After a year most of us would prefer to forget, it finally seems like things are edging closer to the way we were, and there’s no time to waste when it comes to recouping the losses from the past 15 months. Multiple lockdowns led to unsustainably high operational costs for many, with rent, insurance and the disposal of stock affecting profitability, so there’s no time to waste in turning wilted dining rooms back into well-oiled machines.
While everything indicates that diners are desperate to get back out there again (including 64% wanting to make up for lost celebrations), offering experiences that make the best use of every time slot, seating area and sitting could be the difference between a slow recovery and a rapid one.
It’s not news that the modern diner values experiences more than possessions – someone can steal your phone but they can’t steal your memories. Turning a restaurant outing into an entertaining, educational or enriching experience can help to attract increasingly fickle and disloyal diners.
OpenTable’s new ‘Experiences’ feature lets you create, manage and promote unique dining experiences. Here are seven ways to get started.
Offer something unique
In a competitive market it pays to offer something different. 28-50 Wine Bar & Kitchen in Covent Garden have found that offering specific experiences entices diners back multiple times, and their bookable cheese fondue has gone down well with outdoor diners in cooler weather.
“For us it’s a way to bring a bit of the Alps, as well as the wine from our own Château in France, to Covent Garden”, says Group Commercial Director Joanna Laforge. “Fine wine and cheese is a large part of our identity, and for people who haven’t been able to get to the Alps this year, we can bring a bit of it to them! Offering experiences on certain days and times also helps us fill up quieter, early week sittings.”
A unique experience might also include a certain type of seating, from courtyards to chef’s tables. OpenTable allows you to automatically place bookings for certain experiences into pre-set seating areas.
Target specific diners
Some diners have specific needs and wants, and zoning in on them to provide the unique dining experience they’re looking for can pay dividends. M Grill in Victoria started offering their “Six Legged Brunch” to cater for diners who didn’t want to leave their dogs at home.
“We’re committed to providing ‘Elevated Hospitality’, which simply means that we put our guests first”, says Membership Manager, Denby Russell. “Our guests see their dogs as part of their family, so they’re part of ours. This feeling of elevated hospitality starts right from booking, and the experiences feature on OpenTable is a great tool to highlight what we have going on, allowing guests to experience something memorable.”
For added exposure, you can run a Boost campaign to get in front of more people searching for dining options, resulting in more bookings for your restaurant.
Send diners on an escape
With many people unable to travel this year, there’s an opportunity to make diners feel transported to somewhere else. The five-star JW Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel has transformed the forecourt outside their front door into a courtyard garden, in partnership with Gusbourne English sparkling wine. There’s a lawn, fresh flower boxes, and hopefully some sunshine. Diners can sip on Gusbourne rosé or brut, enjoy seafood platters or flatbreads, and feel like they’re in Saint-Tropez instead of central London.
Put a twist on the traditional
Just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it always has to be. Central London restaurant Inamo offers “Sushi & Asian Tapas Afternoon Tea with Bottomless Bubbles”, a pan-Asian twist on a British tradition. Guests dine on crispy panko prawns, minted lamb yakitori, and Dragon Rolls, all the while sipping on bottomless bubbles and oriental tea. “These experiences are enticing to guests and encourage them to make a booking”, says Noel Hunwick, Marketing Director for Inamo. “Experiences like the Afternoon Tea also help us increase cover numbers during what might otherwise be quieter parts of the day.”
Offer extra value at off-peak times
Nordic restaurant Ekte’s bookable experiences include a three-course set menu, and a new ‘Bottomless Nordic Brunch’, both focused on offering value to their customers and filling the restaurant at off-peak times. According to Lumina’s latest UK restaurant market report, 23% of diners would be strongly encouraged to dine out once lockdown is lifted if a bottomless brunch is available, and Ekte is seeing this first-hand.
“This is the first time we’ve used the experiences as a strategy with a specific focus”, says general manager Fernanda Vargas. “It helps a lot knowing in advance when customers are going to be here and for what experience, and we’ve been fully booked almost every day. What could be better for business?”
OpenTable’s restaurant reservation system also enables you to promote special offers available at the restaurant on a given day to attract value seeking guests.
Make the most of what you’ve got
Sometimes creating an engaging experience is just a matter of using what’s already there. The Hard Rock Café’s bottomless brunch allows them to introduce customers to their extensive collection of music memorabilia – part meal, part museum trip. “We want to show people what an amazing place we have inside the Hard Rock Hotel”, said Ervina Kiezaite, the hotel’s Sales Manager. “They’re able to dig into our rich musical history while enjoying classic American cooking.” They’re also planning evening live music experiences from rising talents on the London music scene, bringing their whole purpose as a venue full circle.
Use technology to enhance a meal experience
In the latest GO Technology Report, 40% of people agreed that technology has improved their hospitality experiences and helped to remove pain points, like trying to get their server’s attention. Calling for and paying the bill in a restaurant has long been recognised as another point of tension in an otherwise relaxing experience, and using OpenTable’s prepayment option allows diners to pay at the time of making their restaurant reservation. Once the meal is finished they’re free to head to their next destination with no delays, and no awkwardness over how to split the bill. It also protects the restaurant against the loss of revenue from no-shows. Win win.