A month ago, San Francisco restaurateur Mark Pastore of Incanto wrote an impassioned blog post, Is OpenTable Worth it?, in which he bemoaned the reservation system's fees and encouraged his readers to better support restaurants, many of which are operating on the edge of business viability, by calling them directly for reservations, thereby reserving OpenTable's substantial fees for the restaurants themselves.
It's a complicated relationship that restaurant owners have with OpenTable. There's no question that OpenTable fills seats that would otherwise go empty. And it's ridiculous to pine for the pre-OpenTable era, when finding a reservation meant calling establishment after establishment and hoping for the elusive available table at the time you wanted. Even Pastore, in an e-mail to me, relented:
I certainly don't want guests to go back to booking all reservations by telephone or as you suggest going serially from one website to the next to find a good table match. Yes, both of those scenarios suck.
What does he want, then? He wants OpenTable to not have a monopoly on the reservation business:
How about some good old fashioned American competition to keep pricing honest? And how about someone figuring out a way to monetize this online service on an ad model, like Gmail or any other of countless web services, rather than as something that ultimately siphons hefty fees from the diners. And how about someone figuring out a way to present a more trustworthy and comprehensive directory of all bookable restaurants out there, not just the closed universe (OT.com) of those who are paying thousands for the privilege of being listed?
At the very least, Pastore would like to see a more restaurant-friendly fee structure. Based on some admittedly old available data, he believes that an OpenTable reservation that costs a restaurant about $10 (taking into account monthly and per-booking fees) would completely negate a typical 5 percent profit on a $200 dinner check. OpenTable takes issue with Pastore's math in its own post. Also check out this discussion on Chow.com.
Leaving the table It was with my conversation with Pastore in mind that I talked to Chuck Templeton of GrubHub, the OpenTable of take-out. Not coincidentally, Templeton was the founder of OpenTable in 1998. He's already made one fortune from restaurants (OpenTable went public in 2009). It appears he's at it again, with a similar, if less audacious and more open plan.
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