How Online Reservations Work

Many restaurants continue to ask what online reservations are all about. Find out about the mechanics of online reservations below, including their benefits.

Restaurant Setup

Step 1 — Table Inventory

In order to offer online reservations, restaurants must start simple and create a table inventory. These are the tables that will appear to be bookable online. When creating the table inventory, two core details must be kept in mind:

  • Table Numbers. Uniquely identifies each individual table.
  • Table Capacity. Indicates how many people can be seated at each table.

Some advanced settings may also include:

  • Merge Tables. Allows restaurateurs to merge or move tables.
  • Adding seats. Allows restaurants to specify which tables can accept an additional seat or two (e.g. added at the end of the table).

Step 2 – Time Settings

Next, the restaurant must establish the calendar schedule for accepting online bookings. Here are the basic settings that each restaurant should consider when setting up:

  1. Days of the week. Shows the days when the restaurant is open / closed, including which days will the restaurant accept reservations (e.g. perhaps no reservations are accepted on Sundays).
  2. Time. Shows which hours the restaurant is open, including which meals (e.g. lunch, dinner, etc.) when the restaurant wants to accept reservations. 
  3. Timeframe. Specifies how far in advance the restaurant will accept reservations, which could be 1 month or 12 months, etc.
  4. Excluded days. Shows what days the restaurant is closed (e.g. Christmas Day, etc.).

online reservations with Carbonara App

Step 3 – Custom Settings

There are various settings that enable online reservations to work well for a restaurant. Here are a few of the most common features:

  1. Booking Maximum and Minimum. Set the number of people that can book online (e.g. max of 8 people). Typically, systems tell the customer to contact the restaurant for larger bookings (e.g. for groups over 8, email the restaurant directly).
  2. Covers per Time Increment. Stagger bookings every X minutes. Restaurants might want no more than 20 covers every 15 minutes so that the kitchen and staff are not overwhelmed. This mimics how humans normally set up reservations, spacing them out automatically.
  3. Seating Areas. Prompt customers to pick a specific seating area (e.g. outside terrace). 
  4. Notes. Prompt customers to share key information, such as dietary needs or special events (e.g. this is a birthday celebration).
  5. Deposits. Request credit card information from a diner to charge a late cancellation or no-show fee.

Step 4 – Making Booking Links Available

Once Online Reservations are set up, the last step is to publish the booking link so that customers may actually use it. Common placements include:

  1. Website. Display on the restaurant’s own website.
  2. Google My Business. Publish to Google Maps and for general Google searches. For restaurants interested in posting their online reservations link onto Google, they will need to set up a Google My Business page. Find out how to optimise your reservations with this set up process.
  3. Social Media. Add booking links to Facebook and Instagram, for example. Here are helpful tools to add your booking link to Facebook or Instagram

Example of Carbonara App Online Restaurant Reservations

What Customers See

Once the restaurant has published their booking links, customers can then reserve online. Typically, there are two key parts to the consumer booking experience: 

1. Availability

Depending on the booking size (i.e., 2 people, 4 people, etc.), the interface will show available tables based on the day and time selected. Of course this also depends on the restaurants custom settings, as certain days may be blocked off, etc.

2. Customer Information

Once the customer identifies the booking day and time, the system will prompt the user to input information, including:

  • Number people in the booking
  • Name
  • Contact information (phone and/or email
  • Notes (such as special requests)

Day to Day Operations

With Online Reservations enabled, a digital reservation system will get to work managing table inventory.

A few additional things happen, particularly around communication:

  • Restaurant Notifications. The restaurant receives a notification every time a customer makes an online booking. This can be in the form of either: (1) an email to the restaurant; (2) a push notification on a smartphone, or (3) a daily summary of bookings.
  • Consumer Messaging. Also when a customer books, the customer receives a confirmation of the booking (typically via email, text, or WhatsApp message). Further, good bookings systems include a reminder before the actual booking in order to reduce no-shows.

One Caveat: Online Reservations Are Not Request Systems

Often, restaurateurs want to set up online reservations but don’t want customers to book automatically. Instead, some restaurants want to receive the booking request and approve it first. 

However, this is not how online reservations work: this idea is really no different from a customer calling, emailing, or messaging the restaurant beforehand to ask for a table booking.

Moreover, online reservations are automatic and instant. They don’t require pre-approval by the restaurant staff. 

Online reservations create a framework with different settings. The restaurant accepts instant bookings, allowing the system to do the work of taking in reservations. Read more about how online reservations are not request systems.

See responses to some of our frequently asked questions and debunk myths surrounding online reservations. 

Or how about trying Carbonara App? Download in less than five minutes and easily set up online reservations. Any questions? We’re always keeping an ear open to what restaurants have to say about their reservation process. Contact us.