Technology is paving new ways of doing things in every aspect of modern life, including our dining experiences. Until a few years ago, the idea of booking a table online was unheard of, as was the concept of ordering your food without a person at the other end of the line ready to jot down your order. But all this is changing and quite fast too.
A study by HOTREC – the umbrella association of hotels, restaurants and cafés in Europe – and the HES-SO Valais-Wallis School of Management in Switzerland, carried out in 2018 and published last May, unveiled interesting findings on the European restaurants sector and its response to technological developments, namely online delivery and booking portals.
Titled HOTREC Restaurant Booking Study May 2019, the study sought to get an updated picture of how “restaurant reservations are being made by guests, who are the key players, and what are the main trends.”
Part of the research included an online survey among 790 European restaurants and an inspection of 1,200 restaurant websites in France and Germany, which allowed the association “to draw an actual picture on the importance of booking and delivery services in the European restaurants sector.”
Adrian Cummins, Chair of HORTEC Restaurant and Pub
Adrian Cummins, Chair of HOTREC Restaurant and Pub Working Group, says restaurant booking portals and online delivery services are still at an early stage in Europe. However, given changes in consumer behaviour, namely millennials and generation Z, technology evolutions – such as the penetration of mobile technology, the development of automated delivery, as well as the slow digital transformation of the restaurant sector – seem to have the potential to encourage businesses’ growth.
“These new services may also represent growth opportunities for the enterprises in the hospitality sector if cost issues, including commissions, and strategic aspects, such as the dependency on international or global players and the evolution of business models, are managed properly,” he notes.
HOTREC’s survey found that nearly half of guests (43 per cent) book a table in advance in European restaurants. Nine out of ten of these advanced bookings are still direct (64 per cent are done by phone and 12 per cent by e-mail), whereas third-party platforms generate roughly 6 per cent of advanced bookings.
“An analysis of 1,200 restaurants in Germany and France shows that nearly 20 per cent of restaurants offer third-party booking options on their own website and only 11 per cent have their own online reservation system.
“The individual third-party booking platforms are generally used by less than 10 per cent of the analysed restaurants,” says Mr Cummins. “Major online restaurant reservation platforms in Europe are in the hands of established global players.
Five main players can be identified in Europe, connecting diners with 20,000 to 51,000 restaurants: OpenTable (Booking Holding), ResDiary (Accor Hotels), lafourchette/thefork (TripAdvisor), Quandoo (Recruit) and Bookatable (Michelin).”
Claudienne Harb, Director at the Malta Business Bureau
On a local level, Claudienne Harb, a Director at the Malta Business Bureau (MBB), says the findings of HOTREC’s study on customer behaviour in the food delivery market “are pivotal to the local emerging market”.
“Such findings spread between the benefits of online systems, such as delivery platforms, and the actual need for such a market. It is important that we study worldwide market trends and assess the local market drivers and changes by comparison,” she stresses. Ms Harb refers to a 2016 study, conducted by the global research organisation McKinsey & Company, which uncovered the loyalty of customers who sign up and order via a delivery platform and what customers’ satisfaction is driven by.
“We can observe the ‘how’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ related to the delivery of ordered meals. ‘How’ – delivery has to be swift, not more than 60 minutes in waiting time. ‘Where’ – home orders outweigh by far the orders placed from the workplace. ‘When’ – the majority of orders were placed on weekends.
"According to the survey conclusions, online booking platforms and delivery services are slowly gaining momentum, and the drivers are mainly consumer behaviour and the industry itself, and its adaptation to technological change.”
Although the HOTREC survey was carried out among restaurants in France and Germany, could any parallels be drawn with the use of technology in Malta’s restaurant industry?
“Geographically, Malta cannot be compared to France and Germany, and that makes it a very different scenario to inspect. Among other variables, the major players to study would be local preferences, tourist spend, restaurant food and service standards, and also the labour market,” Ms Harb says.
However, she adds that the local trends that are driving innovation in the restaurant industry are in line with the study’s findings.
“The key motivators are healthy eating with minimal impact on the environment, the younger generation setting their own trends and taking them to social media, such as food blogs, and intensified competition, with supermarkets and shopping malls offering readymade meals to take away or even eat on-premises, saving time for the diner, making it a convenience in itself.”
Ms Harb expands that Malta’s dining scene is evolving at a fast pace but, while opening a restaurant or fast-food eatery is relatively trouble-free, investing in technologically-advanced systems depends on various factors and is quite a process in itself. “Locals still appreciate the one-to-one experience, be it for a take-away order or on-premises dining. The booking portals, if available, are mostly used to book in advance.”
The higher the standards of the restaurants, the greater the chance of having their own online booking system, possibly through their website. Alternatively, they subscribe to a third-party platform, such as TableIn or Taaable.
“These platforms let the diner choose the restaurant according to the area, date, time and even according to the type of food that the diner favours at the time of booking,” Ms Harb remarks. Statistics published by local news sites last August revealed that www.tablein.mt, represented locally by Yellow, made over 50,000 reservations and booked 200,000 diners in the previous 12 months – a figure which shows promise that both the local restaurant scene as well as patrons are embracing the use of technology for their dining experience.
This is an extract of an interview which featured in the Winter 2019/2020 edition of the Business Agenda