We’re thrilled to be a part of the TechTable Summit taking place in New York this week to discuss how technology is transforming the hospitality industry. OpenTable’s SVP of Product Jocelyn Mangan will be moderating the Pay It Forward panel, leading the conversation about the future of restaurant payments and security. Here, in anticipation of the event, she shares seven ways she sees technology changing the restaurant world as we know it.
I sit at the intersection between a talented sales team and a product development team. Our sales team is made up of people who have actually worked in and owned restaurants, so they truly are experts, and they are in the field talking to restaurateurs every day.
Meanwhile, our design, product and engineering teams incorporate customer discovery into our process to build amazing products. I literally walked into a neighborhood restaurant the other night and spotted two of our engineers “in the field” with our new Guest Center product, learning during the shift.
At OpenTable HQ we talk about restaurants every single day. As an associated perk, it’s by far the best place to ask for a recommendation or hear about a trend as it emerges. Here are seven ways I see innovations in tech changing the way restaurants manage guests and operations, build teams and loyalty, and delight diners.
1. Helping restaurants run perfect shifts every night
OpenTable exists to power great dining experiences, and that means connecting restaurants with millions of diners around the world. It also means giving restaurants the tools they need to optimize their reservation books, seat more guests, and provide those guests with better hospitality.
Our flagship product Guest Center is flexible, so restaurants can configure it to fit the patterns of their restaurants — whether that’s one small dining room or three different floors. It replicates floor plans and server sections and allows restaurants to build unique configurations for special occasions. You can also control pacing and turn times in real time to make sure service is moving at the right speed.
And we’re constantly thinking about ways to help maximize the efficiency of the restaurant each night. Our restaurant product team is exploring solutions to help restaurants add more turns by optimizing inventory and availability, and providing guests with more opportunities to dine.
2. Addressing pain points in the guest experience
We are always mapping out the dining experience to understand where we can add value or solve a problem. We look at each part of the experience — before, during, and after — from both a diner and restaurateur point of view. Paying the bill is a step where we thought we had a unique opportunity to add value when people are ready to go. Because we already had our system in the restaurant and our app in the hands of the diner, we started to make that connection.
As we worked through our discovery process, we learned more and more from servers about what they do each night during this step of the meal. We sat with diners and talked about waiting for the check: What’s important to them? We paid attention to the hospitality aspects: How do we add convenience without taking away that last personal touch from the waitstaff?
With OpenTable Payments, guests can pay for meals with their phones — no processing credit cards or keeping guests waiting for the check. The staff can focus on delivering great service and improving the guest experience instead.
More than 500,000 diners are now enabled to pay with the OpenTable app. We’ve integrated with Apple Pay and NCR Aloha to make Payments accessible to more restaurants, and already 50% of people who pay with OpenTable are doing so through Apple Pay.
I believe the experience we built is close to ideal. It feels seamless to the diner, and they are able to leave and pay on their own terms. For restaurants, our experience works within the existing flows of waitstaff, using the same technologies they are already accustomed to. What’s next? I think introducing more diners and restaurants to this trend in hopes that eventually it will just become an alternative payment method, much like others we have seen in the past.
3. Getting the word out and reaching new diners
The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive, and making sure guests are able to find you can be a challenge. New technologies and digital strategies are addressing it in a few different ways.
Geo-location technologies combined with restaurant availability help OpenTable connect diners with restaurants in their area. Today, half of all OpenTable reservations happen on mobile, and many of them are for times in the very near future. We are always looking to build experiences in the app that understand a diner’s context and can present the best selection of restaurants for that occasion.
Obviously one person’s context is different from the next. I may be on a busy street corner in New York looking for the right place to meet friends in the next half hour, whereas someone else might be in Los Angeles trying to coordinate date night from Santa Monica to Hollywood. With all the choices available, it’s important — particularly on mobile — to show a digestible list of the most relevant options.
Diners don’t just search for specific restaurants, they also search for holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, and specific occasions, like business lunches. We create promo pages of results that capture restaurants matching those searches, and restaurants that participate see a 38% incremental lift in seated diners.
We’re also creating pages that capture searches near landmarks, like the Empire State Building, so that people can find great restaurants no matter where they are. We hope to continue to explore ways that we can help the diner beyond the reservation, such as pointing out the most popular dish so you know what you must try when you get there.
4. Providing new platforms for restaurants to engage with guests
Technology gives restaurants new ways to reach their audiences, and few of these are more powerful than social media. In addition to announcing new menu items and special promotions, social media platforms provide unparalleled branding opportunities.
Instead of relying on traditional press to tell their stories, restaurants can now own those stories from the start. They can occupy the same spaces their customers do — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat — and define the voice, tone and aesthetic that make their concept unique. They can introduce the team behind the restaurant, celebrate their community and neighborhood, and personally thank individual guests for coming in. That’s hospitality at its core.
Apps are also giving restaurants the opportunity to take back the conversation around reviews and food culture, which until recently has been dominated by the media and the public. Take ChefsFeed, for example, a platform where chefs share their favorite restaurants and dishes (and occasionally sound off about things diners do that drive them crazy). It’s one more tool restaurants have to build their brands and leverage an audience that’s increasingly engaged with the industry.
5. Giving restaurants tools to turn first-time guests into regulars
Restaurants need repeat guests and regulars to keep business thriving, and delivering good hospitality is the key to bringing people back in. OpenTable’s database allows restaurants to keep notes and histories about every guest, so servers remember that they prefer still water to sparkling or that they avoid gluten.
My husband and I were at a restaurant recently that has great views of the Bay. It was amazing to book, comment that we wanted a window seat, and then walk in later that night to score the last table at the window.
Making guests feel valued gives restaurants the ability to provide outstanding guest experiences every time. Plus, restaurants can share guest information across multiple properties, so when they open a new concept they’ll already have a gold mine of information about their most loyal guests.
6. Helping restaurants build the best teams
One challenge facing the restaurant world is a need for increased nobility in hospitality work. For restaurants to succeed they need strong teams comprised of smart, hardworking professionals who are in this industry for the long haul. To evolve that perception of the industry, restaurants need better tools.
I am excited to see sites like Culinary Agents providing high-quality job matching tools for hospitality professionals and restaurant groups across the country. Not only can job seekers find opportunities, they can also connect with peers and find inspiration from mentors.
When both job seekers and providers have the tools to represent themselves professionally, the whole industry benefits.
7. Receiving immediate feedback from verified guests
We conducted research of OpenTable diners and found that in the U.S. about 60% of people “always” or “frequently” read reviews from other diners before they book a table. It’s no question that guest reviews are important for restaurants.
Since its introduction in 2008, the OpenTable Reviews program has generated more than 33 million reviews by verified diners. OpenTable diners currently contribute more than 480,000 restaurant reviews each month.
On our site, guests can only leave reviews for restaurants after they have actually dined there, so you know you’re getting real, honest feedback from your customers. That feedback is incredibly valuable — it can help you recognize outstanding staff members, see weaknesses on the menu, and identify other opportunities for improvement. Plus, you can reach out directly to guests who leave reviews to thank them or ask for more information about their experience.
What’s also great is that because we have built up a solid base of verified reviews, we are able to use things like data science to help highlight the most relevant summary data for that diner on the go. For example, we recently launched a “Popular Dishes” feature on the app, which scans through all the dishes to find those that were liked most by our review population. That’s incredibly helpful for people browsing on their phones on the go.
Follow @TechTableSummit on Twitter and Instagram and use the #techtablesummit hashtag for more technology and dining insights from Danny Meyer, Dana Cowin, Will Guidara, Bill Chait and many, many more.
Co-authored by Olivia Terenzio
Photo Credit: Erin Kunkel