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The Dark Side Of Online Restaurant Reservations

INTRIGUE, ESPIONAGE, backstabbing: the online restaurant reservations game is more cutthroat than it might appear at first click. Earlier this year, Steven Addison, a.k.a. Jimmy Smits, a.k.a. Hans Gruber—a former OpenTable employee— was brought up on federal wire fraud charges after making hundreds of fake reservations through a competitor’s website to dozens of Chicago-area restaurants. Addison would make the reservations at the busiest times, resulting in no-shows, and it is alleged his scheme cost the restaurants thousands of dollars in lost revenue. While Addison’s foray into the dark side of online reservations might cost him some jail time, for most of us booking online is just the easiest and most convenient way to secure a table. While OpenTable has remained the dominant player in the industry for 20 years, a new array of contenders is entering the market. We take a look at some of the most intriguing systems.

WHAT RESTAURATEURS SAY:

LEE COOPER

Chef/owner, L’abbatoir

“We use OpenTable, but we are looking at other options. It’s not so much because we are unhappy with the service—I see it as somewhere between a great tool and a necessary evil—but from a cost-savings perspective. I don’t really understand computer programming and SEO stuff, that’s their business. It makes sense that they will try and find new ways to grow their business, but if one day restaurant owners and operators feel like they are being pushed too far and are offered a better way to connect with their guests, they’ll take it.”

DYLAN KENNEDY

Operations Manager, Nota Bene

“My entire restaurant career has been with OpenTable, so it’s interesting to see these new options. Nota Bene switched over to YP Dine about six months ago. They’re in the middle of a transition from Bookenda, so on our screens it says Bookenda, but for customers I believe it’s YP Dine. It’s a little more complicated than we’d like right now, but once the learning curve is handled, it’s a great service.”

PATRICK KRISS,

Chef/owner, Alo, Aloette, Alobar

“We use Tock at all three of our restaurants. We used OpenTable before and they’re great, but Tock just made more sense for Alo. We use it to manage the floor as well, so we know who’s sitting where, we can manage the waitlist, so we can text someone and tell them their table’s ready in 15 minutes, and also keep track of how a person likes their martini. It was designed by restaurateurs for restaurateurs, and they know how the business works.”

DAVID MCMILLAN

Chef/co-owner Joe Beef, Le Vin Papillon, Vin Mon Lapin, Etc.

“We were with OpenTable for a while and Bookenda for a while, but eventually they both started to do things that bugged me. We were familiar with the Resy platform through travelling, and we liked the design and the look of it, and then a friend of ours at Fatty Crab told us they were coming to Montreal. I like the fact that I can work inside the app with the designer. I like that you’re reminded that your reservation is up-and-coming. The reps all seem to be former restaurant people who know what’s going on. They’re able to adapt quickly to our plan.”

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