Sunday, September 09, 2007

Is Opentable Watching You?

Noting Your Behaviour and Dining Habits?

Sep 2007 Cafe de la Presse +100 pts
Aug 2007 Palmetto +100 pts
Aug 2007 Foreign Cinema +100 pts
Aug 2007 Zuppa +100 pts
Aug 2007 Maverick +100 pts
Aug 2007 Scott Howard +100 pts
Jul 2007 COCO5OO +100 pts
Jul 2007 Oola +100 pts
Jul 2007 South Park Cafe +100 pts
Jun 2007 Scott Howard +100 pts
Jun 2007 B and B Ristorante +100 pts
Jun 2007 Mon Ami Gabi - Las Vegas +100 pts
Jun 2007 COCO5OO +100 pts
May 2007 Oola +100 pts
May 2007 Perbacco +100 pts
May 2007 Manresa - Los Gatos +100 pts
May 2007 Fringale +1000 pts
May 2007 Cafe Majestic - Hotel Majestic +100 pts
Apr 2007 Garçon +100 pts
Apr 2007 Zuni Cafe +100 pts
Apr 2007 Acme Chophouse +100 pts
Mar 2007 Cyrus +100 pts
Feb 2007 Perbacco +100 pts
Feb 2007 Perbacco +100 pts
Jan 2007 COCO5OO +100 pts
Dec 2006 Triptych +100 pts
Nov 2006 Mix - Las Vegas +100 pts
Oct 2006 1550 Hyde Cafe & Wine Bar +100 pts
Oct 2006 Cortez +100 pts
Sep 2006 Garçon +100 pts
Sep 2006 Oola +100 pts
Aug 2006 COCO5OO +100 pts
Aug 2006 COCO5OO +100 pts
Aug 2006 Garçon +100 pts
Jul 2006 Winterland +100 pts
Jul 2006 OpenTable Dining Cheque -2000 pts
Jul 2006 Oola +100 pts
Jun 2006 The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus +100 pts
Jun 2006 Norma's at Le Parker Meridien +100 pts
Jun 2006 wd-50 +100 pts
May 2006 Foreign Cinema +100 pts
Mar 2006 Bouchon at The Venetian +100 pts
Mar 2006 XYZ +100 pts
Mar 2006 Garçon +100 pts
Feb 2006 Piperade +100 pts
Jan 2006 Saha +100 pts
Jan 2006 COCO5OO +100 pts
Jul 2005 Range +100 pts
Jul 2005 Jack Falstaff +100 pts
Jul 2005 MECCA +100 pts
Jul 2005 Cortez +100 pts
Jun 2005 Monte Cristo Cafe +100 pts
May 2005 Chive +100 pts
May 2005 Oola +100 pts
Above is a history of our Opentable transactions, actual dates and our most recent dining venue removed to preserve anonymity

I am not sure why it had never occured to me before. It simply hadn't crossed my mind. Somehow I missed the entertaining article in the New York Times entitled Restaurant Reservations Go Online. (I say 'entertaining' because of some of the details the restaurateurs make note of next to their regulars, i.e. "Next to the name of one regular, who has a habit of bringing in women he is not married to, is an instruction to make sure the man’s wife has not booked a separate table for the same day".) The crux of the matter is that Opentable is about more than just making reservations, it allows the restaurants who subscribe to the service to keep notes on their customers in a database too. Thankfully the information is not shared amongst restaurants but it is an extremely powerful tool if they decide to use it. I wonder how many restaurants actually do?

It's all pretty obvious now - having read that article, and clever too.

I started thinking about this only because the restaurant I dined at during the last week seemed to have a handle on us I hadn't come across before. We were treated exceptionally well, they clearly more than just simply remembered us from a previous time. I had an almost unnerving feeling that they knew something else about us, a little bit more than the usual "I think I remember those guys from a couple of months ago". I felt a little je ne sais quoi in the air. I can't put my finger on it. I was intrigued enough by our treatment to do some research online, which is what led me to the NYC article I already cited above, confirmation that I wasn't too off the mark with my thinking.

Those Opentable-using restaurateurs are most likely sitting on a minefield of extremely juicy information about their customers. Maybe one of them should turn the tables and start an anonymous blog about diners. After all the flak restaurants get online, I couldn't blame them for wanting to get some pay back...

Local Resources

2006 | Tomato Shark
2004 | Sake tasting and our first ever visit to Oola.

© 2007 Sam Breach
Is Opentable Watching You?


  • At 9/9/07 22:26, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "big brother" is watching....

  • At 9/9/07 22:36, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Sam -

    I wouldn't be so quick to point the finger at OpenTable. Any good restaurateur would keep notes on returning guests via a notebook (old skool), Excel, or whatever reservations management system they use.

    To me, that's marketing 101.

    All OpenTable has done is bring those notebook-toting folks into the 21st century, providing them with front-end web usability.

    You didn't think those points (and subsequent vouchers) came for free, did you? OpenTable restaurant pay for EACH reservation made through their system, so it stands to reason that making you easier to identify and "market" to would have to be part of the benefit of a product/service like OpenTable.

  • At 9/9/07 22:47, Blogger Sam said…

    Hi Fatemeh - I didn't mean to make it look like I was pointing fingers - I just find it rather interesting to think about.

    I did know that the restaurant pays for each reservation - I am not complaining AT ALL, do you think it looks like I am complaining - I didn't mean to?

    I am saying I think it is smart but that I just hadn't stopped to think about how they could track my movements through the restaurant too.

  • At 10/9/07 06:21, Blogger Lisa the Waitress said…

    As a veteran restaurant worker, it had never occurred to me that our tricks had been written about in the Times! I like the Open Table system, but as a server, I keep notes about people in my server book. It's funny, because I'm always careful to make them sound nice or at least neutral, being terrified someone would discover them - they are full of things like "Convention Center Head of sales, name is XXX pronounced with a silent C, fun glasses, likes chewy cabs with white fish" I'm really bad attaching names to faces, so this helps my people think I remember them.

    Someone should definitely write a blog about the OT notes, though, that would be very funny. If only I lived in a bigger city...

  • At 10/9/07 07:00, Blogger hiltonheadpopcorn said…

    Wow, Sam, I have been wanting this forever. I do marketing for a restaurant, but I know that they are kinda stuck on the manual thing. I will tell you that living in such a toursit destination, there is a HUGE turnover and therefore learning curve amongst servers. This system would certainly help them and therefore take care of the regulars. And take it from me, as a bartender that can't read most hostesses chicken scratch, I would love it!

    Hilton Head Popcorn Co.

  • At 10/9/07 09:09, Blogger Erin said…

    I was going to note a similar thing that some other commenters have. I have a student who works at a very high end restaurant in Evanston. It is a point of pride that he remembers copious details about those who visit regularly, so he and other waitstaff keep detailed notes about preferences for seating, eating and whatever else.

    For me this only goes over into creepy if it gets shared (to other restaurants) or sold (to heaven knows who)

  • At 10/9/07 11:27, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As a new mom who used to eat out several times a month (at many of the restaurants you do, apparently) and now gets excited by the prospect of takeout, I just wish my Opentable list looked like your Opentable list . . . no matter who's watching . . .

  • At 10/9/07 11:38, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam, they might recognize you from your photos. Your blog is VERY well-known and popular. (With good reason.)

  • At 10/9/07 14:27, Blogger Owen said…


    while I understand the general approval of this I can see a distinct downside - I don't use OpenTable and probably never will. And I don't dine all that often at high end establishments. But now I wonder if I get second class treatment because of these two things. I have not blogged about my no-loger-so-very-recent meal at TK's Ad Hoc in Yountville, but I thought we were treated clearly worse than other diners - we walked in without a reservation but were happy to sit at the bar and happy to wait. They said they could take us and did, but then the next eight sets of people seated at the bar after us all got politely moved to a table as the restaurant cleared out - we did not. There were other things wrong as well...

  • At 10/9/07 16:27, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow - I was not even aware that such things went on! Interesting, at least it made for a better experience and not a worse one! Thanks for bringing this up.

  • At 10/9/07 19:31, Blogger Catherine said…

    You certainly make a very good point! I enjoyed the article and love the convenience of online booking vs the phone. I wonder how much info they track. Do they track what you eat (or, more importantly, drink) along with reservation info? Can one subpoena the info for a divorce case?

  • At 10/9/07 20:39, Blogger Kyla said…

    I dunno I think that there's something creepy about it. As a private person anyway. It is a kind of surveillance after all, and this is a post 9-11 world.

    But as regards the list of restaurants, now you're just showing off!


    Pieds Des Anges (formerly moi or dafina, i can't decide on a handle)

  • At 10/9/07 22:07, Blogger shuna fish lydon said…

    I like that you wrote about this. It will be very interesting indeed to see what our OT database looks like...

    When I worked at TFL, before OT, we shared diner eating preferances with other 4 star American places and 3 star European restaurants. It made sense because sometimes people were eating at two or more of these sorts of places within the week.

    It does feel special when you wal in and they remember what you're allergic to. I don't think it's creepier than anything else computers are capable of doing.

  • At 10/9/07 22:29, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Err, let's just say that at one very well-regarded restaurant associated with the resort I used to work for they are already reversing looking up your phone numbers to get your address info for the database without their knowledge.

    I'm sure (or at least hope) others will be more responsible and go for a more modern opt-in strategy.

  • At 11/9/07 10:47, Blogger Violet said…

    Holy cow! Do you ever eat at home? I wish I could eat out that much!

  • At 12/9/07 07:57, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It all makes sense...the price we're paying for heightened levels of technology is that more and more, others have the ability to "watch" us.

    I'm not a big user of Open Table, although it did come in handy during Restaurant Week. We actually don't dine out all that much, but perhaps there are advantages to using OT when we do. We've got nothing to hide -- at least I don't think we do, she said nervously...


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