OpenTable’s product and engineering teams are constantly testing new features that will help restaurants run and grow their business. Recently, we launched a pilot in Chicago allowing guests to book the bar — meaning restaurants can expand their reservation availability and seating options for diners.
“We estimate that non-standard seating options like bar, communal tables, and high-tops make up 12 to 15 percent of restaurant inventory in the U.S.,” says Eli Chait, Director of Product at OpenTable. “These seats are typically empty or highly coveted, as some diners actually prefer a seat in the center of the action.”
Delight more guests
The Table Categories pilot allows participating Chicago restaurants to categorize tables on their floor plan as either bar, high top, or counter, and surface their availability to diners searching in the OpenTable iOS app. Many restaurants are wary of putting bar seats up for reservations because they can’t always set expectations accordingly for diners, and delivering the best possible hospitality is always priority number one. But offering bar seats to guests who are thrilled to book them (including some of the savviest guests!) means those diners get the experience they desire — and seats stay occupied all night.
When diners view a restaurant profile page on OpenTable and see zero availability, they may search for alternate times or go on to look at a different restaurant’s profile. Surfacing more availability is a huge opportunity for restaurants to make sure that guests come to them instead of seeking out an alternate experience.
“We wanted a way to better serve diners who at peak dining times were struggling to find reservations,” added Terry McNeese, General Manager at de Quay in Chicago, one of the participating restaurants. “The new feature allowed us to open up additional inventory, seat more guests and deliver a better experience to diners.”
Get more out of your bar
In a recent survey of OpenTable restaurants, we found that almost half of respondents (48%) either currently accept reservations in their bar areas or are interested in doing so. The majority of respondents (85%) said they offer their full food menu in the bar, but almost half (48%) said their dining room is more profitable than their bars.
And their primary incentive for having a bar? Driving additional revenue, a business priority we hope this feature can help address.
“Because we’ve been able to sit two-tops at the bar and release booths and bigger four-tops for bigger parties, it’s allowed us to fit more people in the room, period,” says Eric Kirkenmeier of Chicago’s Cherry Circle Room, which recently won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design and features an iconic 28-seat bar. “Our cover count has gone up.”
Our data show that the vast majority of restaurants (almost 90%) did fewer turns at their bar seats in April than they did at their normal tables — on average, one-third fewer turns. Our team is especially excited about the Table Categories feature because we aim to focus as much as possible on product opportunities that make diners happy and make restaurants more money.
Finally, this feature is a first step to help restaurants better merchandise their unique dining experiences. Today that means attracting diners that specifically want to book the bar, but tomorrow, it could mean supporting outdoor dining experiences, special rooms, and other seats that can sometimes be hard to fill with guests.
Chicago restaurants participating in the pilot include Bistro Bordeaux, De Quay, Cherry Circle Room, and O’Toole’s in Libertyville, among others. Learn more about how our Table Categories feature works here.