Saturday, March 3, 2012

Online Restaurant Booking? Hong Kong is NOT Ready yet!

Have you tried to book a table online? Yes I have and as a matter of fact I loved the idea so much a few years back that I wanted to bring this idea / concept to Hong Kong. After a 24 hours cooling period, I returned to reality, commercial reality that is, and gave up on the idea. Over the past 6 months, I noticed an increasing number of online booking websites being launched with massive advertising all over the web and social media channels. However, my take on online restaurant reservation remains the same as a few years ago, Hong Kong is not ready for it YET for many reasons, below are 3 major ones in my opinion.

1) Demand vs Supply

When I say demand and supply, the theory applies to both users and restaurants. If you visit some of the current operating online booking sites, scroll through the so-called extensive list of participating restaurants, how many of them interest you as a consumer? Of course it is a question of chicken or egg first, but the truth is, how many restaurants, or restaurants that are popular, would be interested in such an idea IN HONG KONG especially. For popular restaurants in Hong Kong, they are constantly full with advance booking that goes 2 - 3 weeks ahead even without any system of online reservation in place, aside from direct email perhaps. If popular restaurants are not on the list for booking, the appeal of the booking site diminishes exponentially. Some online table booking sites offer discount to attract diners? Well, when they are constantly full even without discount, why bother to offer any right?

2) Lack of IT infrastructures

The whole idea of a online booking system is to allow the reservation process to be as simple as soon as possible hence the heavy reliance on the IT infrastructure between the sites and the restaurants. The table reservation confirmation response time is crucial in my opinion. However, most restaurants in Hong Kong still uses pen and paper + phone for their reservations. For traditional Chinese restaurants or even popular Chinese eateries, many don't even have a computer not to mention Internet connection to hook up to the online booking sites. If manual confirmation is involved (ie: book online, someone manually book for you), what is the point of the whole system from a commercial perspective? Out of the so many restaurants in Hong Kong, how many would have the required IT infrastructure to do implement online reservation?

3) Cultural Implications

People in Hong Kong dine out quite often and dining out is not much of an occasion but more of a daily activity for many. Being late to a reservation or no show is as common as reserving a table in multiple restaurants in advance just to lock up the table for later decision so to decide which cuisines / restaurants to pick at the end. The opportunity cost for the restaurants are high especially in Hong Kong  with such high rent, locking up a table during peak hours for online booking sites or no show diners are equally expensive. For no show cases, at least they can accept walk-in shortly after the table-hold time limit but for online booking sites, it would be expensive to do so. And without such dedicated tables for online sites reservation, the table availability can be always full then what is the point of booking through the sites?

What's your take on Online Restaurant Booking in Hong Kong? Let's Discuss!


Anonymous said...

Some really good points, but it works so well for Opentable throughout the US. It doesn't prevent you from calling the restaurant and making reservations, it is just another alternative, and it is also a way to see what is available last minute, rather than calling 10 different restaurants, which is my favorite feature.

Jason said...

True, a great alternative I have to admit but without the number of restaurants or popular restaurants on the list, this alternative is no longer a good alternative from diners perspective. chicken or egg first question I guess haha

Fernando Gros said...

I like online booking & have used it in Europe & the US. Restaurants can protect themselves by taking a credit card with the booking & billing a no-show fee if you don't cancel, or confirm numbers before the date.

But, I can't see it working in Hong Kong, mainly because, as you say, the IT infrastructure is not there. In fact, online sales in HK are a problem in so many areas.

hongkonghotel said...

Thank you for making the effort and spreading this information with all of us. It was indeed very useful and informative while being straight forward and to the point.

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