Table for two at 8
I got this e-mail recently from a pr person for OpenTable.com, the online reservations system:
I noticed on your blog that you wrote about OpenTable a few months back (May 18), and I thought you might be interested in learning a bit more about its recent growth in the Baltimore area. ...
I had noticed that the system has added new restaurants lately, and not just fancy ones (Mustang Alley's!!??), so I said sure, and shot off some e-mail questions to Ann Shepherd, senior director of consumer marketing for the company. Some of the answers were a little pitchy, but there was enough of interest to make them worth repeating here in shortened form: ...
What sparked the growth in the Baltimore area this year?
We're currently at 98 restaurants online -- that represents a 38% growth over last year. ...Besides actively selling in the market, we've had terrific referrals from our existing customers. Restaurateurs and their employees tend to be our biggest advocates and often "sell" their industry friends on the OpenTable system.
More Baltimore restaurateurs understand the benefit of replacing their old index-card method of noting diner preferences with the OpenTable system. OpenTable allows restaurateurs to maintain a guest database so they can treat every diner as a VIP by remembering their and dislikes, such as allergies, special occasions and other information that can enhance the dining experience.
Why are there sometimes odd times available like 6:15 and 6:45 but not 6:30, and yet there are tables available if you call?
The availability that you see on OpenTable.com is a direct reflection of the way that the restaurant has set up its reservation book. Each restaurant sets its book up differently, to reflect the unique dining patterns and management needs of that business. When a diner searches OpenTable.com for restaurant reservations, the results reflect the actual availability at that restaurant at that point in time. Because a restaurant may have flexibility to reconfigure tables (combining two tables for two into one table for four, for example) or reassess the expected completion time of a previous dining party, hostesses are sometimes able to accommodate diners by phone. However, it's important to note that the availability of tables in restaurants changes quite literally on an hourly basis, as diners make, cancel and tweak reservations. OpenTable.com users often report reserving a table online after having been told over the phone that the restaurant couldn't accommodate them.
Have you made any recent changes in your site to make it more user friendly?
We recently added some new features to search, including the "Find a Restaurant by Name" feature that allows diners to type a restaurant name in the search box to find local matches on OpenTable. We also enhanced our "Search by Location" feature to remember a user's selected geography so that it is pre-populated on the next visit. Finally, we made improvements to our OpenTable Favorites section, an area where registered users can select and store their favorite restaurants.
If you do decide to use the system, be sure to sign up for the Diner Rewards program. I haven't heard much negative about OpenTable, but if your experience hasn't been good, let me know.