OpenTable, Closed Minds

By Felix Salmon
March 30, 2009

I’m a huge fan of OpenTable, and I’ve always imagined that restaurants are, too. They don’t need to spend hours on the phone telling people what’s free and what’s not, special instructions don’t get garbled, and it’s very easy to cross-reference the diner to previous visits. But apparently Raoul’s didn’t get the memo:

I can no longercontinue putting off talking about the back room. I’d prefer it didn’t exist, since I love the rest of Raoul’s. Actually, I’d prefer the ma√Ætre d’ didn’t exist, either.
On my second visit, with tables empty everywhere in the front and middle rooms, he instructed the hostess to take us to the garden. I begged him: Please don’t.
He looked down at us in the French style, and said, “You made your reservation online.” Indeed, my friend had used OpenTable, listed on the restaurant’s website. The ma√Ætre d’ informed us that OpenTable had assigned us to the back room, and that was that. As we were led away, no happier than prisoners in leg irons, he sneered, “Next time you should call.”

Raoul’s is an old-fashioned restaurant — that’s a large part of its charm. But if it doesn’t want diners to use OpenTable, it shouldn’t offer them the option.

I do occasionally wonder, though, what to do with my Dining Rewards Points. I somehow can’t see myself redeeming them on the website, waiting up to six weeks for delivery, taking a Dining Cheque to a restaurant, and then using it to pay for (some of) my meal. It would be great if I could somehow donate them to charity — help treat some non-profit workers to a very nice lunch every so often. But then I suppose more people would redeem them, and the business model might not work any more.

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