If you’re a restaurant owner, you know exactly how time-consuming and challenging it can be to manage reservations. Your managers probably take dozens of calls per day and handle table reservations manually. And because of many different guest lists, you can have either open tables or scheduling overlaps.

Also, your kitchen staff may be unprepared to serve too many guests. Or, on the contrary, they may have many ingredients left at the end of the day. In 2019, there’s a better way to manage bookings: with a restaurant reservation app.

In this article, we’ll first speak of the benefits of existing online restaurant reservation systems. Then you’ll learn about the two major types of reservation systems. Finally, you’ll decide which type is best for your business.

Benefits of a table reservation system for restaurants and guests

“Open table” is the most-hated term in the restaurant business. When running a restaurant, you pay bills for rent, electricity, utilities, and food. You want to see profits. If you reduce the number of empty tables, you can improve your financial standing. With an application for restaurant reservations, you too can eliminate the “open table” curse.

Benefits for restaurants

With a system for table booking, restaurant owners and managers can:

  • Manage a few lists in one place — A waitlist can be integrated with a reservation list. This provides a better picture of table availability and helps managers avoid scheduling overlaps.
  • Reduce no-shows — A reservation management system can send guests reminders shortly before their reservations. Thus there will be a decrease in the number of no-shows.
  • Keep track of the daily workload — Restaurant staff can know the exact number of guests and even their menu choices if they pre-order when making a reservation.
  • Cut the workload — Using a reservation app reduces workloads for managers, since the booking process takes place online. Thus managers have more time for coordinating daily operations and improving the service.
  • Increase sales — This applies to all demographics, but especially to millennials, who place 35% of all orders on smartphones.
  • Promote loyalty programs — You can easily do this by providing special discounts and prioritizing reservations.
  • Increase customer satisfaction — Customers are impressed by a hassle-free reservation process. When booking a table ahead and enjoying quick seating and service, they feel they’re being more highly valued.
  • Take reservations 24/7 — Your restaurant may not be open around the clock, but customers can make reservations outside your business hours.

All these benefits combined lead to this: the restaurant stays ahead of the competition.

Benefits for guests

When using an online system for restaurant reservations, restaurant visitors can:

  • Forget about phone calls — With an online application, customers can spend just a few minutes booking a table and pre-ordering food instead of staying on the line and waiting for a manager to check if there’s a free table on a specific date.
  • Access restaurant services any time — Time constraints are absent since information is available online.
  • Read reviews — Reviews can be provided in a table booking app to help people make decisions.
  • Preorder food and drinks — When booking a table, customers can look through the menu, choose dishes, and preorder to eliminate the wait.
  • Pay beforehand — Once they’ve booked a table and chosen their food, customers can pay so they don’t need to wait for a waiter to bring the check.
  • Cut down frustration — Frustration arises from long waits for tables, food and drinks, and checks. A booking app cuts down on frustration and allows guests to perfectly plan their evenings.

It doesn’t matter if customers are on a break, on a bus, or in a traffic jam. With a mobile app, they’re only a few clicks away from booking a table.

Two types of reservation systems for restaurants

There are two major types of reservation systems for restaurants. Let’s have a close look at each of them.

Third-party reservation websites and mobile apps

Third-party reservation services work similarly to the marketplace workflow:

  1. App owners invest heavily in building the app.
  2. Restaurants are encouraged to list their tables.
  3. The app is advertised to restaurant-goers.
  4. Users can search for restaurants, book tables, and make payments.
reservation app for restaurants
source: opentable.com


These online reservation systems are like well-oiled marketing machines, boosting the number of customers and reducing the number of empty tables.

The OpenTable app is the main market player. This system was launched in 1998 and was a breakthrough for restaurants facing reservation issues. Years after its launch, similar products started taking over the market.

Below, we list the key features of eight of the top restaurant reservation systems.

Top restaurant reservation systems
source: Steelkiwi.com

But using a third-party reservation website and mobile app has its drawbacks. The biggest one is the monthly fee. Major market players charge the highest rates, and a restaurant’s yearly expenses for a booking app can reach thousands of dollars.

Top restaurant reservation systems
source: steelkiwi.com

Even though a restaurant owner can treat a third-party reservation website as a business expense, there are drawbacks that detract from the benefits. According to regular users, such platforms:

  • Concentrate on building loyalty to their own service rather than to their partner restaurants
  • Drive guests back to their own marketplaces rather than to a particular restaurant
  • Work slowly due to being overloaded by a great number of users
  • May cancel a guest’s booking without notice
  • Hide negative feedback
  • Send spam messages and don’t provide an “unsubscribe” option
  • Force users to click on all restaurants in order to find one that can accommodate them
  • Can mistakenly add extra charges to the bill
  • Don’t provide full restaurant menus
  • Provide rewards and then cancel them for no reason
  • Aren’t connected to calendar apps
  • Have badly designed layouts and thus are over-complicated to use

And this is exactly why it is time to reflect on restaurant booking app development. The use of own branded apps eliminates drawbacks and doubles possible benefits.

Your own branded application for direct reservations

Branded restaurant booking apps usually work in one of two ways:

  1. Users choose the date and time of the booking. However, they can’t choose the table. The restaurant manager works on the seating chart.
  2. Users choose the date, time, and exact table via an interactive floor map.

Your restaurant reservation app has to bring value to both customers and your restaurant. You already know the problems the app can solve. Now you can move to the features and technologies.

Must-have features of a restaurant booking app

You’ll need two versions of your app — one for guests and one for administrators. And before you address a restaurant booking app development company, you actually need to decide which features are must-haves for each version.

Features for guests

  • Registration to allow users to register and sign in using a social media account, email address, or telephone number
  • User profiles with a detailed history of bookings for quick access to favorites or recent places
  • Advanced search with filters (by location, cuisine, time, number of guests), ratings, and suggestions
  • GPS navigator to guide visitors to restaurants
  • Seating map to let people reserve tables depending on their preferences
  • Full menu including the ability to customize ingredients for preorders
  • User reviews left only by real visitors who’ve been seated at the restaurant
  • Prepayment that allows guests to securely pay using the restaurant’s table reservation application
  • Loyalty programs offering personalized rewards on special occasions and allowing users to collect points to exchange for in-house benefits
  • Booking option for renting out the restaurant for a birthday, engagement, or wedding party
  • Social media integration for inviting friends to share bookings
  • Reservation confirmation via SMS and email
  • Push notifications that let users know about new deals and the latest updates
  • Help or FAQ section for those with questions
Restaurant reservation app flow
source: steelkiwi.com

Using Flutter, we can create an app for iPhone and Android that allows guests to make seating arrangements and preorder food. Our experience developing a restaurant app for Can Tho proves that Flutter can be very successful and cost-efficient.

Features for restaurants

  • Seating chart with a table management option for viewing the number of booked and open tables
  • Table combination option for viewing and optimizing the floor plan
  • Calendar for scheduling dining hours
  • Advanced search with filters (by customer, time, reservation)
  • Payment section to keep track of payment methods and old and new transactions
  • Messaging section where SMS and emails can be sent to confirm bookings
  • Diner book with customer information and history of reservations that allows you to suggest menu items based on what people ordered during previous visits
  • Updating option for adding and changing the menu, uploading images, and updating customer details
  • Push notifications for each booked table
  • Cancellation of bookings
  • PoS system integration to handle payments, streamline the workflow, and deliver better service
Reservation restaurant app
source: daypilot.org

How much does it cost to develop an app for restaurant reservations?

You may have come across online price calculators promising to show the exact cost of developing your restaurant reservation app. But the thing is that even a team of developers that’s about to work on your specific project can only provide a rough table reservation software pricing.

The final cost depends on the number of hours the team needs, which depends on the complexity of the app.

Restaurant reservations app development
source: steelkiwi.com

 

Improve your restaurant reservation management through technology


Restaurants should go mobile to be visible to more customers, earn more, grow, and expand. Your restaurant is no exception. Use the opportunity to reach your customers with your own app for restaurant reservations.

We hope that this resource guide has helped you better understand the building blocks of how to build an online reservation system. If you have any questions or want to provide users with a powerful tool, contact our team. Let’s work on the must-have features, the restaurant table booking app design, backend, and other specifications together. We’ll turn your idea into reality.