Open Table… A Sign of Bad Times?

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A reader points out an interesting observation about Open Table. Are restaurants that are offering rewards points hurting for business? Read on:

I am writing you today because I think I may be onto something that requires your knowledge of the culinary sorts. I recently have been using opentable.com to book reservations. I just find that calling a restaurant anytime after 7 o’clock can be loud and frustrating after a long day of work. However, when looking through the availabilities I noticed that a few restaurants are offering 1,000 point reward if you book at the time they specifically set. Usually it’s around 6:30 or 9:00 PM. It has dawned on me that most or all of the restaurants that have offered this credit reward (this is a trend not just in Westchester by the way) are in my book either struggling on the food end (Morgan’s Fish, Backals, Café Regatta, Ruby’s Oyster Bar) or operating in very unattractive location (One – Generates no foot traffic diners & Sterling Inn – Located at the back end of a retail strip with little parking (Was serving 1 table at 8:30 on a Weds when I walked in). Could it be this is a sign for a struggling restaurant? One could only assume a restaurant that is turning tables nightly wouldn’t need to be enticing clientele to dine there with promises of a possible $20 gift certificate. I would also note that these reward times are being offered on the weekends as well as the weekdays.

Readers, your thoughts?

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

7 Comments

  1. Giving bonus “points” is no different than offering a coupon or other promotion, say “two for one” entrees, Rewards Network, Upromise dining, dollar off coupons, restaurant.com gift certificates, “we pay your gas,” etc. etc… Would restaurants that were “more in need of generating buzz or traffic” resort to these marketing methods than healthier establishments? Sure. But one might say that for any business.

    That reminds me of a conversation I had last night regarding gift certificates offered by Restaurants.com (as well as a local radio station). What they do are sell discounted gift certificates to restaurants. For example, you might see a $25 gift certificate being sold for $10. Sounds like a great deal, eh?

    Well, what if, instead, I offered a “take $15 off your $35 purchase” coupon (frequently, those $25 certificates have $35 minimum purchase restrictions)? It’s the same deal, but somehow seems less of a bargain…

  2. I have never used Open Table to make reservations? Is it reliable?

    All the restaurants mentioned above are hurting due to poor location, upscale menus in downscale locales, change in chefs, etc. In this economy, they need all the help they can get and will offer promotions on the web to attract diners.

  3. Opentable is very reliable. I’ve used it 3 times (including once for Hawaii) and it worked great. My understanding is that they go right into the restaurant’s computer and enter the reservation the same way they would if you called them directly.

    To answer the original question, I think “hurting” is an extreme description but clearly restaurants offering 1,000 points are in need of additional business during the time periods the bonus is being offered. Normal restaurants who use Opentable are not in the same category since you’re only getting 100 points.

    As for the claim that it’s the same as a coupon, it may be in terms of trying to drive more business but as I diner I wouldn’t really agree and I would certainly much prefer a coupon/discount. But this allows the restaurant to easily limit it to certain times (as opposed to putting out a coupon which says “valid before 6pm or after 9pm only”. Opentable points have some value but you need to collect a bunch to cash out and I believe they expire after some inactivity period.

    I’ll post separately about restaurant.com.

  4. Restaurant.com can be a good deal but it’s certainly not as it appears. First and foremost, they are NOT gift certificates, they are coupons. Next, you can almost always use a coupon to buy them, so at worst you should be paying $5 for the $25 coupon, and they sometimes go up to 70% off (making it $3). Check on fatwallet.com and other sites, or sign up for their mailing list/club on restaurant.com to be notified of their VERY frequent sales. They typically don’t have them at the beginning of the month since some certificates may sell out early but if you wait, they will have them. And they are really sneaky about their emails, they will tell you “2 days left to save 50!” and then after that sale ends they miraculously have a 60% off sale. Since they clearly knew that they would be doing the 60% deal, it seems a little low to pressure people into buying at 50%. Anyway, you only get fooled into doing that once, hopefully.

    Now as for the purchase requirements, the $35 minimum for a $25 “gift certificate” is the best you will find. More often it will be $50 with other strange requirements like 4 people or before 6pm, or only on a full moon (just kidding on that one). Read the T&C carefully before buying! And remember that tax and tip are additional.

  5. New restaurant.com discount code: MEALS gets 60% off (i.e., $25 certificate is $4) AND you get a free $10 “gift certificate” by mail.

  6. A very irresponsible post. No research or phone calls made to back this posters comment, but it gets printed. Why is it wrong for a NY or NYC restaurant to offer something through opentable.com when half of NY is about to take off for vacation. Sure we get tourists, but can an restaurant surive on that?

    Take a look at this Saturday at 7pm and tell me all these restaurants are struggling? And they are, what better way to drum up business?

  7. To the previous post,

    I think you misunderstood what the reader was trying to convey. It is not that resturants who offer reservations at 7pm on the weekends are struggling. The point was are the local resturants who offer reward points for given times on the weekends sturggling to stay afloat?

    The questions was asked, rather then a statement made. It was not said to be fact that the resturants were in trouble, rather a general obersavtion that was meant to spark up a discussion. I am not sure one needs much research done to speak there opinion.

    I think the best way to drumb up buisness would be to serve better food. That has always attracted me in the past rather then earning points for dining. Most of those Locations lack in some area (Food, service, location).

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