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Planning on moving forward with getting Open Table set up at my restaurant.

Seems like a win/win. Cost is minimal and will help broaden my exposure.

Am I missing something? What pitfalls have you heard about the system and how it works? Logistically, does it move your program forward or has it been a hinderance?

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Cost is minimal

I think that's the big question. The restaurant business operates on narrow profit margins. Each minimal cost eats away a little at that margin. Whether it's a couple of dollars to the credit card company, or a dollar to OpenTable for a web reservation, it all narrows the already narrow margin. This is pretty much the only complaint I've heard about OpenTable: that it's yet another small cost.

As a consumer, I love OpenTable for many reasons. And there are definitely reservations I've made through OpenTable that I wouldn't have made without a given restaurant being on the web system. At the same time, I've used OpenTable to make a lot of reservations that I'd otherwise have made by phone. (Though I'm trying to do this less, as a courtesy.) In those instances, the restaurant is losing money. I guess it comes down to which outweighs.

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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A very nice restaurant, which closed this past year, used Open Table. I tried to make a reservation and the site told me nothing was available until after 8 pm. Friends were headed to the opera, so that was not possible. I called, on the off chance they could help. It was great to talk to a live person, they had no problem booking our table at an appropriate hour (and they gave good guidance to come earlier for a well paced dinner.) Turned out we had the restaurant almost to ourselves. I'm still kicking myself that I did not mention the "no tables available" message I received.

Good news, the restaurant owner / chef is about to open a new place - not his, but it sounds like it may be great, if further from home than I would like.

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In my experience, some (if not all) restaurants only open a certain number of slots for open table. So, just because open table says there are no tables it might not be true...you should call or go in person to double check.

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Definitely correct. It's often possible to get a table on the phone when you couldn't get one on OpenTable. It's also possible to get on the waiting list, look at options outside the OpenTable search parameters, find out the standby policy, etc. So you should always call.

At the same time, what I've heard is that there are sometimes programming errors with OpenTable, especially with new accounts where the restaurant's staff isn't fully conversant with the system. There have been times when I've seen a restaurant listed as closed when I knew it would be open, and I've heard plenty of other stories. So, again, always call.

From the restaurant's perspective, it's important to get trained on OpenTable if you're going to rely on it. Otherwise, as you can see, there can be lost opportunities.

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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Do you know whether restaurants pay opentable for cancelled reservations? I recently dined at two separate restaurants through opentable where I received an email saying my reservation was cancelled after I ate, even though I showed up and dined. I've got to suspect this was policy - cancel reservations who show up to save money.

Definitely correct. It's often possible to get a table on the phone when you couldn't get one on OpenTable. It's also possible to get on the waiting list, look at options outside the OpenTable search parameters, find out the standby policy, etc. So you should always call.

At the same time, what I've heard is that there are sometimes programming errors with OpenTable, especially with new accounts where the restaurant's staff isn't fully conversant with the system. There have been times when I've seen a restaurant listed as closed when I knew it would be open, and I've heard plenty of other stories. So, again, always call.

From the restaurant's perspective, it's important to get trained on OpenTable if you're going to rely on it. Otherwise, as you can see, there can be lost opportunities.

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I love the convenience of Open Table, especially now that there is a version of the software for mobile phones.

I've also dined at a restaurant and then received an email that my reservation was canceled. It happened to occur during a promotion where you received extra dining points. I emailed Open table customer service and I received my points.

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I try to use Open Table as much as possible as I find it very convenient, although I have learned to call as well if Open Table deems my preference unavailable. I like the features where I can download the reservation to my Outlook and that I can forward the reservation to the rest of my party via email.

I find that many restaurants direct my reservations calls to voice mail, creating uncertainty until they confirm my reservation. With Open Table, I know right away whether I have a reservation or not.

When debating between two restaurants, I will choose the one the takes Open Table for these reasons. I suspect I am not alone in this behavior and would argue that Open Table is likely to stimulate demand for the restaurants which use the service.

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I just used Open Table for the first time this past week and was very impressed with the convenience/communication. I plan on using it again. I loved the fact that reservations emails were sent to the rest of my party (I asked them if I could provide their emails to Open Table before I finished the reservation as a courtesy in case they might have been concerned about future unwanted emails) so there was a hardcopy for everyone.

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I've used Open Table in several restaurants I've worked in, and the biggest piece of advice I can give if you're planning on buying is to make sure you and your staff use it to its full advantage, because as Fat Guy said, the cost can add up. You can use OT to pull up all sorts of useful little reports about when people are coming in the most, who's made reservations more than 5, 10, whatever times, and you can use it to build a big database about your guests preferences and behavior. One place I worked had the little printer attached so that OT printed a ticket with all the guest's info, which was useful in such a large restaurant. The servers would keep the little chits and write notes about the guests on the back, like 'loves Mer Soleil' or 'likes her cosmo x way,' or 'has a severe gluten allergy.' Then they would give them back to me and I would put the new notes back in the guest files.

Obviously, OT appeals to my anal retentive nature!

"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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  • 2 weeks later...
A very nice restaurant, which closed this past year, used Open Table. I tried to make a reservation and the site told me nothing was available until after 8 pm. Friends were headed to the opera, so that was not possible.

I think the restaurant might have expected to be very busy before the opera and not wanted to pay OpenTable the $/seat so didn't leave any tables available online for the pre-opera time slots. I think the reservation charge is too high unless you're a fine dining establishment, we tried it but we were getting reservations for 6 that spent $50. It's been a while but I think the reservation cost us $9 ($1.50 per person). Not great for margin, it was happening way too often so we quit.

OpenTable is great for advertising, new places would do well to sign up but for established places it depends on what your marketing strategy is, and how well OpenTable is established in your market area.

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OT is fantastic. I hate waiting on the phone to make a rez. A very nice local place now gets less of my business since they dropped OT.

If you don't have OT, you'd better spend a lot on phone staff. I hate waiting on hold.

Most assessments of the cost of OT seem to focus on the fees paid vs more tables booked. Don't forget that if you are phone rez only, you need to hire more people to give decent service.

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I haven't heard anybody in the restaurant business suggest that OpenTable allowed a restaurant to hire one less person. If it allowed for one less employee, it would certainly pay for itself.

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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I wonder how many restos look at their phone people as critically as other businesses do....generating productivity numbers, time on hold numbers etc. I'm sure that the big ones eg Daniel etc, but I'd be amazed if the average place does.

If they monitor this stuff they'd probably find that their phone operation is very inefficient with lots of hang-ups etc. To hire enough people to make the metrics right would astound many owners.

Edited by gfweb (log)
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I love OpenTable. I use it two ways.

1) When I have a specific restaurant in mind for a specific day, I check OpenTable and if the restaurant/time is there, I make a reservation. If it shows booked, and I still really want that restaurant/day/time, I'd call to see if there are tables available, but if I wasn't totally sold on that place, I'd go to...

2) When I have a specific day/time but don't know where I want to go, I browse through OpenTable to remind me which restaurants are out there that I've been wanting to try. Sometimes I see a new place, and click over to see the menu. When I'm doing this, if a restaurant shows unavailable, I don't usually consider it. I know I've read that they often hold tables back and there might be tables available if I call, but when I'm there, ready to make a reservation, I just want to do it, I don't want to have to call. Also, I figure if all their OpenTable tables are booked, they are probably pretty full that night and since I don't like to dine in crowded restaurants, I'd rather choose a restaurant with more open slots, which seems to me less crowding.

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  • 3 months later...

Do you know whether restaurants pay opentable for cancelled reservations? I recently dined at two separate restaurants through opentable where I received an email saying my reservation was cancelled after I ate, even though I showed up and dined. I've got to suspect this was policy - cancel reservations who show up to save money.

Definitely correct. It's often possible to get a table on the phone when you couldn't get one on OpenTable. It's also possible to get on the waiting list, look at options outside the OpenTable search parameters, find out the standby policy, etc. So you should always call.

At the same time, what I've heard is that there are sometimes programming errors with OpenTable, especially with new accounts where the restaurant's staff isn't fully conversant with the system. There have been times when I've seen a restaurant listed as closed when I knew it would be open, and I've heard plenty of other stories. So, again, always call.

From the restaurant's perspective, it's important to get trained on OpenTable if you're going to rely on it. Otherwise, as you can see, there can be lost opportunities.

In answer, no the restaurant does not pay if the reservation was cancelled-however, as an operator, I can tell you-the restaurant in the end is not saving that much-they only pay $1 per cover in addition to the monthly fee...if they're cancelling reservations in the system to save money, they have bigger problems. If you contact OpenTable when you get an email, you can tell them you showed up and you still get your diner points-happened to me once by accident.

Other than that, I totally believe in OT as an operator-it allows you to market your restaurant (they have endless opportunities for special events and holidays), most cities also offer bonus points to diners if they reserve in off-peak times (early in the week, early evening, etc...) You can also set up your OT account so that diners can post reviews of your restaurant on the OT site- but they have to have reserved a table and shown up for the reservation, which minimizes the BS idiots that you sometimes see on CitySearch, Yelp, etc...

You do have to build the cost of the equip and cover fees into your operating budget, but it's such a small line item that it's definitely worth it-a restaurant doing $2.8M/yr only paid $250 a month as an example...

"have a sense of humor about things...you'll need it" A. Bourdain

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