It’s a trick of the trade that airlines and hotels learned many years ago: discounting downtime and off-peak purchases keeps customers around when they’d otherwise stay away.
Two Adelaide-based app experts are now bringing that know-how to restaurateurs.
Heath Brumby and Sean Clarke have worked behind the scenes for years, developing internal apps for the corporate sector under the banner of the App Experts.
"We're lucky enough to play in the corporate space," Sean says. "We deal with mainly internal apps. They're not on an app store. They're made for organisations to be more productive. Doing that, we've got a good pool of developers and staff we could use to put this program together."
The two-man team is going public with their new app, Spare Tables, applying a simple idea to a big industry: use centralised technology to give restaurateurs the ability to apply an off-peak pricing, supply and demand model to their businesses -- just like the airlines.
"All our restaurants have their own profile page. It shows their food, their menus and dishes. They have complete control over offering tables online and if they want to drive traffic at that earlier time, six o'clock, six thirty, they can offer a discount incentive to do so," says Heath.
Customers can search the Spare Tables app or website by area, time, pricing or cuisine. Restaurants are listed with reviews and potential discounts. The customer chooses their time and completes their details, and the booking is complete.
Sean says the app also caters to smaller owner-operator restaurants that might not have a computerised till system or even internet.
“As soon as a booking is made online the phone will ring the restaurant within five seconds and read the reservation automatically," says Sean. “To our knowledge no one else does this.”
While Spare Tables is accommodating of the traditional behaviour of restaurants, not forcing them to go online, they will be offering a similar tablet-based solution in the future. It's likely to coincide with their push out from South Australia.
"The plan was always to launch in Adelaide," says Sean. "We're locals. Adelaide is probably a harder market to make it work in. That was validation for us to go interstate, and the plan is this year to go interstate quite aggressively."
For one of their customers at least, Amrit Kumar, the General Manager of Hotel Tivoli in Adelaide, there's no downside to taking up these new kinds of marketing technologies.
"It brings together industry as a whole and allows for cross promotion - which is a vital element of the modern marketing strategy. Spare Tables offers us an exciting opportunity to increase brand awareness and reach an otherwise elusive demographic," Amrit says.
As services such Spare Tables grow and expand their user-base, the danger is that restaurants not taking advantage of the technology will be left in the dust.
“There's a behavioural change from the consumer side,” says Sean from Spare Tables. “Rather than calling to try and book a table, we're moving the way that now you jump on your phone or computer to book it.
"It's really important for restaurants to move in to that sphere if they want to continue to operate efficiently. A restaurant that doesn't take online bookings is missing out on a lot of customers that exclusively search online, and that's only going to increase."
Heath says that most of the restaurants they approach have recognised the benefit of the technology outright.
"Our hit rate with restaurants has been quite high. Probably 97%. Not many say no, because there's no cost to join. My pitch is to try it - if it doesn't work, you can exit at any time. The only time I'm going to send you a bill is if I send you a customer," he says.