important decisions that restaurant entrepreneurs need to make. That’s why One Fat Frog has this series of Restaurant Startup Tips. One small but important decision is whether or not to take reservations. If your restaurant does take reservations, how do you go about it?

Some restaurants do not accept reservations at all under any circumstances. Some restaurants require a reservation for all diners. Many restaurants are in between, offering reservation but also accepting walk-in customers. So what is best for your restaurant? Let the Frog clue you in.

There are pros and cons to accepting reservations at your restaurant. A positive is that if someone reserves a seat at your restaurant, they are more likely to eat there than if they just decide on a whim that they want to eat somewhere. On the other hand, if you save a table for someone and they don’t show up, you lose money by having an empty table. If your restaurant is busy, that could be a big deal. For that reason, some restaurants require a credit card deposit to reserve a table and the card will be charged for a no-show.

Some fine dining restaurants require reservations at all times because the exclusivity is part of the appeal. There are many popular gourmet restaurants where people brag about being able to get a reservation because it’s so hard to get a table. Another reason to take reservations is that it cuts down on time customers spend in the waiting area while waiting to be seated. On the other hand, some restaurants like the attention they get when people drive by and see a line of people wrapped around the building. “Wow, that place must be great if it’s that popular!” Similarly, as the Frog told you recently, you can take advantage of the time customers wait for a table by showing off your food in bakery cases. At a minimum, many restaurants will take reservations for large groups. That way they know to have enough people staffed and to make sure there is a place to seat the whole group. If you do accept reservations, aside from doing them by phone you should think about websites such as Open Table as well as smartphone apps (Apple is developing a great one). Whatever you decide for your restaurant, make sure that the experience of reserving a table or waiting for one is as easy and pleasant as possible.