Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Virtues of Open Table

OpenTable is great. The NY Times recent article on them just reminds me of how useful the service is to restaurant goers.

Each restaurant listed has a plethora of information (food, cost, location, hours of operation, special features), but if you need more, they include links to the restaurant's website and menu, if available. They could add a bit more family/kid information in my opinion, though. High chairs? Kid-friendly?

To use it, I go online and make a free reservation for the perfect time (never after 6 these days), and there's an optional feature where I can make special requests (e.g., high chair, corner booth, crayons, secret cake for a birthday). I earn points for each kept reservation which can be redeemed for gift certificates. Each regular reservation earns 100 points and 2,000 points get me a $20 gift certificate to be used within 6 months of issuing at any restaurant listed on Open Table. That's not much really, but I use the service for the convenience, so the reward points are just gravy. As I said, it could use a bit of tweeking for families, but so far, it's one of the most useful tools for handling the logistics. I can quickly check the viability of going out. Not every place is on there, but there are a lot, and they're adding new ones every day. If you'd like a specific restaurant to be listed, they ask that you submit a request.

We've found small family restaurants, though there are many more high end restaurants listed. So if you're traveling to an Open Table city, or you've ever wanted to get the red carpet treatment at a posh restaurant, what better way than to go online and make all sorts of silly requests to make you feel special. And since it's the only such online service, they've got the market cornered.

The NY Times article points out some reasons why users like OpenTable.:

Making a reservation through OpenTable "reduces the inconvenience. Say you want a table on short notice at a busy Manhattan restaurant — Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. Placing a phone call there usually requires calling during business hours, enduring loud jazz for hold music, and talking with a reservationist for a while before finding an acceptable time. OpenTable might give you the same results, but it will do the work in 10 seconds."

"One user said he "liked the one-click cancellation feature. And he likes the convenience of making a reservation at 2 a.m. (One-third of OpenTable’s reservations are made between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.)"

The NY Times adds a few interesting things to consider with regards to the restaurant's ability to remain organized and efficient, which will absolutely impact diners' experiences.

"The software also reveals the idiosyncrasies of thousands of guests. The restaurant staff knows in advance, for instance, that a regular always insists on a table under a particular piece of artwork. They know about another person’s request for kosher food — but only when dining in certain company. And there is the guest so reliably late that staff members know to add 45 minutes to the reservation time."

One restauranteur "likes the information he gleans from the system. “We can know what kind of seating people like,” Mr. Pipes said. “And we can know if they have a favorite server.” And that favorite server can note, ever so discreetly, whether a customer happened to order the restaurant’s $1,000 frittata, or that he is a reliably generous tipper."

"Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, on the other hand, arguably the most popular restaurant in the nation, signed up in early 2003 and Per Se, his New York version, is also there. “Thomas Keller needs more reservations like a hole in the head,” Mr. Meyer said. “But even he knows that anyone truly into hospitality is being disingenuous to say they wouldn’t benefit from all that great guest information provided automatically.”