It’s my birthday this weekend (feel free to send expensive gifts) and I’ve had a terrible experience trying to book a table for 9 people for lunch. Happy birthday to me? Well, the first two experiences went like this-

Restaurant one-

‘Hi can I book a table for 9 people?’

‘Certainly, you’ll need to pre-order at least 3 days in advance’

‘Right, well I don’t want to ask my guests to do that, can we please just order on the day- I assume your chef is prepared for 9 people on a Saturday lunchtime?’

‘They’re the rules I’m afraid…’

I posted this conversation on Twitter and tagged in the restaurant asking if they would ask two tables of 4/5 to pre-order- nothing back- a great case study in itself.

Restaurant two-

‘Hi can I book a table for 9 people?’

‘I’m afraid we don’t book tables, but you can turn up and wait- it’s usually about half an hour or so on a Saturday lunchtime’

‘Ok, no problem, but as it’s a birthday celebration, can we turn up, put our name down and pop over the road for a drink until the table becomes available?’

‘No’

And then, luckily, the new and always accommodating Rail House Cafe in the new Nova Building in London Victoria came to my rescue- a table for 9, credit card details given in case of no-show and a promise of the best table in the house as it’s a celebration. So hopefully it will be a happy birthday after all…

Now I’ve eaten at the RHC before, but not for a weekend lunch, so I’m told the menu is different- but, according to Ontrade Outlook (our latest insight report looking at the future UK pub trends) , 49% of customers know what food and drink they’re going to order before they arrive at a venue when eating out.

Outside of my birthday lunch, what opportunities does this create for venues and brands to inspire and influence consumers before they make their purchase decisions? Opportunities exist to encourage certain promotional purchases, cross-sell and upsell and all prior to the customer even stepping foot on site. Perhaps a chance to pre-register or pre-order to gain additional benefits; think about how hotels, airlines and other sectors take advantage of the knowledge that a customer is going to be using their services soon.

The important point to remember here is that customers are purchasing food and drink as a solution to a question. That question being for example; “I’m hungry and I don’t have any food on me”, or “I need to meet someone and we’re both hungry, where shall we go”, or “I want to celebrate my friend’s birthday in the evening”.

We need to focus not on the mindset of purchasing specific products but on solutions and those solutions are open to interpretation by the individual and also open to outside influences. Venues should be thinking (always) about how to create solutions for their customers and to inspire purchases that have not been considered.

And to not put so many barriers in the way of a customer wanting to book for more than the standard 2-4 diners!

ontrade outlook 2019
Ontrade Outlook 2019

Now I’m not saying that ALL pre-ordering is bad, in fact, the opportunity to do so can be a great thing- but it should be to the customer’s advantage, and fit with their wants and needs. It should make for a better, not worse experience.

The Park pub in Bedford offers customers the chance to pre-order by phone- ideal for those in a rush!

The Park pub in Bedford - happy birthday celebrations
The Park in Bedford

Tonight I’ll be getting an early night ready for a weekend of celebration, tomorrow’s birthday lunch with my girlfriends, then on Sunday an early train up to Norwich for my first festival of 2019, Norwich Sunday Sessions, a planned after-party and then home to London on Monday- I’ve made Mr Katy promise me lunch and a trip to buy my birthday presents!

Have a fab weekend all, and happy birthday to me!

Katy Moses, MD