If you are in the foodservice industry, you constantly have to reprioritize your marketing budget and strategies in order to remain competitive and secure the highest ROI.
For most restaurants, having a strong, multi-channel online presence is essential to gaining marketing traction, increasing market penetration, and reducing cost per engagement.
As your restaurant, bar, or dining venue grows in popularity, and your online review site profiles begin to grow in popularity, you will be better equipped to identify which channels have the most potential for lead generation. Once you have identified the site with the most potential, you can revise your marketing allocation and consider pointing marketing dollars to increase your visibility on the sites that matter most.
For restaurants, there are multiple options that may have business value, with variations on relevance based on your geographical location, type of venue, and maturity of your online reputation.
Is OpenTable for you?
OpenTable, the restaurant reservations and reviews platform, is one of many marketing options that restaurants and other dining venues may want to include as part of their selected paid channels for marketing outreach.
OpenTable offers customer-friendly features that can theoretically generate incremental business for restaurants. But before you sign the dotted line, let’s take a look at a few of the considerations that you should discuss with your leadership team before making your venue available for reservations via OpenTable.
OpenTable incentivizes engagement via a brand-blind loyalty program
One of the key brand differentiators making OpenTable far more attractive to consumers is their dining points system.
The system rewards users for making their dining reservations using OpenTable. The nature and design of this loyalty program is heavily focused on creating loyalty toward the app, instead of helping specific venues connect with customers that will be highly loyal to a particular restaurant.
When considering whether or not OpenTable is a good fit for your brand, keep in mind that you will have to engage customers in a way that produces repeat business and high brand loyalty. This effort will be above and beyond the features and benefits your restaurant receives from participating in OpenTable as the reservation interface of choice. A rewards program that is not brand-specific may benefit a new entrant to the market, but will not be as attractive when you are a well-established venue.
(Check out: 5 Ways OpenTable Can Help Your Restaurant)
OpenTable may not make sense if you’re not reservation-driven
Before you commit to activating your OpenTable account, spend a little time studying and understanding where and how patrons are discovering and engaging with your dining venue.
If the bulk of your dining traffic is comprised of walk-in business, to-go and delivery, and your capacity for sit-down dining experiences is limited to a few covers, then OpenTable may not be a sound marketing move for your business.
On the other hand, if you are struggling with keeping a high percentage of covers occupied at all hours, then using OpenTable provides diners with the opportunity to fill empty spots and generate a more steady flow of business.
OpenTable can help drive brand awareness
If you recently opened your doors, and you are trying to find strong and meaningful ways to increase visibility and build awareness about your dining venue, then OpenTable has a variety of programs that can help you connect with patrons that match the demographics you are hoping to target.
From geographically-based E-mail campaigns to holiday or special occasion homepage features, you will find that OpenTable is a great way to reach an audience that is eager to dine out.
OpenTable may not make sense if you’re in high demand
The core function of OpenTable is to help diners find restaurants and make reservations without having to call a restaurant.
If your restaurant is at a stage where the demand is high and reservations are highly coveted, then engaging in OpenTable may not be a good move for business. OpenTable users will likely find it frustrating when your reservations system does not show openings within a reasonable time, and the chances to gain incremental business will be minimal, at best.
OpenTable offers a customer-centric process that fosters engagement
If you are looking to engage potential customers in a setting that follows them through their dining experience from the very start, via a reservation that provides confirmation E-mail and the ability to share it socially, to closing the customer experience by requesting an online review, then OpenTable absolutely does that for you.
If you are short on customer reviews and want to have additional customer feedback and review volume for online visibility, and to use reviews as the business intelligence tool of choice, OpenTable is a no-brainer.
Years of experience in the dining reservations industry have allowed the site to refine the whole process, resulting in an almost seamless customer experience where the interactions don’t feel forced, and the customer is fully comfortable engaging with your venue at every stage of the transaction.
OpenTable isn’t a free for all
Understanding the cost structure of OpenTable is particularly important for venues that, due to size or struggles with business volume, have a limited marketing budget.
For starters, the software that allows dining venues to connect and engage via OpenTable comes at a one-time fee of $1295.
In addition, all businesses pay a $199 monthly fee, and an optional fee of $99 to be featured in the OpenTable Dining Guide.
In addition to these fees, restaurants must pay 25 cents for every dining reservation booked on their own site, using the OpenTable widget, and $1 for every dining reservation booked via the OpenTable site or partner sites such as Yelp.
To top this off, if restaurants wish to participate in the premium rewards program in which diners receive 1000 points ($10 dining voucher) for making reservations to venues during peak hours, then restaurateurs need to be prepared to pay $7.50 for every person in the party.
Unless the dining bill is very high, this model often results in lost revenue, particularly when a venue is in a destination city where the customer is not likely to be converted into repeat business.
The decision to move forward with OpenTable as part of an online marketing arsenal is one that every restaurant and dining venue has to make based on analyzing their data, and deciding if the investment will likely result in sufficient incremental business to at least breakeven.
Also, when assessing if OpenTable is right for a business, it is important to consider the long-term value of online reviews in building the reputation of a dining venue, instead of simply looking at the number of reservations that the platform can potentially generate in the short-term.