In a recent open letter, Mark Pastore (of San Fransisco’s restaurant Incanto) wrote a passionate and informative letter about the difficulties of working with OpenTable, the most ubiquitous online restaurant reservation system boasting to be Trusted by 15,000 restaurants & 175 million diners.
Mark points out that OpenTable not only co-opts a restaurant’s relationship with their customers, but that it also
[takes] home a disproportionate (relative to other vendors) chunk of the restaurants’ revenues each month and [this creates] the feeling of being trapped in the service…too expensive to keep, but letting it go could be harmful.
He quotes one restauranteer as saying,
OpenTable is out for itself, the worst business partner I have ever worked with in all my years in restaurants. If I could find a way to eliminate it from my restaurants I would.
Mark makes a passonate plea. He asks that,
the next time you’re planning to dine out, consider picking up that 19th-century device, the telephone, and calling. I know I speak for many restaurateurs when I say that we’d love to hear your voice.
While I couldn’t agree more with Mark and his reservations about OpenTable, there is a reason people choose a system like it—convenience. And, thinking about the phone as old-school ignores the very real fact that phones (as mobile devices) are the future of websites, not the past. And this is good news for restauranteurs like Mark.
There is a way out from working with businesses such as OpenTable and the like. To do so restaurants need to start thinking about how their customers are going to interact with their own website and how they can make it as easy as possible for them to pick up the phone and call them. Or find out where they are. Or see their latest specials.
Consider that I’m downtown, a passenger in a moving car, and want to ring up a restaurant about a reservation. I’m out of luck with most restaurants as their website are in Flash. Incanto’s website, which I think is lovely, gets kudos for not being in Flash. However, on my iPhone, I still find it difficult to quickly figure out how to call them.
Have we made websites in Flash for restaurants in the past? Or, websites that make it difficult to touch base on a mobile device. Yes, yes we have. But, time marches on and we’ve seen the writing on the wall. We are moving in a new direction here at Needmore—gorgeous websites on your computer, simple and clear websites on your mobile device. No fuss, no Flash.
The Ona Restaurant website is finished, by the way, and we hope to tell you a lot more about that project in the next few days.