Getting the guest’s perspective: What you should care about bookings by email, form + phone

Good to know

Hosting and serving people – that’s what restaurateurs are passionate about, that’s what they get up for every day. However, for some restaurant owners, good service seems to start at the front door. Far too many guests get lost running the gauntlet of occupied telephones, messy forms and unanswered emails. Using an online reservation system is recommended to avoid losing guests.

By Max Falkenstern

Limited capacities, increased staff shortages, intense cost pressure – today’s challenges and problems faced by restaurateurs are daunting to say the least. And they demand respect from those who have not stuck their heads in the sand, but are constantly questioning, adapting and re-evaluating their own business model at all levels.

The flip side of the coin is that, despite all the signs and circumstances, many restaurateurs are still not in a position to organize their own restaurant operations in such a way that capacity utilization, staff numbers and expenses are in a good balance. It’s not about trends such as employer branding or online marketing, nor is it about financial things such as pricing and stock management.

It is much more trivial and starts with offering the opportunity to reserve a table.

Anyone who keeps guests on the phone to make a booking inquiry without any alternative or annoys them with emails or a confusing contact form made in-house can’t complain about empty seats later on. After all, they have ignored what they, as hosts, stand up for every day by definition: the guest.

When guests hit walls – The situation at the start

Yes, that may sound pretentious and lecturing. That’s why I’d like to provide more context here:

Due to the opportunities provided by digitalization, guests increasingly expect businesses to focus on their needs, understand them and design their offerings accordingly.

This trend is no surprise; to put it simply, it is the result of unparalleled choice freedoom. Never before have guests had so much variety and so much choice in a competitive market. The barrier is low, particularly in the restaurant industry, above all in urban areas and destinations with high tourist traffic.

To give a simple example, let’s take our prototype guest, who we’ll simply call Adrian.

  • Adrian wants to go out for dinner and is looking for Italian restaurants in his city near where he lives.
  • Using his smartphone, he checks various restaurant profiles on Google and evaluates his decision based on experience and criteria such as reviews, distance and the overall impression of the ambience and menu.
  • In the end, Adrian chooses your restaurant – an initial vote of confidence.
  • Now he wants to book a table at your restaurant. But your restaurant doesn’t offer a convenient online reservation option.

At this point, you may have already lost Adrian.

So why? Simply because Adrian’s most recent positive restaurant experience with a competitor becomes the benchmark for your restaurant (see illustration). Annoyed by the situation, Adrian is immediately hooked on a competing nearby restaurant that is just two clicks away online.

“I can’t make a reservation online at your restaurant, but I can at a similar place around the corner?”

But because we don’t want the story to end here, let’s just assume that the lack of an online reservation option doesn’t matter to Adrian for the time being. So he checks your website for other reservation options and finds a total of three options that other guests come across all too often in practice:

  1. Reservation by e-mail
  2. Reservation via contact form
  3. Reservation by telephone

The worst-case scenario: reservations by e-mail

Taking reservation requests via email may sound obvious. It’s quick and easy to set up a business email account. And the effort involved in communicating this on your own website is not worth mentioning. However, this channel of communication is like business hara-kiri, which only leads to losses.

Let’s experience this from the perspective of our sample guest.

There’s nothing more tedious for guests than e-mail reservations!

Adrian is asked to submit his reservation request by e-mail. The first challenge lies in preparing the e-mail, a rather time-consuming task as the guest has to formulate the content of the request anew each time.

Another thing Adrian doesn’t know is whether the table is even available at the requested time. Or, even more banal: whether the email request you just sent has reached you at all.

This is because many restaurant operators have not set up an autoresponder for their e-mail account due to a lack of knowledge or overload.

Obstacles when accepting reservations by e-mail

And let’s not even start with booking notifications. What if the email ends up in the spam folder? Does this look like a reliable way to get in touch with your guests for the first time?

High administration workload for restaurateurs

Then there’s the other perspective, yours.

Have you ever thought about the administrative work that you and your service team have to deal with when guests can make reservations by e-mail?

We’re talking about…

  • … regularly checking your inbox for incoming emails
  • … sorting out spam messages or irrelevant marketing mailings
  • … manually adding reservations
  • .. writing e-mail replies in case of incomplete reservation requests (and so on)

Don’t you agree that all that time would be better spent elsewhere?

Well meant, rarely successful: reservations via contact form

Whether it’s done on purpose or not, restaurateurs often decide to use a conventional contact form on their website for reservation requests. Compared to email, guests are less burdened by predefined (mandatory) input fields.

In practice, most custom-made forms are more well-meaning than well-designed. And not only because they are rarely optimized for use on mobile devices and therefore tend to overflow the viewable screen area.

Well meant, but overwhelming: Contact forms

Let’s take the representative case shown above and bring our sample guest Adrian into play.

  • Even before Adrian thinks about filling in the form, his own subconscious sends a signal of being overwhelmed by the amount of input fields.
  • Asking him to fill in a large number of mandatory fields suggests that he will have to spend a lot of time on a non-binding booking request ( which means he can’t plan ahead). Some prospective guests leave at this point and immediately seek alternatives.
  • The other group may start to fill in the contact form, but then abandon the request midway due to impatience and difficulties in completing it.

Is it all just doom and gloom? Then please allow us to ask you a counter-question: Can you evaluate how many potential customers drop out of your contact form immediately or midway through and do not use any of the available other contact options?

As with e-mail, traditional contact forms also lack an API to the reservation system. This means that Adrian cannot check the table availability for his desired timeslot in real time, instead he has to hope for a confirmation.

There it is again, the topic of reliability in planning. Being aware of the problem, restaurants take precautions by setting a condition: Short-term reservations on the same day are ruled out completely.


  • … what if Adrian misses the note when filling in the form and is then turned away on the spot due to lack of capacity?
  • … or he doesn’t reach anyone in your restaurant by phone?
  • … or he doesn’t even want to make a phone call due to some circumstances? After all, using the phone is becoming less and less relevant, especially for younger people.

Added to this is the extra work involved in the handling of incoming messages via the contact form. This is because you have to use the guest details to manually check whether a table is available at the desired time and then send a written response to the guest or call them. We won’t even start on the privacy issues involved in meeting erasure deadlines (some web contact forms save entries forever).

Do you really want to burden yourself and your guests with this unnecessarily complex administration?

The phone is not without alternative!

Adrian eventually makes the decision to call your restaurant – a dream scenario in the minds of many restaurateurs.

And in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that at first. After all, a phone call is the closest thing to a personal discussion on site. Potential questions about the reservation can be answered ad hoc and the restaurateur or service staff can even use the tone of voice to create a certain anticipation for the restaurant experience (“The restaurateur sounded nice, I’m looking forward to my visit”).


Those who rely exclusively on phone bookings will miss out many guests.

So Adrian calls the number – and only hears the busy tone. He looks at the details on the website and realizes that he is calling outside opening hours. Once again, we find ourselves in the position of losing Adrian to the competition. But he resigns himself to the fact and finally tries again in the evening.

  • Adrian calls the number again, yet the call remains unanswered.
  • What he doesn’t realize: All hell is breaking loose in your restaurant right now – it’s rush hour. One call follows the next while the understaffed service team rushes from table to table. A situation that many restaurateurs experience on site every day.
  • However, it all too often slips under the radar that people like Adrian have tried to call without success. And then they don’t bother after one or two failed attempts.
  • These are potential sales drivers who are silently left behind by an unconsciously raised wall.

But because Adrian remains relentless in our story, a short time later we do manage to have a phone conversation. On the other line, a noticeably short-tempered employee answers and accepts the reservation request. Due to the high noise level in the background, details such as the number of people get mixed up, and instead of 6 guests, 4 are finally noted. As a result, this means the restaurant is overbooked; things get hectic because a new table has to be magically pulled out of the hat spontaneously.

Adrian and his fellow diners don’t experience the restaurant at its best today. Whether there will ever be a second visit remains to be seen.

You can’t blame the service, because mistakes are practically unavoidable given the human factor. Yet the faux pas mentioned above also puts your employees in a bad mood. Firstly because of the stress and secondly because this situation may have a direct impact on tips.

Of course, you can close your eyes and claim that it’s none of your business. These were just exceptional cases. And in the end, it’s not all that bad. But then you shouldn’t complain if urgently needed staff are not available in the kitchen and service.

Especially as the cases listed as examples could easily have been avoided if there had been an alternative online reservation tool.

6 tips for more efficiency when taking reservations via email, phone and contact form

If you could still accept bookings via email and the classic contact form, that is of course your right. But at least try to think about both channels in terms of maximum user experience.

Here are a few tips:

  • If possible, set up a separate mailbox for e-mail reservations to strictly separate booking inquiries from other business correspondence.
    • Example: reservierungen@musterrestaurant.de exclusively for bookings and info@musterrestaurant.de for general inquiries and/or as a contact address for service providers, suppliers, etc.
  • If possible, use a trustworthy SMTP server service (e.g. Clicksend, Sendinblue, Mailjet or similar) to receive and send e-mails in order to significantly improve the deliverability of messages.
  • To standardize the reception of table reservations via e-mail, you can predefine the subject line and content of the message (example).
    • The benefit here is that the guest immediately knows what information he or she needs to send for a reservation request. At the same time, this saves time-consuming queries.
    • This is how it works: Copy the code below to your browser’s clipboard (CTRL + C) and use it to replace your email reservation link on your website. Remember to replace the sample address given in the code (myrestaurant@domain.com) with your restaurant email.
<a href="mailto:myrestaurant@domain.com?subject=Reservation&body=Hello%20,%0D%0A%0D%0AI%20would%20like%20to%20reserve%20a%20table.+%0D%0A%0D%0AGroup size:%0D%0A%0D%0A+Date:+%0D%0A%0D%0ATime:+">Add title of the link here</a>
  • Think about an autoresponder to automatically notify guests when their email has been successfully sent. Almost all email services offer a corresponding option. Tip: Provide a realistic response time for the guest in your message.
  • On the web, the motto is “mobile first”. So make absolutely sure that your contact form is easy to use on a smartphone.
  • If you use a (long) contact form with more than 5 fields, you can reduce the abandonment rate by creating a two-page form:
    • Page 1 – Personal query: Salutation and contact details
    • Page 2 – Request reservation details: date / time / number of people

For more insights on how to fully exploit your restaurant’s online potential, download our free guide.

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Summary: Break down walls, re-think established channels

And now: the commercial break. There’s nothing more obvious than to talk at length about resmio’s products, services and features to great fanfare (it is our restaurant blog after all).

However, this takes us away from the actual main idea behind this piece. To be precise, to raise awareness of the hurdles that many guests still have to overcome in practice in order to make a simple table reservation. Regardless of what you think about online reservation systems and what experiences you have had so far: If this post has helped you to at least question some of the business processes involved in the initial contact between guest and restaurant, a lot has already been achieved.

Does it make sense to completely replace the phone with a digital reservation system? Of course not. But as a supplementary channel, you can remove obstacles such as non-stop availability, which could have left potential customers stuck on the way to making a reservation.

Topics: Digitalization|Website

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