In Praise of OpenTable

Each Thursday, I have shared a web site that you that I find very useful, and this week is no exception.  Mrs. Spidey and I don’t eat out often, but when we do, more often than not we make reservations through OpenTable.

OpenTable has been around a while.  We first used it in 2006 on a trip to San Francisco to get a table at Sutro’s at Cliff House in Golden Gate Park.  For the average consumer, the application is very simple.  You choose your city, the time you want to eat, and the number of people joining you.  The site then shows you what restaurants are available at or near that time.  When it presents this list, it also give you a sense of how expensive each restaurant is and the type of cuisine that the restaurant serves.  When you find something you like,  you click on the specific time you want at the restaurant, and a reservation is confirmed.  It’s really that easy.

According to their website, OpenTable has over 14,000 restaurants in its database.  Its core business is restaurant management software, and it manages the reservations book for all or most of these 14,000 restaurants.  That’s why, when you make a reservation, it is instantly in the restaurant’s book.

Like similar sites, OpenTable also asks diners to rate their experience and provide comments.  The site includes more detail on the cuisine, menus, web site information, credit cards accepted, etc.  OpenTable also allows you to download your reservation into Outlook and send the invite to others.  It is a very robust site.  As an example, one restaurant not too far from us, but about 40 minutes outside downtown St. Louis, has 97 reviews.  Restaurants in larger cities will easily have hundreds of reviews.

OpenTable also allows you to make special requests.  At Sutro’s, for example, we requested a table by the windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Sure enough, the table was waiting when we got there, and we watched a beautiful sunset.

Tables by the Window at Sutro's Give You a Great View, Especially at Sunset

As a further incentive, OpenTable has a rewards program that nets users discounts of up to $100 based on points accumulated from making reservations.  If you are a restaurant goer and make reservations anyway, you might as well use OpenTable for the rewards.  Normally, reservations are worth 100 points, but OpenTable offers bonus points for specific restaurants or times.  Rewards start at 2,000 points (a $20  certificate), and sometimes there are 1,000 point bonus for a single reservation.

While we use the Web site, the most spectacular feature is the mobile accessibility of OpenTable.   It has applications for the Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, and Nokia systems.  The big benefit is with GPS-enabled phones.  You can ask OpenTable to “find restaurants near you.”  That really narrows things down quickly.  I have an iPhone and have used the OpenTable application more than the web site itself.

Here are three true stories that have led me to be a big fan of OpenTable:

  1. One spring, we took the kids skiing in Park City.  As we waited for kids where the ski lifts converge mid-mountain (with a pitcher of Bud Light), Mrs. Spidey suggested the two of us go to dinner without the kids that night.  Sitting there, a gondola ride up the mountain from our hotel room, I pulled up the application, found a local restaurant called Chez Betty, showed Mrs. Spidey the menu and made reservations.  It took maybe five minutes to do all this.
  2. This summer, in Las Vegas, we were heading to the Palazzo to see Jersey Boys.  In the cab, Mrs. Spidey told me about, Dos Caminos, a Mexican restaurant she had seen in the Palazzo casino when she picked up the tickets earlier that day.  When the cab got to the Palazzo, I told the application to find restaurants near by.  The restaurant came up, and we made reservations to eat after the show as we passed by the restaurant heading to the theater.
  3. Just last weekend, we were deciding to go out, and we remembered a nearby restaurant that we had heard good things about but had never been to.  It was about 7:40pm or so.  I opened the application, told OpenTable to find restaurants nearby.  The restaurant we wanted, Villa Farotto, came up as available for 8:00pm.  I chose it, and we were off.  It ended up being a very good meal.

In short, I just don’t think you can beat OpenTable for volume of restaurants, for reviews, and, most importantly for ease of use.  Well done.

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