6 Tools Restaurants Can Use to Fill Tables at the Last Minute

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empty-restaurantThe server is ready. The ingredients are fresh. Now where is the couple with the 7 p.m. reservation? In the restaurant industry, empty tables are money down the drain. With one in five dinner reservations resulting in a no-show, according to some estimates, restaurant owners are always searching for low-cost ways to fill empty tables at the last-minute.

Increasingly, these frustrated restaurateurs are turning to hyperlocal vendors for a solution. Utilizing a combination of geotargeted messaging and real-time inventory control, restaurants are able to incentivize would-be diners to come in and fill tables that would otherwise have remained empty. Here are six tools that restaurants can use to fill tables at the last minute.

1. Savored: Encourage diners to arrive during unpopular times.
Purchased by Groupon in 2012, Savored offers restaurateurs in a dozen major cities a way to market their businesses and drive reservations during off-peak hours. When restaurants have last-minute no shows, they can post their free tables on Savored. Customers are incentivized to use Savored with the chance to score last-minute reservations an upscale establishments, combined with the steep discounts that restaurants offer as a way to ensure these empty tables get filled. Most discounts fall in the 20% to 40%-off range. Savored charges a “small fee” to participating restaurants.

2. Leloca: Create an offer within seconds of a reservation cancellation.
What separates Leloca from competing platforms is speed. Restaurants can use the service to quickly create limited-time offers that are geotargeted to customers who work or live nearby. In the event a diner cancels his dinner reservation, a restaurant can log on to Leloca and “turn on” a 40%-off deal. This offer can be targeted to only reach smartphone users within the vicinity of the restaurant. As soon as the open table gets filled, the restaurant owner can “turn off” the offer. Leloca charges $1.99 per deal code issued.

3. OpenTable: Reward diners for booking reservations during off-peak hours.
By far the largest online reservation platform today, OpenTable offers a pay-for-performance marketing program that businesses can use to increase reservations during slow periods. Restaurants select the days and times when they have empty seats, and they reward customers for making reservations during those times with bonus dining points. They can also offer same-day POP targeting to fill any remaining seats during high-volume periods (like weekends and holidays). OpenTable charges restaurants $200 to $700 for hardware installation and training, along with a monthly subscription (with a minimum of $199 per month). OpenTable also collects $1 per diner for reservations made through its platform.

4. TableSAVVY: Fill excess tables at a discounted rate.
Restaurants that are willing to offer a discount to diners who make reservations during off-peak hours can promote themselves on TableSAVVY. Currently available in Chicago, TableSAVVY encourages restaurants to post excess inventory in real-time (like when a reservation gets cancelled at the last minute). Diners pay $5 to book their reservations through TableSAVVY, and in exchange they get a 30% discount on their bill. Automatic alerts are sent to the restaurant when a reservation is set, and the offer is removed from TableSAVVY’s platform before any other diners can book.

5. YumTable: Run deals based on current capacity.
Restaurants that use YumTable can fill empty tables by offering discounts during specific times and days, or only when they have table availability in real-time. In most cases, restaurants will schedule offers on their calendars based on the days and times when business is the slowest. Customers can make their reservations through YumTable, and the service will confirm the bookings with the restaurant via text or a phone call. Restaurants can limit the number of tables allocated per offer, to ensure they never get more business than they can handle. Restaurants pay YumTable a small fee for each table booked through the platform.

6. Fanminder: Push last-minute offers to existing fans.
Using Fanminder, restaurants can push last-minute offers and promotions to their customers through Facebook, Twitter, email, mobile phones, and their websites. If the restaurant’s reservation book shows that business will be slow on a Tuesday night, for example, then that restaurant manager can log on to Fanminder and create a promotion that’s only redeemable on Tuesday night. Fanminder offers its users a real-time dashboard that shows how their offers are performing, along with a number of different types of offers (like coupons, alerts, and specials) to generate customer interest. Fanminder charges $30 per month to run an unlimited number of offers.

Know of other mobile payment platforms with integrated marketing solutions? Leave a description in the comments.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.