13/01/2011 - 00:00

Sorrento at your fingertips

13/01/2011 - 00:00

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Iconic Northbridge Italian eatery Sorrento Restaurant is moving with the times. Emily Morgan reports.

Sorrento at your fingertips

Webcams sit precariously in each corner of the terracotta-coloured interior, the sign out the front announcing Sorrento Restaurant is “live, online, worldwide” – the Italian family-owned restaurant may be one of the oldest of its kind in Perth, but it is certainly moving with the times.

The latest gadgets sit on the table next to Sorrento’s manager, Sebi Conte, another sign of modernism pervading the 56-year-old Northbridge eatery.

Like Sorrento’s founding owner, Alfonso Di Lanzo, Mr Conte hails from Italy and he notes that moving with technology is important, even for classics like Sorrento.

“You can’t stay behind, otherwise you will be left behind,” he says.

Webcams and iPads are not the only tech toys the restaurant has embraced; it is part of the first crop from the WA food industry jumping on board with the latest trend: real time online reservation systems.

Instead of doing the ring around looking for a table at a restaurant, Perth’s dining patrons can now peruse the internet, seeing what restaurants can seat them at what time thanks to two new booking systems of the same vein as travel websites like wotif and webjet.

Dimmi.com and Bookarestaurant.com, both based in the eastern states, have replaced the old diary and pencil system.

Connected to restaurants’ internal booking management systems, they automatically show potential customers whether they have spare tables, and enable them to book online.

Dimmi’s founder and managing director, Stevan Premutico, told Gusto the system was not just a booking tool, it was more about developing a restaurant’s marketing platform and strategy, extending its online presence to seat customers at tables, ultimately increasing its revenues.

“It’s easy for a restaurateur to be great in the kitchen, the Dimmi business model is designed to now make them great at their own marketing,” he says.

Mr Premutico has also developed booking systems on social networking sites and has given diners the ability to rate restaurants, increasing the interaction between the site, restaurants and their patrons.

Dimmi is partnered with other hospitality and online food review sites such as eatability.com and bestrestaurant.com, exposing the booking system to more consumers.

Judging by the number of restaurants joining Dimmi and bookings taking place in the past year, 2000 and 750,000 respectively, Australians are embracing online booking systems.

Dimmi and bookarestaurant.com moved into the WA market late last year and, since then, both relay positive feedback.

Western Australians are booking online and some of the state’s well-known restaurants such as the Red Herring, The George and Table 78 are making use of the new marketing tool.

“The Perth market and the WA market has been an interesting one for us, it has been very well received by the restaurants and the dining community has jumped on board quicker than most of our other states,” Mr Premutico says.

“It is a transient place, you have got a huge number of interstate and international travellers. If I am booking my flight and I am booking my accommodation online then it makes sense for me to do the same for my restaurant bookings.”

Mr Conte’s anecdotes supported the theory. Sorrento has been with Dimmi and Bookarestaurant for two months and has been monitoring the demographics from the information that comes through the sites.

He says most of the people booking online are travellers, tourists or people in Perth on business.

“The new generations are doing a lot of this sort of thing, but it is more for the tourists and overseas businessmen…for the locals, no, not just yet,” Mr Conte says.

He believes this will change.

“It will get there, one day, I hope so.”

After developing a computerised system for the internal management of restaurant bookings called Respak and disseminating it across 40 countries, Adam Clarke registered the domain name Bookarestaurant in 2003, predicting online booking would be the next adjunct to the digital system.

He held off though, only launching bookarestaurant in September last year in Melbourne and in Perth in November.

“Restaurants back in 2003 were still very much, probably 90 per cent, using the old pen and paper,” Mr Clarke told Gusto.

Bookarestaurant might still be in its infancy, but it is growing at a rapid rate after going viral; the website has just shy of 3000 restaurant members (300 of those in Perth, according to Mr Clarke) and launched its iPhone application three weeks ago, already attracting 400 downloads.

At first glimpse it may be difficult to see how these booking services are profitable considering there is no membership fee for restaurants or patrons making the bookings but with a closer look it becomes evident they could be lucrative.

Once a booking has been made and followed through on, the restaurants pay a fee - $9 in total for bookarestaurant and between $1 and $3 for each person on the booking for Dimmi.

And, being fledgling services, it could be perceived as a risk to jump on board this dotcom initiative. However, Mr Conte wonders what the harm is in signing up.

“It has got to be done … the more experience you have with different things, then you can evolve,” he says.

 

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