For restaurant owners, an empty table is not free. Plenty of fixed costs go into operating a restaurant — rent, food, labor, utilities — and you’re losing money every minute a table is sitting unoccupied when it could otherwise be bringing in revenue.
That’s what we at OpenTable call “perishable inventory,” an idea often used to talk about hotel rooms and airplane seats. Simply put, if you don’t fill a table, you’re still paying for the lights to be on and for the staff to be on site.
So what can you do to fill perishable inventory during slow times?
1. Larger Groups
Work with your OpenTable Account Manager (or call 1-800-OpenTable) to change the maximum party size setting in your account, even just for specific times of the day or days of the week. You may not want to seat eight people on a Friday night at 7 p.m., but you might feel differently at 5:30 on a Monday. By adjusting your settings, your restaurant will appear in more search results and be seen by more diners.
Similarly, many restaurants have private dining rooms that aren’t always booked or don’t have to be used for private groups. Open up the extra space to reservations to expand your dining room. (Keep this tip in mind when designing your restaurant, too — a flexible private dining space can maximize your occupancy every night.)
2. Wine Promotions
Try offering half-priced bottles of wine on specific nights. Many restaurants worry about discounting their brand, but you’re also bringing in customers who may not be there otherwise and are excited about a special bottle. Or, offer free corkage on a certain night of the week — it’s a great way to attract locals who want to bring in a bottle they love on a weeknight.
3. 1,000-Point Tables
50-70% of all searches made on OpenTable are general, meaning users are not searching for a specific restaurant and have not decided where they want to go. Our 1,000-point table program allows you to promote your restaurant to undecided diners in the area at the day and time you specify, giving you extra exposure over your competition. You’ll appear first in results for general and relevant cuisine searches on the OpenTable website, and guests will receive extra Dining Points when they book at your restaurant.
4. Happy Hour
Happy hour promotions offering discounted drinks and menu items are great incentives for guests. Alternatively, consider doing a reverse happy hour — late night bites and cocktails. Since happy hours often take place in a restaurant’s bar and lounge area, they don’t have to affect the dining room. That means you can run a happy hour at the same time you’re running a 1,000-point table promotion without any overlap.
5. Locals’ Email List
Here’s a great tip we learned from Matt Levine, owner of New York’s Chalk Point Kitchen: Create a locals-only email list so you can market to your neighbors. Pull reports from your OpenTable database by area code to target locals when the weather is bad or when tourist business is slow. Invite them in for a casual menu that you offer once a week, such as a Monday night, and promote it to your local guests via social media.
6. Special Events
One Monday night every month, the team at San Francisco’s Stones Throw hosts a dinner to raise money for charity. They invite guest chefs, sommeliers and other beverage experts to create dishes and pair drinks for the evening, creating excitement on a typically slow night. (Just don’t forget to call out the special menu on your OpenTable booking page so you set guests’ expectations.) Find ways to partner with local nonprofits, chefs, wineries, breweries or distilleries to fill seats when you need to.