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Making Restaurant Rez Online


rhubarbd
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I'm curious -- how many people out there are making restaurant reservations online rather than over the phone? I never do, but I've been reading that more + more people are. This is (potentially) for a story i'm working on ... so if you have anything interesting to share on the subject, i'd love to hear about it. Thanks in advance.

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I've only used OpenTable a handful of times, and for the most part, those reservations have been for out-of-state dinners. I do occasionally log on to OT first to see if they have a variety of times available, but normally end up calling the restaurant directly. I guess I find the person-to-person contact a bit more hospitable!

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I've done it a few times. Although I will say, that I sometimes think doing via the phone is a better move for a few reasons.

I get the impression that restaurants don't make all of their "inventory" available to places like OpenTable.com I've seen cases where it shows "no availability" for your desired time, but if you call, you can get it. Also, from reading Fat Guy's book, I got the impression that to be known as a regular, it helps if the restaurant knows you when you make the reso. Doing so on-line seems like it could be more "anonymous".

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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I've done it a few times.  Although I will say, that I sometimes think doing via the phone is a better move for a few reasons.

I get the impression that restaurants don't make all of their "inventory" available to places like OpenTable.com    I've seen cases where it shows "no availability" for your desired time, but if you call, you can get it.  Also, from reading Fat Guy's book, I got the impression that to be known as a regular, it helps if the restaurant knows you when you make the reso. Doing so on-line seems like it could be more "anonymous".

I use Open table all the time. It is rare that I can not get a reservation I want that way. The only tables I have had trouble with are those in places like The French laundry or Per Se. I think it works great. I also believe that one is not fully anonymous on OT.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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I, too, like using Open Table...sometimes it saves me from having to deal with a busy signal or waiting on hold for what can seem like forever.

I've used it for reservations here in NYC, and when traveling to both San Francisco and Las Vegas. I've accrued a fair number of "points," but have never used those.

I've also used restaurant web sites for the same purpose; on our recent trip to Italy, I made at least 3 reservations via the restaurant sites.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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I use OpenTable regularly. No getting put on hold by a harried hostess, make a reservation at any time regardless of the restaurant's hours, and you get points that can be converted to dining dollars. A regular is a regular, easily identified whether the reservation is made over the phone or online.

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I use OpenTable regularly.  No getting put on hold by a harried hostess, make a reservation at any time regardless of the restaurant's hours, and you get points that can be converted to dining dollars.  A regular is a regular, easily identified whether the reservation is made over the phone or online.

what if one were to switch around between doing it on line and via the phone?

As far as availability is concerned, I was in Las Vegas earlier this year. My friends and I were trying to think of where to eat one night. We finally settled on a place (Delmonico Steak House at the Venetian). One of the guys volunteered to make the reservation. He had his laptop with him, so he hopped onto Open Table. Nothing available at the time we wanted (we were going to a show afterwards, so we weren't super flexible, either). So, he picked up the phone and called. And got a table for the exact time we had originally wanted.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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I use Open Table 1-2 times per week. I usually use it from my cell phone's browser, as we decide where to go while in the car and its more convenient than calling information to get the number, etc. Love Open Table, as it allows restaurant owners to get your requests for a particular table, a quiet section of the restaurant, etc. in writing. I also find that using Open Table gives the restaurant a heads-up that you're a repeat customer, fwiw.

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I'm online a lot so when I'm interested in getting a table for a restaurant that I think will be busy on the night I plan on dining I'll just hop over to Open Table. I use it often and have never had a problem. Like the previous poster stated though, if the particular time slot is unavailable on Open Table I'll call and often get a table for around the same time.

My rule of thumb.... call only if I can't get a reservation online.

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I use Open Table very frequently. Like most online commerce, it's certainly convenient to make a reservation late at night, rather than spend a lot of time speed-dialing, being put on hold and using up valuable time if busy at work. The dining cheques you receive are a nice bonus. The only minor problem I've noticed is that certain restaurants in some cities limit the openings. Had to settle for an early time at a popular San Francisco restaurant recently if by Open Table (one month ahead) or get a better time via phone. But I don't think this happens that much.

Mark A. Bauman

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I am split - if I am making a reservation for a week or more out, I typically use Open Table, and have never had any trouble getting seats at the time I want (of course, I'm not usually looking for the hottest place in town, either). If it's shorter-term I tend to call so I can chat about what might be available. My understanding of OpenTable is that even if you call the restaurant they end up entering you into the OpenTable system (customers are only seeing a small part of what is really a comprehensive front-of-house management system). So I don't really see how it would affect being classified as a "regular." Could be wrong there, though...

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
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I also use OpenTable routinely, so routinely that a restaurant that's not on OpenTable is significantly less likely to get my business: not because I particularly care one way or the other, but because it's so much more convenient to use it than to look up the restaurant's phone number, figure out whether the restaurant is likely to be staffed at the particular moment that I'm calling, decide whether or not the restaurant is likely to be too swamped with customers at the moment that I'm calling (who wants to call during the lunch rush?), remember to call at another time if there's no answer, assess the English skills and general reliability of the person who answers the phone and takes the reservation, and finally hope that the reservation was actually made correctly.

I'm not a member of OpenTable, so unless OT tracks me by my email addess(es) it does not know whether I'm a repeat customer (apart from my self-reporting, as it asks you if you've been to particular restaurant before) at a particular establishment. So I don't earn points, but I'm not interested in dining points in any case.

On rare occasions (typically when my party is too large to book via OpenTable) I call the restaurant directly, but otherwise have very good success using it. I also routinely make special requests (particular table, heads up about a birthday, etc., heads up re making a theatre curtain) and have never had them go unacknowledged.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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We had the option to add on line reservations to our website when we got new software for our reservations (see no shows thread), but decided against it.I much prefer to ba able to talk to our guests on the phone, or reply to emails individually.

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OpenTable's web reservations product is a terrific system. I use it all the time. Perhaps the most powerful feature is its ability to search for reservations that match certain criteria. For example, with a single search, you can identify every OpenTable-enabled restaurant in a given neighborhood that has a table for four available tomorrow night in a given time frame.

OpenTable does have weaknesses, though. Those searches by availability, for example, are limited by the universe of restaurants that participate in OpenTable. In addition, OpenTable online is not a good way to get a hard-to-get reservation. What jsmeeker says, "I got the impression that to be known as a regular, it helps if the restaurant knows you when you make the reso," is absolutely true. Several replies to his comment have missed the point. Sure, after you make a reservation, OpenTable tells the restaurant who you are. But that doesn't help you get a reservation in the first place.

Just about every in-demand restaurant has levels of availability of tables: there are the tables that are available to the whole world, there are tables that can only be reserved by a manager, there are tables that are held for VIPs until the day of. Then there are tables that don't really exist until someone in command makes it happen. This is something they'll do for regulars: even if the restaurant is fully booked they'll take you and squeeze you in somehow -- any restaurant above a given size knows it's going to have some no-shows, or a table that finishes early, or they can haul one extra table out of storage and make space somehow.

So, Reservations 101: if you're calling to make a reservation at a restaurant where you're a regular, you tell them who you are before you ask for the reservation. Once that happens, you're into human territory. OpenTable online simply doesn't offer that kind of flexibility. In addition, even if you're not a regular, a good reservationist is going to be able to do more for you than a computer: the reservationist can put you on a waiting list (not possible with OpenTable), give you tips on when they might get cancellations, etc. There's no computerized substitute for that.

So yeah, OpenTable's online system is tremendously convenient and it's excellent for most purposes, but for hard-to-get reservations you should definitely call.

Also, bear in mind that restaurants pay OpenTable for every online reservation. So you can save them a buck by calling.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Open Table is fantastic. Use it all the time. In fact I tend to only go to places that are on Open Table (with notable exceptions of course)!

No screwing around with a busy phone or being put on hold (I will hang up after 30 sec).

I can see what's available before the place is open...or during the lunch rush.

I cannot see why every place isn't using it unless they are booked 100% of the time.

Is the cost so high that an extra table a night wouldn't pay for it?

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Mee too - I use Open Table all of the time with no problems. Restaurants I go to regularly still recognize my name and greet me the same way they would have if I had made a phone call. Also, I've put special requests in and had no problem with them recognizing those.

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My only problem with open table is that one local place requires a phone call-back to confirm, thus making use of Open Table pointless.

I've talked with them about this, strongly suggesting that an email response would be as good for them and preferable to patrons. But no, they "want a personal contact".

What a PITA, if the place wasn't so great I'd blow them off.

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Also, bear in mind that restaurants pay OpenTable for every online reservation. So you can save them a buck by calling.

It's not just a buck you save the restaurant, it's $1 per cover. So a ressie of 4 costs the establishment $4 if it's made through the Opentable system. However, if you go through the restaurant's website (and they have it coded properly) then it's a 25 cents per cover, or $1 for a 4-top.

We have used the system at our restaurants for 10 years now and despite the costs associated -- cover fees, equipment rental -- we're never going back. Too many frequent diners have made it their only method. Plus, the marketing and operations aspects make the old pencil and book system as antiquated as handprinted checks and flywheels in the kitchen...

Edited by Bakerman (log)

Michael Mindel

Vice President, Marketing

Il Fornaio Restaurants & Bakeries

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