Instagram's booking functionality produced a whole lot of hype when the launch was announced last year, but who's actually using it?
— Erika Adams
Remember last year when Instagram announced the ability to book appointments and reservations on its platform and coverage breathlessly claimed that Instagram was taking on OpenTable and others? That’s not actually how it worked out.
Instagram is potentially taking on the powerful networks that reservations companies have built by offering restaurants the ability to market themselves via social media marketing and advertising directly to diners looking for a table. But whether the diner makes the reservation via a link from a restaurant’s Instagram profile or via the restaurant’s own website, it’s still using its contracted reservations service to book the reservation. That is, if a restaurant is on the Resy platform, a reservation made from the restaurant’s website or from Instagram still goes through Resy, not through some magic Instagram reservations service.
In that case, Instagram’s reserve button isn’t so much a threat as it is another perk that third-party reservations services can add to the packages that they offer to restaurants, and that is exactly how it has been marketed so far. But, how useful is this integration on a practical level? Are customers actually flocking to Instagram to book their restaurant reservations? Or is this another case of tech providing us something that we didn’t need in the first place?
Tracking the Clicks
Last week, reservations and guest management software company SevenRooms was the latest to announce its ability to support reservations made on its clients’ Instagram pages via a widget. The widget pops up after a user clicks the reserve button on a restaurant’s Instagram profile page. Restaurant groups that use SevenRooms to manage reservations at more than one restaurant can use the widget to display availability at partner restaurants directly within the app.
“At the end of 2017, we doubled down on creating partnerships that would bring strategic value to our clients, reiterating our commitment to open up as many direct booking channels as possible for our operators,” said Joel Montaniel, CEO of SevenRooms.
Since Instagram announced plans for the in-app booking capabilities last year, Reserve, Tock, and Resy have all begun to offer Instagram booking integration for their restaurant clients, as well as SevenRooms.
Lisa Ganz, Reserve’s director of marketing, noted that since the company launched booking integration on Instagram in February, they have seen that, of Reserve’s restaurant clients that are active on Instagram, the booking functionality is the fourth-highest driver of reservations at some — but not all — restaurants. For those restaurants where the functionality is popular, the ranking puts Instagram-driven reservations behind Google, Reserve, and the restaurant’s own website, but ahead of Facebook and Yelp, among other sites.
Tock declined to share any data around the popularity of Instagram’s Reserve button, and Resy deferred to Instagram for tracking data.
An Instagram spokesperson told Skift Table that the company could not share any information around the functionality, and pointed out that the ability to track reservations made through Instagram’s Reserve button would vary by account and, therefore, it’s the account that has access to that information — not Instagram.
Opportunity to Grow
At the account level, data from the reserve button is not easily available on Instagram. Both Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York use the reserve button on the restaurants’ Instagram accounts, and use Resy as their reservation service provider. As of this week, Le Bernardin’s director of strategic partnerships, Cathy Sheary, told Skift Table that the team can see if a reservation came in through Instagram, but can’t zoom out to see Instagram bookings as a percentage of their total bookings (yet). Butcher & Bee in Charleston, another Resy client, also said it can’t easily tell how to track Instagram bookings.
“We haven’t found that having that option on Instagram has caused us any issues, and we haven’t received any negative feedback so we’re happy to have it there if it’s of help or makes things easier for our audience to connect with us,” Sheary said.
While these Instagram integrations may not be huge in terms of the percentage of reservations booked right now, it’s a smart avenue to continue to find and engage customers where they are. Reserve in particular is optimistic about the future of Instagram as a reservations driver based on the data that it has collected so far. Even if the returns aren’t huge for all restaurants at this point, adding direct-through-Instagram booking capabilities is a big convenience play, and one that restaurants are smart to take advantage of. If Instagram invests in promoting reservations functionality on its end, that could be the turning point in whether the function has the appeal to really take off.