Like so many areas of business, the process of dining out has been completely transformed by technology and smartphones. There’s little, if any, guesswork that goes into picking a place to eat — that’s what Yelp and other crowd-sourced review sites are for. And there’s no major strategizing in getting to the place because you can simply open up Waze or another mapping app to guide the way. And calling the restaurant to make a reservation? Please! That’s why online restaurant reservation apps/sites like OpenTable exist.
Catherine Porter, SVP of strategy and business development at OpenTable, will be sharing her insights about the future of restaurant technology at Street Fight Summit West on June 7th in San Francisco. She recently gave us a sneak peek of what’s on the menu for OpenTable this year, and how simplifying the reservation process is bringing more patrons to local businesses.
How do you appeal to both large restaurant chains and to places with just one location?
The restaurant industry is highly fragmented and segmented, but they all have similar fundamental needs. They all want to deliver great service and hospitality to their guests and they want to attract new diners and keep their regulars coming back. We seat more than 18 million diners per month, which is compelling to restaurants, but our technology is too. We work closely with restaurants and continue to iterate and innovate to meet the unique and dynamic needs of a wide range of restaurants ranging from your local neighborhood gem to restaurants groups with global presences. We also think our field team is critical. We have local OpenTable restaurant relations consultants around the world – almost all of which had years of experience working in restaurants. The fact that our team comes from and is steeped in the restaurant industry makes a big difference. We can relate to our customers and we’re passionate about making them successful and honoring the vitality, culture and joy they bring to local and traveling diners around the globe.
Old-school, tiny restaurants aren’t always welcoming of technology, yet here in Brooklyn I’ve seen many of them partnered with Open Table. What about a service like yours is appealing to smaller restaurants?
Ease of use and our vast diner network are certainly a big part of it, but again, I think our field team makes a difference. Restaurants, especially small ones are very personal, and the human touch and relationship at the local level remains important for these establishments that are important part of the fabric of small and large cities everywhere.
How have you seen location-based technology and booking services like OpenTable intersecting? Do they go hand-in-hand or run parallel to one another?
It used to be you had to call a restaurant and hope they had a reservation. And if they didn’t, you had to keep calling around. Definitely a pain point; then OpenTable came along and you could book from your desktop or laptop with the latter being somewhat friendly when you were on the go. Mobile and geo-location took everything to a whole new level. No matter where you are, you can simply whip out your phone and discover which restaurants have availability nearby and book one in less than 30 seconds.
For some companies, the rise of the smartphone was something to contend with and navigate. For OpenTable, mobile meant we could be with you anywhere. Today, 50 percent of the diners we seat book via mobile, whereas five years ago the percentage was in the low teens.
What is OpenTable focused on through the rest of this year? Any areas in particular you want to hone or strengthen? Any areas you’re hiring in?
We’re continuing to build and grow internationally. Many people are aware that we’re headquartered in San Francisco and available throughout the United States, but many people don’t realize that were also in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, and the UK.
We think that we have an opportunity to help more diners and restaurants connect no matter where they are in the world. Essentially, we think we have a unique opportunity to turn both the domestic and global traveler into a traveling diner. Everyone needs to eat whether their away for business or leisure, but not everyone does as well as they could or want to. We want to change that. As someone who loves international travel and who has lived abroad, everything we do that’s international in scope excites me and poses an opportunity for OpenTable.
We’re really hiring across the board. In fact it’s difficult to think of an area where we’re not hiring.
Where do you see the strongest areas of growth based on this past year?
I’m most excited about our renewed pace of growth: we’re growing in numbers of restaurant customers served, diners seated, platform touchpoints, segments that are relevant for our products, geographical penetration. Our new CEO, Christa Quarles, is singularly focused on execution on our strategic objectives, and it’s showing in our pace of play. We’re moving faster and achieving more than we have in several years, and while there is still more to do, it’s brought renewed energy to the company. And personally, as a female executive in the company, I’m thrilled that our executive team is majority served by women. OpenTable has never been more inspiring as a place to work than it is today.
What are some issues pertaining small business and in particular, location-based marketing that you’d like to address at the upcoming Street Fight conference? Who are you looking forward to hearing from?
I want to understand how attendees are solving their customers’ business problems through data, and personalization, and customer relationship management. Profit margins are extremely tight in our customer base; every incremental innovation on behalf of helping them understand and operate their business better is truly a service provided. I want to know what the best innovations are on this front.
Nicole Spector is a Street Fight contributor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hear more from OpenTable’s Catherine Porter at Street Fight Summit West on June 7th in San Francisco. Click on the icon below for tickets!