New technology helps discerning restaurants get to know their customers
By John Peck
"Eighty percent of my decision (to participate) had to do with database richness. ... I'd have hooked up with it even if there hadn't been the online stuff," he said the other day. But the online "stuff" is good news, so far: In the past two weeks, he estimates there have been at least 60 reservations made through it. It costs Terra Cotta $1 for every reservation booked through OpenTable.com--compared to the 25 cents it costs them if you book through Terra Cotta's link, DineTerraCotta.com--but business is business.
And the table maintenance piece is sweet, too. It lets the terminal user know if a table is available and ready, who is there, who the server is, whether the check has been presented or not and if it's been paid, and if the table is ready to be turned over. You touch the table icon on the screen, and a regular client--and his or her history--can pop up, providing a wealth of immediate information. Aside from the "active" use, its planning potential is terrific beyond the relatively simple matter of table disposition.
"From daily/weekly/monthly reports, I can see how many are reservations, how many are walk-ins, no-shows, or canceled reservations. It helps me look for the trends: It might tell me that a third of our biz is walk-ins, for example," said Luria. "Friday nights might be great on walk-ins, and Saturdays solid for reservations--and that helps me to schedule for staffing." Be warned: If you make reservations though OpenTable.com and are a no-show three times, you get booted from the system.
OK, OK. It's a great tool for restaurant management, from advance reservations to staffing, but what does it do for us--the clients? Plenty, it seems.
"When you make reservations, you have to log in and create a profile. You get points for every reservation you make and keep. You can redeem those points for credit," explains Luria. "You can tell us whatever it is you want to tell us: 'It's my anniversary, my birthday, our first time there, etc.' We can customize your experience."
And more. If, for example, you customarily drink Grey Goose and pineapple juice (I know, I know ... but I actually have friends who order that), it can be entered on your profile. Or the fact that you also tolerate Cîroc vodka or hate onions on your salad or fancy Cockburns' 20-year tawny port and won't ever take a coffee. You might be a vegetarian or particularly fond of soups, detest fish and love the crème brulée. Or maybe you like a particular server, had a previous problem with an underdone filet, are a "VIP" or a host of other things. It can all become part of your profile under the program's "customer notes" and "customer codes."
"It definitely requires the server and us to be on the ball," said Luria. "No restaurant really has the time to ask 20 questions, but over time, you build that database and begin to customize the experience for your guests. It's a win-win situation: The guest wins, and we win."
How much does this happiness cost? Well, for us, Dear Reader, nada. It's a gift of improved service. In Terra Cotta's case, it costs roughly $350 a month, depending on the number of smart terminals they have slaved to the OpenTable program, and, of course, the above-mentioned fee they pay for reservations through it or through their own Web site, which is tethered to it.
I have to confess that I love this idea. When I walk into Terra Cotta, do I want Garrett-the-server to smile and ask if I wish a dirty-and-dry Tanqueray with three Gorgonzola-stuffed olives to start out? And then tell me about an incredible soup? You betcha! Or suggest the porterhouse, because my profile has indicated I am a hopeless carnivore? Bring it on.
Charles, wherever he rests or plays, would be rolling his eyes, I am quite sure, at this evolution of personal-service possibilities. But this is a Big Brother of whom I can be fond--as I was of him. We move forward.