OpenTable causes some diner confusion


How do you approach restaurant reservations? Do you go freestyle, sans reservation? Call ahead? Or do you use OpenTable? Almost 200 metro-area restaurants use OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation service. So something's obviously working, but there are some quirks to the system that have some local diners confused.

We got word from a local OpenTable user recently about a frustrating experience she had with the online restaurant reservation service. She was trying to make reservations for her and her husband at D'amico. While was unable to secure the time she wanted using her own OpenTable account, when she logged in as her husband, she could make a reservation for any time she wanted.While she was later able to secure a time using either account, the experience made her wonder whether the service profiles users.

I had a semi-frustrating experience of my own recently with the system. When I tried to make 7 p.m. dinner reservations for eight people on a Monday night at Cafe Maude a couple of months ago, the system said there were no tables available. This seemed next to impossible -- a jam packed restaurant on a Monday night? -- so I called the restaurant and was told they were wide open that night. The person I talked to couldn't explain what had happened with OpenTable. The night we went, the restaurant was bustling, but by no means full. Huh?

When asked about profiling, an OpenTable representative said no customers are given any priority over others. "We do not differentiate between diners trying to make reservations," he said. "If a slot is available for the number in the party and date and time then it will show up. If someone is currently in the process of making a reservation for a particular time and number of party and there is only one slot available that there is a temporary hold on that particular slot until that person is done."

On its website, OpenTable addresses the issue of table availability:

Question: Why did your site say no tables were available, but when I called the restaurant, I got one?

Answer: As a general rule, the availability you see on reflects the actual availability in the restaurant's computerized reservation book at the time of your search. On occasion the reservationist may make an exception based on special circumstances. For example, popular restaurants often offer a limited number of seating times, such as 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM. When a restaurant isn't busy, a reservationist may decide to accommodate a reservation between seatings. Also, some reservation requests, such as those with larger party sizes, do not match the standard table layout and associated reservation slots at a restaurant. However, a reservationist may be able to accommodate those requests by reconfiguring or combining tables.

Restaurants that have OpenTable software can configure it for their own purposes, the rep said.

The takeaway from this seems to be: If you have any problems, call. But this begs the question: Why not just avoid the possibility of and just call the restaurant directly in the first place? Are the accumulation of the service's "Dining Rewards" points worth the possibility of minor inconvenience?

Do you use OpenTable? If so, what has been your experience using it? Any quirks? Tricks you've learned? If you don't use it, why not?