Eating out has never been more popular. It's no longer a special treat, but an everyday delight.
People of all ages are embracing the dining experience, close to home and on vacation. Hotels can capitalize on this right now – but only if they have the right technology and strategy.
Dining out is a vital part of the travel experience
Over the last five years, eating out locally has become part of our daily lives. Not only that, but dining is now a much faster and more informal affair, leading to a boom in both casual and fast-casual restaurants.
Unsurprisingly, this willingness to try local restaurants, experience 'craft' foods, make spur-of-the-moment choices, and eat in a more relaxed atmosphere, has altered the way we eat on vacation too.
Millennials say eating out is increasingly an important part of their travel experience. In fact, according to a survey by Topdeck Travel, 98 per cent of young people ranked 'eating local cuisine' as very important.
Chinese travelers, who are becoming ever-more important for the hospitality industry, also say that food is important when traveling. In a survey by Hotels.com, Chinese travelers weighted cuisine as the third most important factor when picking a destination behind only safety and historical sites – and ahead of shopping.
Of course, we're also all eating out closer to home as well. For example, in the US and Canada consumer spending on restaurants is rising. In fact, last year spending on eating out in the US surpassed spending on groceries for the first time in history. As fears about the outlook for tourism play out across the industry, hotel restaurants provide hoteliers with an attractive way to increase revenues from people living locally.
Competition is fierce, and hotel restaurants should look to invest in tech to compete more effectively
Hotels have worked hard to increase revenues from their bedrooms business, and entice these guests to stay with them by upgrading their facilities. They've launched loyalty schemes, and introduced cutting-edge bedroom tech, like in-room voice activated assistants. But still, hotels would like to get more of these guests to use their restaurants.
Local restaurants and increasingly online delivery services are still in the lead. They're winning the battle for these customers and their business.
Some hotels have fought back, introducing new fast-casual restaurant experiences – or are exploring partnerships with chains to introduce the concept. But while accepting and reacting to this growing trend may well pay dividends long term, it doesn't tackle the immediate core problem.
Hotel restaurants could capitalize right now by adopting online restaurant reservation technology that would boost their bookings quickly and economically.
Surprisingly few hotel restaurants have direct online-booking capability. Many also lack the tech that is becoming common for a good restaurant experience – such as front-of-house management systems that make delivering a personalized service easier.
To make up the ground being lost, hotels should tool up now and get the right technology in place as quickly as possible.
But hotels shouldn't cut corners. They must launch direct booking first
It can be very easy to jump in with both feet and live to regret the decision – especially when it comes to technology. Early adopters can get burned and the hospitality industry is littered with tales of tech decisions gone wrong.
The same is true when it comes to restaurant technology. When you're looking around at the competition growing every day, it can be very easy for hotel managers to convince themselves that the best – and quickest – way to launch online booking is with an intermediary.
But this could end up costing hoteliers more money in the long term.
As the hotel industry has learned to its cost, listing with OTAs and intermediaries first is not without its risks; in particular, it gives the intermediary a head start on building a mine of customer data, such as names, preferences, and email addresses, which they can use effectively for future (chargeable) marketing purposes. As we have seen from the bedroom business, after customers start booking through third-party websites, it's increasingly difficult to win them back and secure direct bookings.
To be sure of a successful outcome, hotel restaurant managers must look carefully at all the alternatives and prioritize launching their own direct table-reservation system first. Intermediaries can come later – they have their role to play in any booking strategy. But to establish themselves and build a loyal direct-booking customer base, hotels must put themselves first this time.
BookingTek is a 10 year old technology business that delivers innovative digital solutions to hospitality companies around the world through offices in London, Washington DC Singapore & Sweden. The company specialises in t industry he food services industry and counts many of the world's largest hotel/restaurant groups on its client list including Marriott International.