Hi, this is the blog for simpleERB. We mostly blog about restaurant reservations and restaurant “customer relationship management” but we like to do foodie stuff as well.

simpleERB solves lots of problems for restaurateurs, probably more than you imagined! Like “How to get a better price for your restaurant when you sell it.”

You can see a collection of them here.

Plus, get your free Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing here, an actionable 93-page guide to make you a restaurant marketing master.

Or go straight to our sign up page for a free trial here

(No credit card required.)

Enjoy! And may all your customers be nice ones.

 

The simpleERB Team.



Forward bookings in simpleERB

In our latest release (15.5.1) we have one feature that we would like to talk about in more depth. This is “Forward Bookings”. It is a simple report but we think it could be very useful to you in your planning.

It allows you to compare your forward bookings for a period on a given date, usually “today”, with your forward bookings for the same period last year, or in previous years.

An example would be:

You are doing your planning for Xmas, what extra staff do you need, how many Xmas crackers to buy etc.

You can now create a report which shows you how many covers you have booked as of today, for the period 01 Dec 18 to 31 Dec 18 compared to the forward bookings you had on this date last year for the period 01 Dec 17 to 31 Dec 17.

So if you see that you only have 85% of last years bookings, then you now know that you probably need to do some extra marketing, create special offers in simpleERB and email them to your customer base.

If however, you see that you are 25% up, then you will need to recruit more staff than you had last year and certainly buy more Xmas crackers!

As a next step you can look at your cash position in the previous period and make informed estimates as to what it will be in the coming period based on the data from this report.

You can get the report here if you are a simpleERB user



As a restaurant owner you will be fully aware that running anything less than a tight ship results in chaos, missed potential and loss of profits.

Clearing the tables and setting them for the next guests, the peeled and chopped ingredients ready to hand to the chef, the speed at which the bill can be calculated at the end of the meal: these are all small details which completed hundreds of times each week can add up to hours of inefficiency and loss of profit.

6 problems: Paper diary vs electronic reservations diary - round one

Taking phone bookings

Another regular task you may not have considered: the time it takes for staff to answer phone bookings. Dealing with phone bookings may only take a minute or two, but consider: how many phone bookings a day does your restaurant take? Five? Ten? Twenty?

Let’s say your restaurant has ten phone bookings a day, it takes 90 seconds for the staff to deal with the booking, and the staff are paid on average $/£/€10 an hour.

The cost per day of taking the booking would be $/£/€ 2.50 per day.

If you take the same amount of bookings every day for a month, the cost would be $/£/€ 75 per month and $/£/€800 per year.

Hundreds of dollars loss per month

Of course these costs are assumptions. It may take your staff less time to take phone bookings. You may take fewer phone bookings than this per day.

But then again, it may take your staff longer than 90 seconds to take a phone booking. And you may take even more than 10 phone bookings.

If so, it is possible that phone bookings could be costing your restaurant$/£/€1000s, or even more, in time per year.

Not only is this cost inefficient, it is also hours of time that is taken away from being spent on your customer’s dining experience.

Online restaurant booking

Before phoning a restaurant to book, most diners will check first to see if there’s an online booking option.

Setting up online booking may seem daunting, or cost time you can’t afford to take away from your restaurant, but if you join simpleERB we take care of that for you.

It takes just 30 minutes to get your tables ready to book and we provide you with widgets so your customers can book on your website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Of course, there will always be customers who will prefer to phone their bookings in. But providing them with the option to book online takes away the number who will need to do so.

So your staff can spend their time away from the phone and on the customer’s dining experience.



Here on the simpleERB blog, we never stop stressing the importance of restaurant reviews to your business. We have discussed how negative restaurant reviews can help your business, how negative reviews can hurt your restaurant’s valuation, how to get a good review of your restaurant published on Yelp, and the benefits of publishing negative reviews of your own restaurant. The reason we dedicate so much space on this blog to reviews is because they are integral to your bottom line – as all the evidence in the articles above prove.

Responding to restaurant reviews

And now we have two other pieces of evidence to share. An article from Street Fight this week highlights two academic studies which provide fascination insights into the power of online reviews. The first is from Davide Proserpio of USC and Giorgos Zervas of Boston University in 2016 and is titled “Online Reputation Management: Estimating the Impact of Management Responses on Consumer Reviews.”

The study analysed tens of thousands of TripAdvisor reviews and found that when hotels respond to consumer reviews, on average their review volume increases by 12% and their star rating goes up by 0.12 stars. This might not seem like a lot, but TripAdvisor’s average ratings are rounded to the nearest half star, so if your mathematical average goes from just 4.14 to 4.26, consumers will see a 4.5 rating where a business used to have a 4.

In a summary of the study published earlier this year in Harvard Business Review, the authors offer the following conclusion: “While negative reviews are unavoidable, our work shows that managers can actively participate in shaping their firms’ online reputations. By monitoring and responding to reviews, a manager can make sure that when negative reviews come in—as they inevitably will—they can respond constructively and maybe even raise their firm’s rating along the way.”

Text analysis of restaurant reviews

The second study is by professors Xun Xu, Xuequn Wang, Yibai Lee, and Mohammad Haghighi. It is entitled “Business intelligence in online customer textual reviews: Understanding consumer perceptions and influential factors,” and appeared in the International Journal of Information Management in 2017. The study analysed thousands of hotel reviews on booking.com and instead of looking at ratings, studied the textual content of the reviews, including language and sentiment. The study found the following:

“Online textual reviews can provide a way for businesses to understand customer needs and improve their products and services. Compared with customer ratings, online textual reviews can show more details about customers’ consumption experiences and customer perceptions because of their open structure. Thus, managers can obtain more insights regarding customers’ expectations and needs and their perceived quality of product and services.”

How simpleERB can help

So how to do these findings relate to simpleERB? Well, simpleERB allows you to add a link to the customer confirmation email which allows the customer to submit feedback to you after their meal.

When you get a good review you can tick a box on the email copy which sends them a request to share their review, along with links to your restaurant Facebook and Trip Advisor profiles.

You can then keep an eye on your profiles on these sites to wait for the relevant reviews and respond to them accordingly.

The feature also allows you to deal with negative reviews in house, before they are splashed over the review websites.

Having direct, timely feedback from customers who have just dined at your newsletter is a goldmine of insights you can use to improve your restaurant’s experience.



It’s an important stipulant for many restaurants: that tables must be given back after a certain period of time, usually 90 minutes or two hours. From the restaurant’s perspective this is a reasonable request: it gives customers more than enough time to enjoy several courses and a bottle of wine while ensuring their business has the turnaround it needs to survive and profit in a very difficult industry.

Eating against the clock

However, an article in The Guardian last week by renowned food critic Jay Rayner, and the 1328 comments underneath, suggest asking for tables back is anything but a reasonable request. The article entitled “I’m Tired Of Restaurants Making Us Eat Against The Clock,” says: “I do remember the acute anxiety I felt the first time I came across a two-hour time limit at Yauatcha a few years back. I sat there worrying whether their failure to take my order for 20 minutes was part of the tick, tick, tick. After that, was I eating fast enough? I assumed it was a bizarre one-off. How wrong I was…..It’s just not very hospitable, which is a crying shame for the hospitality business.”

Reader responses

The 1328 responses from readers underneath showed overwhelming agreement. Here are some of the top rated comments:

“Took the whole family out once on Mothers Day, was informed they’d want the table back after 2 hours. I understood this to be a busy day for them and to be honest 2 hours would be fine for us I thought. However, although a lovely meal, service was slow so that on the 2 hour mark we had just tried to order desserts. We were informed that they needed our table to which I explained politely that if they had brought us the food quicker we would have left already. This was met with dull incomprehension about how time works.”

“Completely agree. I am SICK of feeling rushed. Quite often I will have finished my meal in 60/90 minutes, no rushing and zero resentment. But those few times I want to take my time, enjoy myself, make an occasion of it… well, they always seem to be at the restaurants desperate for me to go.

I had a particularly galling experience on Sunday where I was having a wonderful time, spending liberally and enjoying life. 2 hours later I’m asked to vacate for a previously booked table that hadn’t been flagged to me. Even worse, when we vacated and went to the bar, the table didn’t arrive for another 20 minutes.”

“No, just no! They deserve to be boycotted. I’d never frequent such places. Considering that we spend usually £90-120/person, in some restaurants more, I don’t see why I should leave my money where I am going to be rushed and thus made to feel uncomfortable.”

Is it fair to ask for tables back?

As a restaurateur, what is your opinion on this topic? Is it fair to ask customers to give their tables back after time period? Do you do this in your own restaurant?



If you are a simpleERB restaurant, under the GDPR regulations you are the “Data Controller” and we are a “Data Processor” for you.

(If you use an email programme like MailChimp to send marketing emails to your customers, then MailChimp is a “Data Processor” for you as well.)

The ICO (@ICOnews)  have produced a useful  guide for small businesses.

You can get it here 



black jeans on waitress

black jeans are uniform but not tax deductible

43 businesses in the hospitality industry featured in the Minimum Wage Blacklist,  including names like TGI Friday’s and Marriott Hotels. Around 9,200 workers will receive £1.1m in unpaid wages, and the employers were slapped with £1.3m in penalties.

UK Asian food restaurant Wagamama topped the list, repaying an average of £50 to 2,630 employees. The Wagamama case, however, is interesting for another reason, however.

A spokesperson for the restaurant chain blamed its underpayment on an “inadvertent misunderstanding” of how minimum wage laws apply to staff uniforms.

Front-of-house staff are required to wear black jeans or a black skirt with their branded Wagamama top. The government considered this asking the staff to buy a uniform.

The very useful AccountingWEB site observed, “The case seems to centre around asking staff to wear a particular colour or style of clothing is effectively creating a uniform, even though the items of clothing don’t have a logo and would previously be called dual purpose by HMRC.”

Wagamama said it has updated its uniform policy and it will now pay “a uniform supplement to cover the black jeans”. But it still raises the question: Can non-logo clothes be treated as uniform for tax purposes?

Another commentator said that it’s helpful to “to bear in mind that what is and isn’t pay for National Minimum Wage (NMW)  purposes is not and never was based on tax definitions”.

He concluded, “As far as I understand it, Wagamama’s failure was that they didn’t pay a uniform allowance over and above the minimum wage. They just required employees to wear certain clothing. After deducting reasonable costs of such clothing from the pay the employees were left with a net rate of pay below the NMW.

“The employer could have avoided that NMW failure by (a) paying a specific allowance for clothing or (b) a rate of pay with sufficient headroom to cover the clothing. Either way as far as I can see there’s no implication for tax.”

The simpleERB take? HMRC (the taxman) wants to have its cake and eat it too!



 

We read this interesting article about Amazon creating a ” Bank of Amazon “.

Here is our take on it.

Amazon has 80m+ Prime members, rising.

Amazon gets 50% of revenue from 3rd party resellers.

Amazon and the  3rd party resellers all pay the Visa/MC interchange fee “tax”

Visa/MC can only keep charging this tax because of their lock on the marketplace, “all” the credit and debit cards run on their rails.

Who is big enough to take the short term hit to break that lock? – Amazon.

“Buy with the Amazon card and get a 2% cash back on all your Prime purchases”  – or this averaged up to 5% or more with Amazon giveaways, e.g. Discount on Prime, cheaper Echo, Dot, discounts on Amazon own label.

Amazon will take the hit for as long as it needs. It works on 7 year ROI terms. (“If you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.” Bezos.)

And  Amazon  will have an army of 3rd party resellers working for them as foot soldiers , “Pay me with the Amazon card for all my other stuff I don’t sell via Amazon and get a 2% discount , (partly funded by Amazon), because I won’t have to pay the hated Visa/MC interchange tax.”

A bank of Amazon could wage a war of attrition on Visa/MC for 7 years. The markets won’t mind, they funded Amazon for a decade when it wasn’t making money.

The rough size of the prize would be at least the market caps of Visa and MC.  ($460bn). And this isn’t even thinking about emerging markets that Visa/MC do not serve. And where “interchange free” payments are gigantic.

For restaurants this will mean cheaper credit card processing, but it will also mean the arrival of the Amazon. Whether this means swapping the frying pan of Visa/MC for the fire of a very, very smart player remains to be seen.



Is 4g a viable alternative to broadband for restaurants using simpleERB for restaurant reservations?

It is a common situation now for people to find that the 4g data speeds are better than the landline broadband speeds available to them.

4g routers are now commonly available.

We often get asked: is it ok to use 4g for simpleERB? Will it cost me a lot?

The short answer is yes, it is perfectly feasible to use 4g and no, it won’t cost you a lot.

4g data costs (as of early 2018 in the UK) about 50p to £1 for 1gb (gigabyte) and a busy restaurant doing 15,000 covers per year is unlikely to use more than 2gb per month of data communicating with simpleERB, maybe only half that. So allow 50p to £2 per month in total.

If you use more than one device you will use more but two devices won’t use twice the data.

With a typical data speed of 20 mbps (megabits per second) download and 10mbps upload, the relatively small simpleERB page sizes (one sixth to one quarter of a Mb) will load quickly.

You can try it out by using the personal hotspot on your mobile phone before you invest in a 4g router.

Always make sure to check which networks are offering the best speeds locally. As the networks upgrade their services, the “right choice” can change overnight!



 

In our last blog post  we looked at the question of whether having taken a deposit from a customer or taken a credit card number  from a customer, who was a noshow it made sense to enforce it.

We said that that question could be answered objectively by looking at the lifetime value of the customer.

Bluntly, if it was small then the logical thing to do was to enforce the deposit. That customer was unlikely to return anyway.

Here I want to look at the difference in consumer expectations around deposits and “held credit cards”,  the legal and technical differences and the PR consequences.

The main difference with a deposit is that you actually have the cash.

If the customer want it back they are going to have to sue you.

Whereas a held credit card involves you taking the money in a separate step.

If you have written your terms and conditions correctly (simpleERB gives you a template) and the customer was advised of them, say in an email confirmation via simpleERB, then legally, the now show customer does not have a leg to stand on in any legal jurisdiction (country/state) that we know of.

However,  what the customer can do, is contact their credit card company and claim that you took the money illegally. Credit card companies tend to take the customers side and withhold the payment. There is paperwork to be done.

What you need is to show the email confirmation to the credit card company and your terms and conditions. Eventually you will get your money.

You might argue that it isn’t worth fighting but if you add up all those “not worth fighting for” occasions it might come to a large sum at the end of the  year. It is a bit like giving in to the school bully.

What restaurants often forget in all the negative stuff about charge backs is that “Banks file fewer chargebacks against merchants who regularly dispute chargeback claims”.

However, it is indisputable that if you have taken a deposit you are in a much much better place when a customer “no shows” that you are if all you have done is take a credit card number.

Restaurants often take credit card numbers rather than deposits because they think it is “easier”.  What a surprising number of restaurants don’t know is that taking a credit card number and writing it down in a the reservations book is against the law in most countries. It is called a breach of “PCI compliance” and restaurants who do this are leaving themselves open to fraud by staff and possible law suits by customers and hefty fines if caught.

simpleERB allows restaurants to hold credit card numbers securely via Stripe or Paypal.

However simpleERB also makes it easy to get deposits from customers and this is what we recommend if you are going to actually “hold noshowing customers to account”.

BUT you say both deposits and credit cards will dissuade customers from booking.

The answer is yes , they probably dissuade some customers. the question you need to ask is what kind of customers. They won’t dissuade the customer who has no intention of being a  noshow.

Again, let’s “do the math” to illuminate the problem.

First of all, what is your current noshow rate?

A Wharton study showed a rate of 20% in big cities. 10% is common.

We are predicting that 10% – 20% of bookings will be no shows.

Anybody who is thinking about being a noshow is just  not going to book with you. But you don’t make any profit from them anyway. You lose money.

So in order for “insisting on deposits” to actually cost you money you have to assume that 10-20% of the people who are not thinking of being a noshow are going to be dissuaded from booking with you by your insistence on deposits. Do you think that is true?

What to do.

Firstly, not all bookings are the same. Booking for 8pm on Saturday is not the same as a booking for 6pm on a Monday. A booking for 25 is not the same as a booking for 3.

simpleERB allows you to treat them differently. See the screengrab below

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly, run an experiment. Nothing says that you have to continue with a policy if it is not working.

Thirdly, make sure your terms and conditions are crystal clear, simpleERV makes this easy. Also , have them on your website and social media, upfront. Explain the precarious economics of running a restaurant, how a now show can devastate your profits.

Fourthly,  remind your customers. Again simpleERB makes this easy with automatic email and sms reminders. See below

 

 

 

 

Fifthly, mark anyone who does  show as an offender, again easy in simpleERB, see below

 

 

 

 

Sixthly, you can always, if you want, convert a deposit into a voucher that can be used in the next 14 days. You can’t say fairer than that, fairer then this, Feuhrer than thheeth…. that’s right you can’t say fairer than that…:-)

Seventhly,  talk to your local fellow restaurateurs. If you all implement the same policy, it will get the message across.

But social media I hear your cry! The noshowers will take to social media!

Ask yourself if you have done all that you we have suggested above, how stupid are they going to look?

Charge back info here , courtesy of The Chargeback Company.

Get the one stop solution to your NoShow problems here



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