Best Online Reservation System: Free vs. Pay-per Booking

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Often a reservation software’s host company will charge restaurants for using their service — namely, a reservation fee for each guest your restaurant books. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

The best online reservation system for restaurants will charge you nothing. Read this article to find out how your restaurant can acquire the best value suited to your needs.


Figure 1. Money by Pictures of Money via Flickr

Best Online Reservation System for Restaurants — A History

Restaurant reservations came from a specific time and place; they are an eighteenth-century practice alive in the present day

With restaurants steadily gaining popularity among the middling sorts in both Paris and London, ‘polite’ society enabled customers to book tables to their liking. Restaurants subdivided their interiors to accommodate reserved tables, to house buying customers.

But when did restaurants suddenly have to pay up for these reservations themselves?

Since the early 2000s, booking software companies began to emerge, and throughout their growth, they created a pay-per-booking system to earn revenue from restaurateurs. 

Obviously, a pay-per method will fund the booking company, not the restaurant. This makes the transition from a pen-and-paper reservation system to a software solution tiresome on the restaurateur’s part.

Thankfully, restaurant-friendly booking software exists, and nowadays the best online reservation system for restaurants will charge much less for its features.


Figure 2. Restaurant by Robin Hall via Flickr

Online Booking Platform — Why Pay-per-booking?

Simply, it’s a business-model plan — nothing else. 

The rationale behind pay-per-booking services has to do with the added convenience these companies provide. They’re helping restaurants meet the needs of the restaurant’s business, that is, to book customers and maintain adequate turnover rates. Therefore, the software provides a service, so a per-cover fee funds the function it offers restaurants.

This all raises questions concerning the basic rules of hospitality. 

Beforehand, when processing reservations, a restaurant never had to pay. Granted: restaurants paid staff to do this work for them, to pick up the phone and jot down customer details — but up to this point, restaurants never had to pay on a per-cover basis.

It’s counterintuitive. Using a top-brand software provider, your restaurant will pay to serve customers who had already made the decision to dine out with you. It’s as though you’re paying to attract customers, indoors, but instead, you’re really just paying for their reservations.

For years, journalists have debated whether customers should pay for their reservations. Some think it’s a good idea because it means that restaurants can manage demand more efficiently (i.e., a demand-based model will ensure customers come at off-peak times because restaurant tables are cheaper then).

To charge restaurants for their own tables seems unfair. Even if restaurants decide to charge their customers to pay for their own reservations and thus balance out the costs of per-pay covers, the restaurant will still have to calculate the total expense such a system involves.


Figure 3. Chartier by Mack Male via Flickr

Online Booking Platform — How Pay-per-booking Works

Contract pricing, one-off payments, and limit reservations are all part of how reservation software companies process costs. Software solutions mainly break down pay-per cover expenses through a pay-per-use formula.

Whether it’s the software’s own platform or your own website’s widget, this is a fixed charge. Your restaurant will pay for each reservation a customer makes. For example, one table costs £1, and then two tables will cost £2, and so on.

Singled out, these prices may seem trivial, even cheap but in reality these monthly costs will fluctuate. Let’s look at the following scenarios. 

Let’s say you’re a small restaurant that, on average, processes 320 covers per month. All of a sudden your restaurant grows in popularity. Realising that more customers want to reserve tables with you, you decide to go with a reservation software option that charges £0.25 per cover. 

At first, it’s a small sum but becomes considerable at the end of the month. As such, the software company charges you £80 for per-cover fees alone. This goes on top of a subscription fee and other related costs, but because it’s relatively low, you decide this charge is reasonable.

Now, let’s say the per-cover charge is £2. Then matters start to become costly. Your restaurant processing 320 covers a month now has to pay £640 — a serious chunk coming out of your expenses just for processing reservations. The bad news is, as your restaurant grows in popularity (including a rise in the number of tables you have), this cost grows too. 

If you’re still thinking about this software option, calculate your monthly reservations so you can budget on per-cover fees. 

Don’t forget you also have to factor in no-shows. On the occasion of a restaurant no-show, you still have a per-cover transaction to pay — plus, an empty table. Though some providers will allow you to indicate a no-show and avoid the cost, narrow timeframes usually mean restaurants lose out on money.

In light of all this, your final option is to go with the best online reservation software option for restaurants available: a completely free one, with no charges whatsoever.

What is the Best Online Reservation System for Restaurants?

Restaurant reservation software companies will sell their product to you and justify pay-per cover setups via a handful of arguments.

  1. A restaurant reservation system attracts more customers. Automated reminders go to customers who have already made reservations. They will receive SMS text reminders to ensure that they show up. Certainly, these are helpful — they help reduce the chance of no-shows, preventing forgetfulness on the guest’s part.
  2. An online booking platform increases guestbook accuracy. With the aid of technology, an online booking platform eliminates all the nit-picky errors that come with a pen-and-paper system. An online booking platform then enables a customer to select the correct number of guests per table and correctly input their name.
  3. The best online reservation system for restaurants will provide data analytics, providing your restaurant with key business insights to improve your custom in the future.

All things considered, these arguments sound great. 

So, what if we could digitally process customer reservations for free? 

Try out the best online reservation system for restaurants that charges you nothing. Carbonara App is the first-ever truly free reservation system — tell us how we can help and contact us today!