We all use it. Whether trying to book a large party, or just going out with a loved one for dinner, there is no doubt that OpenTable is a useful service. Founded in 1998 OpenTable has filled a very important niche in the restaurant reservation market providing a seamless service for restaurants and patrons. However, as with most things, OpenTable has a downside, especially for restaurants.
For a consumer, the system is perfect. You can quickly and easily search for reservations at specific restaurants or for specific times/locations. The interface is simple and there are loyalty rewards for consistent use and repeat visits. You can also quickly browse menus, reviews, and special offers all from your mobile phone. So it comes as no surprise that OpenTable has grown an enormous market share of happy restaurant bookers.
For restaurants, OpenTable is more complicated. OpenTable is a vendor and the product they provide is best in class. The online reservation book is easy to use, learn, and customize. They provide live internet connections so your reservation book is constantly up-to-date. OpenTable also provides useful analytics data on customers, turn times, cover counts, etc. and they act as a marketing service getting new customers in your door.
All of the benefits above do not come cheap though. OpenTable charges restaurants a monthly fee for being on the platform and an additional fee for each person sat through online reservations. These fees can add up to be thousands of dollars a month which can seem prohibitively expensive to some operators.
Some restaurateurs have tried to avoid the high cost of OpenTable by moving to an internal booking system, a competitor, or going reservation less. Restaurants that are perennially booked solid can make this transition; but for most operations, they will find they cannot afford to not be on the platform. The lack of a viable alternative (at least for now) is what makes OpenTable so powerful. While the costs can be maddening, OpenTable, for most restaurants, is a necessary evil.