Online reservation systems are boosting business and keeping guests happy.
Who wouldn’t love a business tool that keeps guests happy, frees up staff time, and rakes in the dollars for the business? Online reservations have been around for a while but have grown exponentially and more efficiently since the pandemic.
The growth and adaptability of these systems have also been instrumental in allowing centers to weather recent years where they saw business ebb and flow. In today's economic outlook, an excellent online reservation system may be something you need in your business toolbox.
Guests are accustomed to making online reservations for things ranging from fine dining to a concert, playing a round of golf, seeing a medical professional, and even booking a ride share ahead of time.
Consumer Expectations Have Changed
“The online booking process is much easier for our customers,” said Kirstin Dobbie, general manager at Strike Point Bowling in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada. “And ease is everything when it comes to entertainment!” “The key to anybody’s success right now, honestly, is automation,” said Jenna Boyo, CEO of Planet Lazer. "That's booking, self-ordering on your phone, or using a kiosk.”
Bill Wammes, the proprietor of Al-Mar Lanes, attributes the online reservation system at his 16-lane center in Bowling Green, OH, to be full on Fridays and Saturdays from customers reserving and paying partially ahead of time. "We find that 55% of the people reserving ahead are bowling the same day, 10% are booking a week out, and everyone else is in between. Today's customers love reserving online; it's quick and easy for them, and many expect this option to be available."
Companies that provide online reservation systems, such as AlleyTrak and Semnox, have established reputations for listening to their clients and being agile enough to tweak their systems to meet the operators' and guests' needs.
The Thirsty Duck, a duckpin facility in Sussex, WI, was parched for a solution to manage their specific lane setup. They turned to Chris Behling, owner and digital director of AlleyTrak, for help.
“The Thirsty Duck is a small facility, but they had a lot of demand and volume for their activities," said Behling. Specifically, they were struggling with managing a large variety of different types of reservations. Chris continued, “They might have one reservation for a lane for an hour, another for a lane for two hours, and another where someone’s booking six lanes.”
Staff Relief – A Big Bonus!
Online reservation systems not only free up staff to do other things but also give a more accurate picture of business coming in daily. They can secure revenue more reliably, holding customers accountable for their reservations by collecting a deposit or fee upfront instead of simply being a name on a piece of paper that can easily be canceled.
“It’s been a flood for our clients, with customers coming back in,” said Brian Duke, senior sales partner for Semnox, whose Parafait booking system is tied into their larger suite of offerings. “The cost of hiring extra staff doesn’t always justify the results. That's why we always stress this isn't supplanting your employees; it's supplementing them. It's a way to help give your guests a better experience."
What do operators like about using online reservation systems?
"It's great that it's all-in-one, that it's all centralized," said Jenna Boyo of Planet Lazer, who recently switched to Parafait to help handle reservations for their massive laser tag facilities spread across western Canada. “As our business grows and we expand in the next year and a half, I can add in multiple places, and it all works together.”
“It was immediately evident that [this system] had been designed with a fundamental understanding of the bowling business,” said Kirstin Dobbie. “Chris from AlleyTrak was willing to customize the software to meet our unique needs. His team is very responsive and willing to adapt as our center and our industry evolve."
“It has just enough customizability to tailor to our needs without being complicated,” said Jarrod Ashby at Mission Bowling Club, an AlleyTrak customer in San Francisco. "The interface is intuitive for guests making reservations, and it has been a breeze to train staff how to use it."
When discussing what’s ahead, Behling highlighted AlleyTrak’s recent rollout of booking questions into their system, allowing for further customization and new avenues for data collection. "You can get very granular with the information you collect," Behling said. "With open play, you might not need to ask additional questions, but for birthday parties or a New Year's Eve event, you can collect that additional info and re-engage with them. It's limitless."
"We don't want guests ever to have a bad experience," said Brian Duke. “That’s why our guiding principle is always: Semnox listens to clients. How can we take an idea, take what you need, and make it better?”
As much as any other form of customer service, online reservation systems are invaluable to the continued success of modern businesses. Many centers now charge a convenience fee for open play reservations during premium times without pushback from guests. And let’s be honest, booking and paying at least partially online works around the industry problem of staff members who sometimes forget to ring the register.
If you’re still taking reservations on the phone or jotting down bowlers’ names with pen and paper, it might be time to step into 2023 and beyond.
One Operator shares his experience:
IBI caught up with Bill Wammes, proprietor of 16-lane Al-Mar Lanes in Bowling Green, OH. He provided these stats:
- 75% of open bowling is reserved online
- 50% of a customer’s bowling fees are paid upfront when making their reservation, so 99% of them show up
- 50% of birthday parties are booked online
- New Year's Eve packages are sold out all day, beginning at 10 a.m. in two-hour increments until 2 a.m., with nearly all customers booking online
- Online reservations for all tournaments; bowlers book and pay online