Online table reservation service Restaurant Hub has a new way to combat empty restaurants following a spike in UberEats and orders for home delivery.
The company, which has been in market since 2016, last week launched an 'early bird' feature to its booking service, which offers diners up to 50 per cent discount at restaurants during off-peak times.
Around 140 of 1000 restaurants it has on board had already signed on to use the service, Restaurant Hub managing director Mark Gregory said.
"We're not reinventing the web, what we're doing is helping restaurateurs," Gregory said.
"The great thing for the restaurant is that it's great for the customer.
"From a business point of view from the restaurateur, it's off-peak tables - tables that would normally be empty ... so you don't only do it for revenue but it's also about creating a nice atmosphere."
Globally, 35 to 55 per cent of all dining reservations now come through digital means.
In New Zealand, Restaurant Hub accounts for 25 to 35 per cent of all electronic reservations.
Gregory said the concept for discount off-peak dining came from US restaurateurs.
"There's been a change in dining over the last three years. People, from Monday to Thursday, have been significantly ordering in and doing UberEats and restaurateurs wanted to entice them to come back out to restaurants and so entice them with a discount on food," he said.
Gregory said consumers' dining habits had changed and the feature was a way to attract more people back to restaurants to dine in.
"Restaurateurs in New Zealand to a certain extent have had to become hunter-gathers and can't rely on enough people to walk through their doors anymore," he said.
"People are eating out more often, and more affordably, so a challenge for restaurateurs is how to feed more people when we are going to earn less money."
Restaurant Hub exists in other markets, in the form of Bookatable in the UK, OpenTable in the US, Quandoo in Japan and Dimmi in Australia, and the concept of early discount dining also exists in those markets.
Simon Gault, celebrity chef and founder of Auckland Viaduct restaurant Giraffe, was one of the first Auckland restaurants to sign up to the early bird feature.
Gault said he did not earn money from offering the service but it was good to fill otherwise empty tables. He said having more people in the restaurant at quiet times would entice other full-paying customers to dine in.
We're literally paying for those people to sit there, but people attract people.
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"Early bird is one of those things that we make no money on, however, I've still got chefs here, still got waiters here at the times that are not peak, so I want to fill the restaurant," he said.
"In fact we're literally paying for those people to sit there, but people attract people ... it's a way of advertising ourselves."
Gault said the margins in restaurants were not good enough to give a 50 per cent discount on food ordinarily but filling the restaurant was the drawcard.
Figures from a recent industry report reveal takeaway food services was the fastest-growing sector within the hospitality industry last year. The sector is now worth $274.6 million, up from $2599.4m in 2017.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said UberEats and other on-demand food delivery services had disrupted traditional hospitality and restaurants had to adapt to attract customers into restaurants.
"Some businesses have embraced the technology and are using that in their business but obviously those commission rates are pretty high still and it does impact the bottom line for businesses," Bidois said.
"We didn't have the option before to get amazing cuisine at home, so I think in some ways it does have an impact on the number of people that would be coming into a restaurant.
"But studies have also shown the food dollar keeps growing and growing. While the spend has increased in restaurants, where that food is being eaten has changed."
NZME, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport, holds a 40 per stake in Restaurant Hub.