In the restaurant industry, slow days are the enemy. And the slower they are, the harder it is for your usual busy shifts to make up the difference.
That’s why occupancy management—focusing on filling your restaurant’s empty seats—is increasingly important for restaurants, especially as other tactics for fighting back against rising costs show their shortcomings.
Reducing menu size, increasing prices, and compromising on quality of ingredients can cut your costs, but they all risk negative customer experiences, and can do more harm than good. Bringing in more customers, on the other hand—especially on days that are typically slower—pays bigger dividends.
How DO you fill your empty tables?
What steps can restaurant operators take to attract more customers during shifts that are traditionally slower? Hint: it takes more than just an online reservation system.
“Reservation systems are great at managing existing customers,” says Epicurean Group Partner Jacob Cohen, “but to maximize overall occupancy, you need to be creative to fill the empty seats.”
Here are a few ways to start thinking about improving your restaurant occupancy during slower times.
Capture Guest Data and Market Creatively
Staying top of mind with existing customers starts with creating a connection that will last long after they visit your restaurant.
Capture Guest Data
- Use QR codes, Point of Sale, and Reservation systems to collect emails for 100% of your guests
- Aggregate and manage all guest emails in a simple marketing tool (e.g. Mailchimp)
Offer Time-Limited Menus
- Offer certain menu items of specials only during slow times
- Promote them on social media and via email to encourage off-peak dining
Run “Always-On” Email Marketing
- Schedule ongoing emails every week to drive bookings on slower days (check out this Crash Course from Bikky)
- Send special offers to your online ordering customers to get them to dine in
Offer Incentives to New and Existing Customers
When potential new and returning customers are choosing where to dine, offering a reward can give you an edge—especially on a slow day.
Incentivize Visiting at Off-Peak Times
- Send past guests discounts or gift cards for visiting on slower days (this is called Dynamic Pricing)
- Offer rewards like complimentary drinks or menu items to guests who dine on slow days
Use an Occupancy Management Tool
- Use a tool like Seated to fill last-minute open seats without impacting your operations
- Occupancy tools let you bring in more guests during slow times without discounting
A restaurant occupancy management tool like Seated doesn’t replace your existing reservation system—it complements it to maximize the number of people in your restaurant.
“Our mindset is to generate the highest sales we can given the labor volume,” says Shy Bird owner Eli Feldman, “and tools that help us fill empty seats are critical to that.”
By using a platform like this to offer incentives specific to when a guest dines and how much they spend, you can encourage new and returning customers to visit at off-peak times.
Ultimately this lets you grow profits without changing anything about your current restaurant operations.
Check out the full 2022 Restaurant Occupancy Guide for more tips on attracting more restaurant customers.
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