Mobile technology has dramatically rewritten the rules for the service industry, and the restaurant world is no exception to the rule. According to a report from the National Restaurant Association, a whopping 88% of consumers use technology to interact with a restaurant in some way. From reading reviews to scheduling reservations through online reservation systems, technology simplifies the buying process and helps find restaurants to visit. Of course, providing services like digital reservations comes at a cost—is the investment worth it?

Examining the Digital Reservation Model

OpenTable is easily the biggest player in the digital reservations world. Participating restaurants pay a monthly fee and $1 per person for the service. Along with the reservations themselves, the restaurant receives a touchscreen reservation system and can offer reservations directly from their own website. A restaurant could theoretically create a similar system in a proprietary model, although the development and implementation of such a system would likely prove prohibitively expensive.

As the NY Times points out, a number of competitors have also sprung up in recent years. Some of the competitors in this space include review company, Yelp (SeatMe). A few other minor players also operate in the industry.

Calculating the Cost

It’s difficult to substantiate the value of a digital reservation, as it’s nearly impossible to say whether or not a diner would have still visited a restaurant without a digital option. And yet, many restaurant owners feel the cost is well worth the service it delivers. A piece published in FSR included feedback from restaurant owners who credit online reservations with pulling diners during quiet periods and building the company’s reputation with positive feedback.

Maximizing the Value of a Digital Reservation

In addition to the reservation itself, services like OpenTable provide in-depth analytic information that allows restaurants to track buyer patterns and note specific information about the diners. Dietary habits, birthdays and anniversaries, and other personal information can all be tracked for the diner. This can help the eaterie to provide superior service for repeat visitors.

Many restaurants also feel a digital system helps create greater efficiency for the front of the house. Reservations can easily be tracked and the status changed as diners check-in for their meal. Managers can also take a look at reservations before the shift begins to better determine availability for walk-ins and schedule staff breaks.

Taking the gamble on an online reservation system can feel like a daunting undertaking, but the benefits these systems provide make them an appealing option for restaurants of all shapes and sizes. OpenTable alone services 32,000 restaurants, with approximately 16 million visits reserved each month. As consumers increasingly turn to their smartphone as a means of finding local businesses to visit, implementing a digital reservation system simply makes sense for restaurants eager to grow their earning potential.