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Tribune Reminds Us That OpenTable Can Be Tough For Restaurants

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 15, 2012 6:40PM

2012_11_15_OpenTable.jpg Practically everyone uses OpenTable, often without thinking about it very hard. What's to think about? Log on, see what restaurants are available and make a quick reservation for saturday night. It doesn't require a phone call and it's so fast as to be reflexive. Trouble is, it's not always great for restaurants. The Tribune's Mark Caro took a closer look at the costs of Open Table for restaurants.

Why do we say the Trib "reminds us" that OpenTable has some issues? Well, this story broke about two years ago and we made a big hullaballoo about it then. A San Francisco paper revealed how much OpenTable charged a restaurant per reservation and talked to a bunch of restaurants about how much those hurt their bottom line and forced them to raise prices, all thanks to your "free" reservation. Those restaurants were already operating on slim margins when they adopted OpenTable, and there was a debate over whether the system increased business enough to justify its effect on their balance sheets.

Caro doesn't really bring anything new to the discussion, though he does talk to some local chefs to get their take on the situation. Chef Matthias Meges at Yusho refuses to use the system, and the director of operations for The Publican revealed that their OpenTable bill amounted to almost $4,000/month.

There are also a few more financial details like subscription costs, per person costs and the difference between booking through a restaurant's website and the OpenTable website. In case you don't want to pay for the article, here's the short version: It's expensive, raises prices for everyone and you should make reservations by phone instead. Remember, many restaurants hold back reservations from the computer system - we've had great luck getting into "full" restaurants just by making a simple phone call.