More and More Restaurants Offering Online Reservations. Fad or Future?
Since I have spent some time in the technology field, I’ve been following the progress of OpenTable, the restaurant reservation system for some time. I’ve noticed it growing by leaps and bounds, though its takeoff has been a bit slower in Portland than other places.
As a frequent restaurant patron, I find myself using the system more and more frequently. I like to get the general feel of how crowded/popular a restaurant is by browsing available time slots. It is simple, quick, and good for those of us who try to schedule a week worth of reservations at a time.
About a year ago, I was in a restaurant office, and the person taking the calls took me through some of the things they use the system for. Some of you might be surprised to hear they tracked who canceled, who frequently showed up late/no showed, birthdays, anniversaries, slow eaters, problem diners, etc. As she explained to me, “I have a busy Friday night, and two callers are holding for reservations. One frequently cancels, or usually takes forever to turn the table. The other tends to be good tipper (yes, they tracked that too). Which one do you think I’m going to give the last table to?”
Last I heard they were going to use caller ID to pull up the reservation history before they even decided if they were going to answer the phone. Makes perfect sense to me, but is still a bit scary.
Last week, The NY Times wrote an article about OpenTable.
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.
Doug Washington, a co-owner of Town Hall, said the notes were not just helpful, they are occasionally indispensable. Next to the name of one regular, who has a habit of bringing in women he is not married to, is an instruction to make sure the man’s wife has not booked a separate table for the same day.
Another frequent guest asks the restaurant to send over dessert compliments of the chef but to put the charge on the guest’s bill. Of another, who takes many of his first dates to Town Hall, the instructions read, “Do not treat like a regular!”
Over the last year, quite a few restaurants in Portland have adopted the system, even though they pay per diner for the service. Names like 23Hoyt, Aquariva, Bluehour, and Terroir now take net reservations this way. One interesting feature is the list of Top 10 Restaurants you are presented with when you go to the OpenTable site. The current Portland list is:
- Jakes Famous Crawfish
- Ruth’s Chris
- McCormick & Schmick’s Harborside
- The Heathman
- The Melting Pot
- M&S Grill
- Jake’s Grill
- McCormicks & Schmick’s Seafood
Looks like there are lots of business admin’s out there using OpenTable. How about you? Would you make an internet reservation?