By Larry Mogelonsky | October 2, 2020
During summer, your restaurant patrons are likely to not balk at all at the chance to comfortably eat outside on a patio (and physically distance themselves from other customers to comply with all this COVID craziness). Barring a few staunch objectors, others who would prefer to be seated indoors can empathize with the present state of affairs and bite the bullet. But what happens when the cooler autumn months roll in and people demand to eat indoors, second wave or not?
What we’re seeing in European countries to control this situation is an outright ban on walk-in diners. All indoor covers must be reserved in advance, not only to ensure proper social distancing between all groups and to limit traffic flow through crowded corridors, but also to better facilitate contact tracing via making all customers sign in prior to seating. Given that the system is largely working, it stands a good chance at being replicated in other territories.
In this reservations-only restaurant culture, though, how do hotels forewarn incoming guests so that they aren’t left out in the cold and hungry? Just imagine a scary possibility where an uninformed couple wanders out for a night on the town and is rejected by restaurant after restaurant due to this policy.
This is a notable concern because of emotional transference. That is, a guest left in a miserable mood by a series of failed attempts at finding a table to eat out at will ultimately cast a darker eye back onto their host property. When a guest is irked or famished in this way, they will tend to be more irritable in a general sense and highly sensitive to any perceived errors on the hotel’s part. Thus, knowing that this halo effect can potentially lead to bad online reviews and lower guest satisfaction, it is in fact every property’s responsibility to help all guests navigate this restaurant dilemma.
The answer is through proper communications, both before and during a guest’s stay, which can only be effectively facilitated through automated software prompts. Even though you may want to encourage visitors to dine in-house, exploring the neighborhood is all but inevitable, and so you have a duty of care to help those in search of great food in your area.
This starts with the website, keeping it up to date with the latest COVID-19 dining rules, including mandatory reservations, restaurant capacities, PPE requirements and so on. But you should also make a point to inform all hotel guests that your team knows the best places to eat nearby and that they are willing to help make bookings, either in-person at the front desk or via a guest messaging app.
Unfortunately, not all of us are diligent readers, nor are all of your customers going to even see the website prior to booking as many will be fed to you via the OTAs or other third parties. As such, you need to explicitly state and repeat any such mission critical restaurant policies through your prearrival communications. Again, guest messaging apps are instrumental in completing this task without bogging down your team, while all templated emails sent out via the PMS can be updated to include the necessary text string.
Thinking contextually, not all of us are regimented planners, especially when it comes to leisure guests on a whimsical vacation. Some will leave lunch and dinner to the last minute. This uncertainty over a guest’s ability to get restaurant reservations can therefore work to your advantage by being a trusted middleman for bookings and as a source of those outlets where spots are still available.
There are opportunities therein for technology to shine—and I emphasize digital over in-person as this also conforms to many guests’ preference for contactless communications. If you have a guest messaging app with a virtual concierge component, navigating the reservations-only climate on a customer’s behalf is an excellent use case for a post-pandemic service that is highly sought-after. Moreover, there are numerous plug-ins you can investigate that will curate your website’s or your app’s dining-related content.
Another option to explore is partnerships. Specifically, maintaining a number of standing reservations for your hotel guests and perhaps a discount or value-added promotion in exchange for sending a certain number of patrons their way. And once the details of the relationship are hashed out, this should all be made bookable online, of course.
Whichever route you pursue, this is yet another example of how technology can help you through the various topsy-turvy aspects of the next normal so that guest service is never compromised. Particularly as we are all trying to avoid negative reviews, it’s crucial that you alert guests to this travel issue, letting them see you as attentive providers who saved them from potential disaster.