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Alinea Owner's Elaborate Joke On OpenTable Yields Cease & Desist Letter, Lots Of Toy Dinosaurs

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 14, 2017 3:26PM

The dinosaur that would have become the OpenTableSaurus.

Legal disputes are often technical, dry and, frankly, boring to those uninitiated into the minutiae of statutes, regulations and certified mail. But once in a while, someone responds to a legal threat with such gusto (remember when CH Distillery renamed their cocktail the Cease and Desist?) that one can't help but smile. That's exactly what happened when I read Nick Kokonas's response to a Cease and Desist letter from OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation system.

Kokonas, you may remember, is the creator and owner of Tock, a restaurant ticketing system that, Kokonas claims, radically reduces no-shows, increases revenue and improves the way restaurants run. Apparently, during a slightly wine-fueled Friday afternoon, Kokonas and his team decided it would be a cute marketing idea to send-up OpenTable, which is the big dog in the restaurant reservation industry but often draws the ire of chefs and owners.

"One day I was talking with Kyle — he’s our entire marketing department — when I thought, you know what would be funny for the National Restaurant Association show this Spring is if we simply passed out toy dinosaurs that said “” on them."

Because OpenTable is using antiquated technology, you see. Old. Like a dinosaur. It gets better.

"First thing we did? Alibaba for some toy dinos. It turns out there are tons of them to choose from but I insisted on a Brontosaurus only. Cases were made for other species but, no, in my mind it had to be a Bronto. Why? First and foremost, this is a very large creature, one of the biggest to ever walk earth, estimated at 17 to 19 tons. But more importantly it had the proverbial “Brain the size of a Walnut” powering that big, slow animal. To top it off — a vegetarian. Now I’m fine with vegetarians personally but if you have to power 17 tons with just leaves and grass? Not a good plan."

Kokonas's team also bought a giant inflatable dinosaur to use on the show floor. They also created a website, and it redirects visitors to Tock. That caught the attention of OpenTable's lawyers, who sent a letter complaining of trademark infringement. Uh oh.

Kokonas gave up the fight, but not necessarily because he was worried about the legal implications. Turned out that his promotion didn't really pan out all that well.

"The toy dinos? Too small, and not that nice. We had trouble finding a suitable company to imprint the URL. And that big giant inflatable dino that seemed so affordable? Turns out you needed a constant source of inflation, meaning generators and an industrial air compressor."

So Kokonas gave up. He's donating the dinos to a children's charity, and is handing the website over to OpenTable. But he gets in the last zinger: "If you’re a restaurant that is tired of using software from 1998, raise your hand. We’d love to show you the future."

Read the complete saga here.