Current software solutions make the reservation process more efficient, less costly, and can even minimize the wait for guests
Every trip to Las Vegas or other gambling Mecca begins the same way-with placing a reservation for a room at a casino-based hotel or resort. And once in Mecca, the need to place reservations continues, be it to eat at a fashionable or eclectic restaurant, arrange time in the spa, or secure a tee time on the golf course.
But it isn't fun for the guest if the reservation placement and confirmation process isn't quick and painless, and is instead reminiscent of the "hurry-up-and-wait" regimen experienced in the military. And casino managers have their own needs, requiring that reservation systems be uncomplicated (so employees can easily learn to operate them), more efficient, and highly accurate (as lost reservations breed unhappy customers).
Fortunately, many software-based reservation systems are available that serve everyone's special needs, and interface with popular property management and player tracking systems.
Reservation programs are available in two varieties: As optional add-ons to larger computerized casino management systems that oversee wide-ranging tasks from maintaining guest records to accounting to scheduling housekeeping; or as stand-alone programs.
A typical stand-alone program is the OPERA hotel reservation system marketed by Micros Systems Inc. of Columbia, Md. This Windows-based program includes all tools needed to perform all reservation-related tasks, as well as integrate-into a single file-reservations secured from different sources. These include reservations placed directly to the hotel, from call centers, branded Web sites, and alternate distribution systems like Travelocity and Expedia, with the ability to sort incoming data so that no over-booking results.
Available as an OPERA add-on is the Les 9000 Guest Connection restaurant reservation management system.
Designed for larger casino operations with multiple properties and multiple restaurants at each location, Guest Connection enables reservations at all restaurants be processed through a single central location, said David Hoffman, leisure products project manager at Micros. Customers can call in reservations from anywhere on the system's network. Call center staffers assign reserved tables from graphical displays of the floor layout of each restaurant. Icons placed on tables in these displays for specific time frames verify that these tables have been reserved, and the customer receives a confirmation.
But Guest Connection also helps casinos "provide a better guest experience," Hoffman emphasized. The system enables casinos to compile guest histories that include guest preferences (foods, beverages, etc.), credit card information, birthday and anniversary dates, and contact information. These can be used to tailor service to the guest while in the casino, and to target promotions for future casino and restaurant patronage.
No more middle man
Cleveland-based Agilysys Inc. offers casinos cost and labor savings through several programs that add onto its Lodging Management System, a software solution handling every property management task from credit card processing to managing in-room services.
LMS ResNet is a real-time reservation system that allows customers to book rooms directly over the Internet with no human interaction required, said Jerry Peek, senior product specialist at Agilysys. On the Web page, customers can see room availability, choose the type they need, and enter their own credit card data. Confirmation follows immediately by e-mail.
The advantage of LMS ResNet is that the reservation is made completely under the auspices of the host casino. There is no third-party reservation firm middleman with whom the casino must pay a percentage of all transactions, so the casino keeps all the reservation's profit, he noted.
LMS GuestExpress enables the wireless curbside check in of guests. An employee literally wearing the equipment (it weighs less than two pounds) checks the guest into the hotel as soon as they step out of their transportation into the hotel or resort. Through a handheld computer device, reservations are verified and confirmed, and can be changed on the spot if requested. Rooms are assigned, and credit cards can be processed. An encoding device creates room keys on the spot, thus enabling a guest to go immediately to his room without ever seeing the front desk. The guest benefits by faster check in while the casino can reduce front desk manpower.
Among casinos that have adopted GuestExpress Handheld Check-In is the new L'Auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino in Lake Charles, La.
The LMS GuestExpress Kiosk also enables guest to check themselves into and out of the hotel or resort through a kiosk (sourced by Agilysys from NCR). At check in, the kiosk confirms the reservation, offers a choice of rooms, and encodes the room key. At checkout, the kiosk presents a bill of charges and, if approved by the guest, posts the charges on his credit card and bids him adieu, Peek explained.
Agilysys emphasizes that this kiosk-based system can greatly reduce lines at the front desk as guests arrive and depart during busy periods, and also enable casinos to redirect front desk personnel to other customer service endeavors.
LMS ARTS (Activities Reservation and Ticketing System) enables guests to make reservations for restaurants, shows, concerts, limousines, ski lifts and other items both on and off the casino's premises. This system may soon also operate through an Ethernet screen in the guest's room.
Dine and dash
The primary concern of restaurants is that all persons who want to dine are seated and served in a timely manner. Too long a wait and customers may walk out before a table is available, and the money they would spend there is lost.
This is complicated by the fact that casinos also make money from customers when they aren't dining. Too long of a waiting period for seating means that people are standing around instead of playing the slots or waging on blackjack.
HostAlert, a Windows XP-based software solution offered by San Diego-based Ameranth Wireless Inc., provides solutions for all these needs, said CEO Keith McNally.
Able to easily integrate restaurant reservations with all of a casino's other Internet, call center and in-house systems, HostAlert creates an evolving reservation grid that self-adjusts times slots for different table turn times and changes in demand.
"Wait times can thus be more accurately quoted, so customers making reservations from their rooms can time their arrivals at the restaurant as their table is being readied," said McNally. "By measuring actual average table turn times, restaurants don't over-quote by saying the wait is 45 minutes when it is 30 minutes, as one of eight customers, on hearing the longer wait time, might opt to dine elsewhere. But quote 45 minutes when the wait is over an hour, can lead to very dissatisfied customers."
The program also interfaces with handheld communication devices that staffers can carry through the dining area, McNally added.
"On seeing a table has been cleared, they alert the hostess station of a particular table's immediate availability. Once these data are entered, the HostAlert system identifies the party that has waited the longest that best fits the table's seating capacity, and directs them to the table," he said.
The result is that seating times are trimmed an average three minutes, which enables more customers to be served daily at the same tables, he added.
Another special feature of HostAlert is the ability to print tickets with each reservation made at the hostess counter that include a 10-minute window (based of current wait times) during which customers can expect to be seated, said McNally. Customers can thus return to the gaming floor until just before the earliest seating time noted on the ticket.
"This reduces the number of parties who reserve tables, but drift away before it opens," McNally noted.
To the minute
The Total Control system marketed by Dallas-based Long Range Systems gives guests a detailed, user-friendly approach with placing restaurant reservations.
With the Click Ahead Seating feature, customers using their laptops plugged into their room's Internet connection can go to the Web site www.clickaheadseating.com to check out restaurants within a specific zip code. If they want to dine as soon as possible, the site provides current wait times at each restaurant. Once a reservation is made, confirmation is made through the customer's cell phone, and the time the party should show up for immediate seating is provided, explained Jim Livingston, LRS' vice president of sales.
Casino-based restaurants using Total Control also can provide customers with pagers, so they can return to the casino to play games or do other things until their table is ready. A call to the customer 10 minutes before his table will be ready alerts him to return to the restaurant. But if the customer is having a run of luck at the blackjack table, he can signal back through the pager to delay his seating by 10 minutes, Livingston said.
This latter feature also can be processed through the customer's cell phone.
Anticipating customer needs
The Rendezvous software program, introduced by InfoGenesis of Santa Barbara, Calif., is designed to provide a better total guest experience, said Brent Christensen, sales manager.
Casinos using Rendezvous can accept reservations for restaurants on premises through their on-site call center or the concierge. Should the restaurant be booked full at the time the guest wants to dine, the program immediately calls up alternative choices, such as the same restaurant at a different time (8:30 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m.) or the same time at a different on-premises restaurant (the steakhouse instead of the one serving Mediterranean cuisine).
Because Rendezvous ties into a casino's player tracking system, it sets up the guest to receive his preferences while dining out. The maitre d' will be alerted of the guest's arrival and will address him by name. His favorite pre-dinner drink (a Gibson Up Extra Dry, etc.) will be ready. Special dining requirements (a food allergy, requires kosher, etc.) will be anticipated.
The waiter will ask if he'd like his favorite entrée (a New York steak well done, etc.).
Because Rendezvous links to InfoGenesis' Revelation point-of-sale management system, the program can accept reservations for business meetings or receptions far into the future, Christensen added.
Revelation, a stand-alone restaurant management system built to operate on a Windows NT platform, enables the quick processing and tracking of sales inside one or multiple restaurant, bars, and lounges in a single location.
Upping the ante
Reservation systems can lead to more profitable poker play
Reservations are not just for hotel rooms and restaurant tables. They also are required by rabid fans of Texas Hold 'Em and other currently faddish poker games to get on casino card tables to try their skill and luck against other players like themselves.
Ameranth's Poker Room Manager, similar to HostAlert, optimizes table seating in card-playing areas and minimizes the drifting away of impatient players.
The key difference in these systems, noted Ameranth CEO Keith McNally, is the type of reservations made. Card players are asked to list three preferences (based on types of poker and betting limits) when seeking a seat. Tables are wired so that as earlier players get up from the table, the dealer can press a button that electronically informs the reservation grid that a specific seat is available. The Poker Room Manager program then scans reservations to determine which player seeking the action at the table has been waiting the longest. He is thus alerted to get to that table and begin playing.
"By refilling of seats faster, poker dealers can deal more games per hour. Since the house take comes off the top of the pot of each game, but increasing the number of games per hour from 25 to 30 can increase the hourly profit at each table by about 12 percent," McNally said.
-James J. Hodl
Talk to the screen
The computerized desk clerk is likely coming to a casino near you
It's only a matter of time before that handsome gent or perky lady at the hotel/casino front desk is replaced by something a little less human but a lot more efficient-a box with an LCD screen.
Indeed, such changes have already begun to happen along the Las Vegas Strip and elsewhere, all in the name of providing better service in guest check-in and check-outs, and manpower cost savings for hotel/casinos.
"Self-service is fast becoming the means to improve guest services in the hospitality industry, providing a convenience for those who wish to avoid the long line at the front desk," said Clyde Dishman, director of hospitality industry marketing of NCR Corp.
NCR's EasyPoint kiosk includes an Intel Celeron 2.0GHz processor on which software programs operation on a Windows XP platform can be run. Features include a magnetic stripe reader for swiping credit cards to verify the user, a motion detector that activates the kiosk when a user steps before it, and stereo speakers for providing user prompts. The 15-inch LCD screen is positioned for convenient viewing by average size people.
The kiosks can be optionally equipped with a signature capture device, barcode scanner and a ticket printer.
EasyPoint kiosks are currently used in conjunction with LMS GuestExpress system marketed by Agilysys Inc., which when placed in lobbies of hotel/casinos, enable customers to verify their own reservations, enter credit card information, and enter a signature for verifying charges at other casino facilities. With an attached encoding system, the kiosk also prints up door keys for the guest's room.
Besides providing a self-service option to registering or checking out at the front desk, the kiosks also can promote room upgrades and use of other hotel/casino facilities that can increase sales and profits, Dishman noted.
Dishman added that as system programs are upgraded in the near future, the kiosks will enable guests to place restaurant reservations (both on premises and in other hotel/casinos owned by the same firm), and buy show tickets (which can be immediately printed). They also will enables guests to reserve places in spas, golf courses, hair salons, slot tournaments, and other events and services, he noted.
-James J. Hodl