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



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!



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.



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!



Christmas. The dreaded ‘c’ word. Organising large bookings, managing deposits, dealing with no shows. It can be tough running a restaurant in December. Luckily, simpleERB has some neat features and clever hacks which can help make Christmas a little easier for you.

Make sure you’ve got the right availability on your booking widget

The simpleERB booking widget defaults to allow bookings for six months in advance. This means customers can book dates in December NOW! Get ahead of the game and make sure you’ve got any closed dates or alternative opening hours set up so you don’t take bookings you can’t accommodate.

You can amend your widget availability in the configure widget settings or set your whole diary up for Christmas using closed or partial open days.

If you have split sittings, you can enter multiple opening times for the date in ‘partial open times’.

Is your table layout different at Christmas?

If it is, there is a way for simpleERB to help you. Create a second table layout in your simple settings and call it something like Christmas 2017. Add the tables as they will be set out in December or on a particular occasion and then in advanced settings, using closed areas, close this area off from now until December and again after December. Then in December, close your normal layout so that bookings aren’t taken on those tables.

There’s a guide on how to do this in more detail here.

Take deposits

Deposits are a great way of ensuring that customers attend their booking so you avoid the dreaded no show which although unwelcome all year round, is particularly problematic over the busy Christmas period. We have customers already using our deposit system who have said the no shows have been virtually eliminated. Deposits are flexible and you can set specific amounts based on date or time and party size, you could charge per cover or per table and you can also set deadlines for customers to pay by. All of this is done securely and PCI compliant so that you don’t have card numbers or payment details lying around or visible to staff. It also usefully helps out your cash flow!

 

Booking reminders

Booking reminders are a simple way to remind your staff about certain details that they may need to pass on to customers or be aware of when entering bookings. You simply choose the dates you want your message to show and then when a member of staff adds a booking on a certain date, they’ll be prompted with date specific info. You might want to advise customers that on a certain date you are only serving a certain menu, or you could use it to remind staff to get an email address for the customers. This is an easy and flexible way to remind your staff about the little extras which happen at Christmas so that everyone is on the same page.

Create offers

We see more and more restaurants offering a normal a la carte menu as well as a Christmas menu in December and you might want to give customers the choice when they book so you can get a rough gauge on how many turkeys that the kitchen brigade may need to prep. Setting up offers is easy and like most simpleERB features, it can be used to fit around certain dates and times. You could show specific offers and price levels on some days and then maybe an increased price on a Friday. Our offers guide is here but this is a great way of giving your customer an option when booking and letting them know that things might be a bit different in December from when they normally book.

Get a step ahead of the rush and let simpleERB be your little helper this Christmas.

 



Do you tag customers on simpleERB? Tagging customers can help with many things such as informing your staff about a customer or booking specific information so that they know exactly which page they are on when they walk through your front door. Setting customer tags is also good for your marketing campaigns. It means you can target specific subsets of customers and you can send them info which is relevant and interesting to them.

Setting up my customer tags

We hear you cry, but how do I set up customer tags? It’s easy, and you see them every time you add a booking. The quick info buttons on the booking page are what we use to tag customers. We’ve preset some ideas for you but you can change these to anything that you want.

In your advanced settings, under general, there is a tab called ‘booking information options’. You can add, delete and reorder your ‘tabs’ from here. They will then appear on the booking information screen every time you enter a booking.

Benefitting from customer tags

We mentioned two of the ways you can benefit from tagging your customers. The most obvious and up front way is that when the diner visits your restaurant, a quick glance at your diary will show any of the tags that you’ve added so your waitstaff know straightaway that the customer is a VIP or a vegan and they can treat them accordingly.

We also mention using tags to target specific groups with mailing campaigns. Although we don’t have an ‘in-app’ mail marketing solution, there are many other dedicated services like MailChimp who do it better than we ever could. simpleERB does always allow you to download your customer data at any time so if you use tags, you can download certain samples of your database to target specific customer sets. For example, you might want to tag all customers who use a discount voucher, or book via a different website. You might want to contact them and offer them the same offer that they booked but this time directly through yourself. You could even integrate this with our new offers system and send them all a unique URL to an offer that is just for them. All you need to do is select the relevant info buttons when exporting your database.

Log in to simpleERB now and know your customers better!

 



We’ve recently added the ability to take deposits through simpleERB and many of our users have already taken the ball and run with it. One of the great things we find, is that our users all have different ways of using the system. We’ve seen that taking deposits is no different.

In basic terms, we set deposits up so that restaurants could take deposits or card details for bookings at certain times. Whether the deposit was being taken on specific days or in a certain time period, for example Christmas, it was a simple process. Of course, along then came our users who made us think of different ways in which they might want to use the deposits system.

We already have offers in the pipeline (shhhh, it’s still under wraps!) but our users have asked now that we’re doing deposits, can they sell ‘tickets’ or take full payment in advance. We’ll have an elegant solution for this in the future, but for now, it’s still something which can be done.

You might be running a charity dinner or your restaurant may only offer a set menu and for this reason, you’d maybe want people to pay in advance. Say, for example, that on a Saturday night you are always booked up weeks in advance, especially at 8pm, you can tailor the deposit settings within simpleERB to take a payment for bookings only at that time.

How do I set it up?

Easily! Once you’ve configured your simpleERB account to your Stripe account, you’ll need to set up some rules.

Within the deposit settings, choose to set a deposit for the day and time at which you want to take a payment for. e.g. If you’re selling tickets to a dinner, select the start time of the event and make it the same as the end time. Then select the deposit amount in if you require the payment to be completed in advance. And that’s it, done!

When customers go to book at this time, they will be asked for full payment and will be automatically sent a payment link or if they book via the widget, they’ll get the chance to pay there and then.

If you have any questions about deposits, please email us on help@simpleerb.com or refer to the help guide within your simpleERB account.

 



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