Restaurants share accolades and reservations about online-booking services.
Seating a restaurant has changed from being an art to being a science.
Restaurant reservation sites like OpenTable—and smaller competitors like RezBook (from UrbanSpoon), CityEats, and MySeat.us—allow operators to seat a dining room according to computer analytics, which optimize seating arrangements, correctly populate tables of all sizes, and calculate table turns.
Restaurants across the U.S. tend to react passionately, either loving or hating the move to these systems.
“OpenTable is a godsend,” says Paola Bottero, owner and executive chef of Paola’s in New York City.
Her restaurant is jammed each night between 7 and 7:30, when around 90 people arrive, she says. OpenTable allows the manager to make notes—that a guest is waiting at the bar, or a table of people has partially arrived, for example.
“It makes everything easier to remember,” Bottero explains. “And that saves a lot of time.”
However, despite the positives, there are restaurant operators who prefer not to use OpenTable.
“People want to spend their money where they have an emotional connection to the business,” says Ina Pinkney, owner of Ina’s in Chicago. “Hearing a welcoming human voice on the phone, who can happily take a reservation, ask pertinent questions, and book the reservation makes perfect sense to us.”
Trading Personal Touches for Efficiency
And in fact, the loss of human touch is what some operators dislike about restaurant reservation systems.
“A reservation is personal,” says Luigi Diotaiuti, owner and chef of Al Tiramisu in Washington. “You talk on the phone to people, you chat to them, sometimes they tell you a little story about why they are celebrating. Any small detail I can get is important.”
But Ron Paul, president and CEO of Technomic, Chicago, pooh-poohs this idea.
“Consumers calling restaurants often get put on hold so it’s not always a good thing to have phone reservations,” he says. “Having people taking reservations at busy times doesn’t work well. The phone is a poor instrument.”