Last week, OpenTable brought together a few of London Soho’s top restaurateurs for a panel discussion about balancing service and technology. With so many tools out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. So we asked: Where do you start? How do you make hospitality feel natural and human while leveraging technology? How do you deliver memorable dining experiences using new tools?
We heard from three leading restaurateurs: Jeff Lim, CEO of modern Vietnamese restaurant House of Ho; Mark Tucker, Food & Beverage Director of the One Aldwych hotel, which includes two restaurants, the lobby bar, private dining and room service; and Charles Lepelletier, Proprietor of Le Garrick, a traditional French restaurant and wine bar.
Here are eight tips we took away from the conversation on service, technology, social media, and more.
1. Technology should be used to enhance service, not replace it. Jeff sees technology as a way to increase operational efficiency, capture guest information and analyze data — all resulting in a familiar, memorable experience for guests.
2. First and foremost, the best servers are great people. Mark and Charles both emphasized recruiting for personality and finding welcoming staff members who have the freedom to work the way they feel most comfortable. Charles aims to hire people who exceed expectations, go the extra mile, and feel truly like an extension of himself.
3. Give guests a reason to come back. Beyond providing an exceptional dining experience, Mark aims to find ways to continue to engage with guests. He shares three “foodie” stories every month with the guests in his email database, along with details about what’s going on at Aldwych. He also looks at special occasions coming up, such as national holidays, and finds creative ways to promote them.
4. Make a social media plan. Mark meets weekly with his team to develop a social media plan that offers a glimpse of everything food-related going on in the hotel, with behind-the-scenes peeks into the restaurants. (Instagram has been the most successful channel for him.)
5. Add value, don’t discount. Because of the high caliber of restaurants on OpenTable, Jeff has found it useful for promoting his business — especially during non-peak hours. It’s always better to add value than to discount, he says, and Mark agrees: He recently used OpenTable to offer a fixed-price, three-course menu for two, including a glass of prosecco and carafe of wine. The offer drove 120 covers, 80% of which were new diners.
6. Know your guests — but not too well. Jeff and Mark are diligent about using Guest Notes to keep track of guests’ food and drink preferences. But Googling guests before they arrive? The panelists were split. While Jeff believes it’s the reception team’s responsibility to know about special guests coming in, Charles insists everyone who walks through the door is special. Thus, the staff should welcome everyone as if they were VIPs.
7. Put yourself in their shoes. If your product isn’t excellent, nothing else matters. Mark recommends stepping back and experiencing your restaurant yourself. Go in and dine as a customer; enjoy the food and drinks just as they would. Think about how you can take the restaurant experience to the next level.
8. We’ll end with the advice Charles received from his grandfather, which has never led him astray: “Look after your people and your food, and you should never have to look at your bank account again.”