OpenTable still providing five-star service after 18 years in a changing market

Founded in 1998 by San Francisco-based entrepreneur Chuck Templeton, OpenTable, Inc. has been inviting diners to make reservations online and helping restaurants manage them once they arrive for nearly 20 years.

Of course, user expectations of online services – and the methods used to access them – have evolved a great deal since Templeton was inspired by his wife’s frustration at trying to book a restaurant over the phone, a fact the company has acknowledged and readily adapted to over the years, Ziv Schierau, OpenTable Canada’s restaurant relations and sales lead for national accounts, tells

“Mobile is the way everything has moved, and we’ve certainly seen that in our technology as well as with diners,” he says. “We’ve seen the reservations made through our apps or mobile platform go from 13 per cent just a few years ago to over 40 per cent now.”

Back in 1998, of course, restaurants taking advantage of OpenTable’s front-of-house technology were provided with a massive all-in-one touchscreen terminal that “at the time was very advanced but today we’d call it clunky,” Schierau admits. “Today we’re in a cloud world, so in March 2014 we launched Guest Center, which is an iPad app for restaurants.”

From the beginning, OpenTable has functioned as a two-pronged company, with diners invited to use both its website and mobile app to discover restaurants, browse menus, view photos, and read reviews in addition to booking reservations at no charge.

“The idea is to keep guests coming back, of course,” Schierau says.

Instead, the restaurants themselves are charged a fee per diner, and encouraged to take advantage of OpenTable’s technology-based services, including Guest Center, to provide customers with a more personalized experience.

“It’s a data-driven system, so for example it can remember things like a guest’s favourite wine, or if they have a seating preference, or allergies – so that staff can really connect with guests every time to provide an unforgettable dining experience,” Schierau says.

OpenTable’s restaurant subscribers can also use the company’s technology to book reservations, add guests to the floor if space is available, add guests to the wait list if the restaurant is full, and communicate with waiting guests with a few taps.

In the case of Guest Center (below), they can even provide guests with estimated wait times, sending updates via text message.

Guest Center app

“One of my BC restaurant customers is located in a mall, and they were sharing how they were able to send text to their guests that they were adding them to the wait list… so that their guests could continue shopping and not have to worry about losing their spot in line,” Schierau says.

Every month the company seats 17 million diners through online reservations at more than 33,000 restaurants around the world. Since 1998 it has seated more than 940 million diners globally, he says.

OpenTable also takes frequent advantage of its network to conduct regular surveys, including a recent study of more than 7,300 diners across Canada that was released last October and discovered, among other findings, that 82 per cent of Canadian diners regularly read menus online before dining out; that 90 per cent of Canadian diners would like to use technology access a busy restaurant, and 81 per cent would like it to let them know how long the wait for a table would be; that 61 per cent would like restaurants to know their seating preferences before walking in; and that only six per cent of Canadian diners are “very likely” to download a restaurant’s app.

“Diners love their devices, and they’re using them more and more, so we’re always suggesting that restaurants invest in technology to prepare for the future of what diners are looking for, and use it to elevate their hospitality and service,” Schierau says.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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