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.



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



In the vexed question of how to deal with restaurant noshows there are two arguments.

One of them goes like this:  theatres, cinemas, airlines, holiday companies…. none of them give consumers a refund if the customer can’t make it. Why should restaurants be different? Why should they not charge at least something up front and keep it if the customer does not turn up?

Some restaurateurs have started doing this and swear by it. For example, Joff Day of  Ben’s Cornish Kitchen, Marazion, says: “Having the ability to take deposits for online bookings via the simpleERB booking system has eliminated no shows – the bane of most restaurants.”

Others think differently, like the restaurateur Keith McNally, who says: “Although we take credit card numbers for parties of five or more at my restaurants, we never actually charge the customer for not showing up. Of course, we tell them in advance they’ll be charged for not showing up, but it’s difficult to have the heart to do it. Even, as in my case, when you don’t have a heart to begin with.”

This is an emotional argument. There is a more hard headed rationale, exemplified by Sabato Sagaria of Union Square Hospitality Group, who says,  “If you’re penalizing people with a cancellation fee, it’s also probably an effective way of cancelling the relationship in the long term. If the first interaction is making the reservation and the second interaction is the cancellation fee, chances are there won’t be a third interaction.”

So who is right? Which course is right for you and your restaurant and your noshows?

Fortunately there is some math that can help us here. Business consultants have the concept of “LTV” or to give it its full title, “Customer Life Time Value”. This is quite simple, it is the “total amount of money that you will earn from a customer”. To be contrasted with “the amount of money you will make from a single visit”.

The opponents of charging deposits or cancellation fees for now shows argue that annoying a loyal customer who doesn’t turn up by actually charging them a cancellation fee or keeping a deposit costs you money in the long run as there is a good chance they won’t come back.

This is where you need to start to categorise your customers. And for this you either need a really good memory or you need a “Restaurant CRM” (Customer Relationship Management System) like simpleERB. Of course it makes sense NOT to charge a customer who has been a dozen times in the past 12 months and is likely to keep coming. But what about someone who has never been before?

Here you need to look at the data. How many “first time visitors” become regulars?

Let’s take an example: say your typical spend is £/$/€20 per person, your average party size is 3 and your gross profit before staff and fixed costs is 70%  – then a no show costs you £/$/€42 and your profit (or rather contribution to costs) would be £/$/€42 if they turned up.

If you have taken a deposit of 50% or have a cancellation fee of 50% , then you will get  50% x 3 x £/$/€20 = £/$/€30 from that party if they “no show”.

You then run the risk that they are so annoyed with you that they never return.

What you have lost is the “LTV”.

Let’s plug in some assumptions and say that there is a 1/20 chance that they come a second time and a 1/60 chance that they come a third time and a 1/100 chance they come a 4th time. The expected LTV for that customer (in gross profit terms) is :

£/$/€  (42/20) + (42/60) + (42/100)

Which adds up to £/$/€ 2.92

Not a lot!

Certainly not enough to make you give up the deposit / cancellation fee of  £/$/€30.

In fact for it to be worth while for a restaurant to forego the deposit / cancellation fee the expected LTV has to be more than £/$/€ 30.

That needs the likelihood of repeat visits to be very high. In fact the chances need to be something like:

1/3 chance of returning again, 1/6 chance of a 3rd visit, 1/9 chance of a 4th visit, 1/12 chance of  a 5th visit, 1/18 chance of 6th visit etc. etc.

This gives an LTV of something like £/$/€ 40.

Is this the kind of repeat visit pattern you see in your first time visitors?

You don’t need to do all the calculations , just asking your self the question, “Do one in three of my first time visitors come back a second time?” is enough.

If the answer is an unequivocal “Yes” then you should pay attention to the argument that “Enforcing a deposit / cancellation fee policy will hurt my business”.

If the answer is “No”. Then you are almost certainly better off enforcing a deposit / cancellation fee for noshows.

I will deal with the difference in consumer expectations around deposits and “held credit cards”,  the legal and technical differences and the PR consequences in an upcoming blog post.

Get the one stop solution to your NoShow problems here



Reviews are important: this isn’t so much old news to a restaurateur than the equivalent of the first book of Genesis to a restaurateur.

Still, reviews are becoming increasingly important to restaurants in new ways as traditional review websites like Trip Advisor and Yelp make way for Google restaurant reviews; now, if you Google a business, or even Google a query that will result in business listings (i.e. Italian restaurants in New York), you’ll see the business’s name with its number of Google reviews and average star in a prominent position underneath.

Google restaurant reviews

So anyone who has an interest in your restaurant will be immediately confronted with its review status. And as we said, reviews are very important.

Just how important, BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Study tells us: 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day, 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more and 49% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.

Google restaurant reviews

When you hear these stats it’s tempting to panic and try the quickest way to tot up those five star Google restaurant reviews you need, even if it’s not exactly legit.

Listen to us carefully: don’t do this. There are few things Google hates more than fake reviews. Don’t ask your employees to leave five star reviews. Don’t offer bribes or service in return for a glowing review. And most dangerous of all, do not pay a business or group of people to write positive reviews for you. Don’t think you’re smarter than Google. You’re not, there’s always a chance they will find out, and if they do they will ban you from the Google listings, a scenario no restaurant wants.

Google’s Review Guidelines state: “Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.”

Google is watching you. Every major Google algorithm update is usually preceded by long periods of testing, machine learning and human monitoring by Google created to combat people who are trying to scam the system.

How simpleERB can help

So what to do then? How do you accumulate those positive reviews you need and still play by Google’s rules? You do it organically by encouraging your customers to leave a Google restaurant review if they wish, something simpleERB can hugely help you out with.

simpleERB has a one stop option that allows restaurant owners to encourage customers to share positive reviews on your Google profile, as well as Yelp, Trip Advisor and Facebook (you’ll need to be logged into simpleERB to see this feature).

With simpleERB you can 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 Google, Facebook and Trip Advisor profiles.

How to deal with negative reviews

P.S. More reviews for your restaurant may mean some negative reviews but this doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing.

Negative reviews prove your reviews are authentic, they can actually encourage trust (only relentlessly five star reviews are more likely to make customer think they are fake), they allow you to show your excellent customer service when you respond, and they are useful for feedback purposes.

We wrote in more depth about the positive effects of negative reviews on the simpleERB blog here.



2018 is the year email marketing will become essential for restaurants, says industry media company, The Rail.

They believe this year email will overtake Facebook as the marketing tool every restaurant will need to utilise.

restaurant email marketing

Facebook organic reach

In 2017, as every restaurant with a Facebook page will know, Facebook drastically limited organic reach for business pages meaning any who want their post to be seen by their target audience will need to pay for it.

Understandable – Facebook need to profit from their platform somehow (Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodies are not going to pay for themselves).

But this means email marketing has become drastically more important for restaurants.

Restaurant email marketing

“Email is the platform that guarantees your communication will be presented to your followers,” The Rail said. “Even if it’s only your sending address and subject line they read you are at least gaining their attention for a few seconds.”

“Every email address is like currency in the battle to speak to consumers and give them reasons to visit your restaurant. Smart operators will focus on gathering email addresses and regular communicating with their guests.”

Using simpleERB for restaurant email marketing

Believe this to be true but not sure where to start with email marketing? Don’t worry – simpleERB has got you covered. In fact, we can make your restaurant email marketing ludicrously easy.

Not only does simpleERB collect the email address of every customer who books on simpleERB, it collects a complete records of all your customers’ details and their preferences, like how many times they’ve booked, which table they prefer, any dietary requests.

The information is gold dust to a restaurant email marketing campaign. It allows you to send tailored emails that will directly fit your customers’ needs.

Know your customer is a vegan? Email them about your new vegan new. Customer only visited once? Tempt them back with a promo code or special offer. Regular customer? Keep them updated with new dishes and menu changes.

In 2018 join simpleERB for free

Unbelievably, simpleERB can do all this for you for FREE.

There’s no need to spend time gathering email addresses of your customers and taking a note of their preferences – simpleERB does it for you automatically, saving you massive amounts of time.

Make 2018 the year you create a restaurant email marketing campaign of true value – and let simpleERB help you.



We’ve only just had Christmas but with Valentines Day looming we wanted to point you in the direction of a neat little ‘hack’. This might make your planning for special occasions or one off events in your restaurant run a little more smoothly.

Last year, one of our users, Allium by Mark Ellis, came to us looking to set up their restaurant differently for a few days in February around Valentines Day. Rather than have their regular setup, they wanted a predominantly two cover per table setup just for one or two nights.

valentines layout

how to add an extra area

What they did was add a new area called ‘Restaurant Valentines’ with the layout they required. Then in advanced settings they used the closed area function to close out their usual restaurant area for these dates. In addition to that, they made sure that the Valentines area was closed from now until the date they required it in February and then again after these dates until a date much further in the future.

use it again

You could keep this area in your layouts to be used again or diarise a reminder to delete the area once the event has passed. It’s up to you.

The restaurant are now able to take bookings without having to worry about rearranging tables once bookings have been made.

As always, drop us an email on help@simpleerb.com if you require any further information or a nudge in the right direction!



As we hope you all know by now, in 2017 the importance of Instagram to restaurants cannot be underestimated.

In recent years, the craze for taking photos of your food and posting them on the social media platform has snowballed, and Instagram now plays a powerful role in influencing where diners choose to eat.

A London restaurant which recognises this has taken an unprecedented step – offering “foodie Instagram packs” encouraging customer to take the most enticing photos of their food.

Foodie Instagram Packs

Anyone who has tried to emulate those foodie Instagrammers who make everything they eat look picture perfect will know it’s not as easy as it looks.

Which is why Dirty Bones in Soho, London are offering their diners a kit which includes a portable LED camera light, a multi-device charger, a clip-on wide angle camera lens and a tripod selfie stick for overhead table shots.

The kits have been designed to provide Instagrammers with everything they need to capture the perfect Instagram shot.

A spokesperson for Dirty Bones said: “People love to share what they’re eating on social media, so we wanted to put together something that made it easier to get that perfect shot regardless of the lighting or time of day.”

“More and more people are also using Instagram to help them decide where to eat, so as a restaurant group it’s key for us to make sure that people are getting the best possible shots of all our dishes and drinks.”

Importance of Instagram to restaurants

Not only that, the Dirty Bones’s entire interior and menu has been designed with Instagram in mind.

The menu is packed with those super “in” dishes that look great on Instagram, like a Mac Daddy Burger, fish tacos and cheeseburger dumplings.

Letting Instagram dictate your entire restaurant decor and menu – a step too far or the future?

How simpleERB can help

With simpleERB you can help encourage their customers to take Instagram worthy snaps of your dishes.

You have the capability to edit simpleERB booking emails sent out to your diners so why not add a note asking diners to take pictures of your food? You could even add a prize for the best shot of the month.

simpleERB builds a complete record of all your customers and their preferences, ensuring that if if they love to take photos of their food they can be placed at the table with the best natural light (we all know how important natural light is for those #foodporn pics).

With simpleERB’s help, you can allow Instagram to help run your restaurant without letting it run you.

simpleERB is free for small restaurants and easily affordable for bigger ones.



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