Fake Reservations Are Just an OT Appetizer

Note: This is in reply to this Eater story about OpenTable

nick kokonas
Mar 5, 2018 · 7 min read

A year ago I spent a solid weekend researching OpenTable on Google and accidentally found a trove of internal training documents freely available on LinkedIn’s Slideshare and multiple other public websites. What I stumbled upon was surprising: a policy of charging restaurants for diners marked as no-shows, logins to community chat boards, presumably “fake” user accounts along with instructions on how to remove diner posts, and an obvious disregard for password security. I’ve provided some sample screenshots of what you’ll find at the URLs at the bottom of this post.

Now, once again, the problem of No-Shows is bubbling to the surface of the restaurant industry, this time because OpenTable intentionally made and no-showed Valentine’s Day reservations at restaurants in Chicago that use Reserve to manage bookings.

I was not surprised when I learned that an OpenTable employee had made fake reservations on Reserve and then no-showed all of them. As a restaurant owner myself, I have long believed that OpenTable does not have the best interests of their restaurant customers or diners in mind.

OpenTable has erroneously charged restaurants as a matter of business practice, locks restaurants into contracts, and penalizes a restaurant’s success by incrementally charging $1 for every diner that books using their system, even if they’ve dined at that restaurant previously or discovered a restaurant on Google or Facebook. I disliked OpenTable so much that I built my own reservations system back in 2011 that eventually grew to become Tock. I’ve even joked that OpenTable is a lumbering dinosaur, soon to be extinct.

So this feels as good of a time as any to share some of the information I found with diners and the restaurant community.

Get some popcorn, this gets crazy.

But first, a quick word about why no-shows are such a hot-button topic in the industry.

The reason you wait for a table at 8 PM on a Saturday even though you have a reservation is because most restaurants that use OpenTable, Reserve, or other look-alike reservation systems intentionally overbook the restaurant since no-show rates are so high.

Overbooking creates a cascade of problems: food waste, higher labor costs, higher prices, invasive cell phone calls, and more — bad hospitality for diners. Unpredictability hurts both service and restaurant income.

Through the statistical analysis of millions of reservations over the past several years our team at Tock has found that a mix of ordinary reservations at low-demand times (when no-shows do not impact other diners) along with refundable deposits or full pre-payment for high-demand reservations, like a chef’s table or Valentine’s Day menu, effectively reduce no-shows to nearly zero. Restaurants also sell more on Tock. We’ve built Tock to allow a restaurant to easily create and mix several different reservation types to optimize their own operation. No other system does this.

Here are our No-Show stats across millions of diners booked and seated on Tock in 2017 sorted by reservation type (14 countries, 63 cities):

Ordinary Reservations: 8.04%

Deposit Reservations: 3.67%

Pre-Paid Reservations: 0.89%

No-Show / No Pay Rate: 0.03% — only Tock can claim this rate & solution.

A partially seated table (2 diners when 4 booked, for example) or a very late cancellation (say, 20 minutes before dining) should both be considered no-shows, but most systems do not count them as such in order to try to minimize the problem. This artificially deflates their reservation statistics.

Tock has worked hard to reduce the ordinary “free” reservation no-show rate through automatic reminders to cancel or rebook and a robust set of tools to allow direct communication between our client restaurants and diners. Imported data we’ve gathered from restaurants switching to Tock indicates that no-show, and partial seated no-show rates on OpenTable and other systems are massively higher. And on days like Valentines Day? Up to 35% of diners make multiple bookings and no-show most of them. Reserve, OpenTable, and look-alikes do little to meaningfully address this issue. Holding a credit card and charging after the fact simply does not work. Deposits do:

All Deposit Reservations at Roister, 2017 — minimum 1k diners per amount

High No-Show rates are not sustainable in a competitive economic environment, and OpenTable’s ill-conceived, unethical Reserve-hack merely illustrates how easy it is to exploit these platforms’ booking methods.

Speaking of which….

If you know how to utilize advanced-Google-search it’s pretty amazing what you can find online. Within a few hours I had found more about OpenTable than I ever expected, publicly posted with the links provided below. It took me days to read these documents, and others I have not included.

Several of these training presentations are from the period of 2010 to 2015. However, since many OpenTable restaurants have installed configurations that are even older, there is no reason to believe that any or all of the problems below, and other issues in the links, have been identified or fixed.

If you are a restaurant owner and OpenTable client I encourage you to download and read these documents. Here are some ‘highlights’:

  • OpenTable training documentation encourages customer service representatives to reinstate customer dining points upon any generic diner complaint, without investigation, and charge the restaurant for a booking that was marked as ‘no show’. This is the default instruction and costs restaurants money, even if the diner really did no-show:
The default position of OT is to charge the restaurant and call it a user error.

Have OT reps provided exactly that communication for hundreds or thousands of bookings without ever checking with the restaurant to see if they in fact made an error? Is this still a policy? It’s worth asking the question. This practice could both falsely deflate overall no-show rates on OT and cost their client-restaurants extra, erroneous fees.

  • Login information for customer help associates on the OpenTable Community boards is freely posted online. This doesn’t seem like security best practices to me — putting this information online for anyone to see, and even internally where multiple employees are using the same account to log in. I cannot imagine that this would pass any enterprise-level security audit:
  • Instructions for flagging/handling restaurant objections to wholly owned subsidiary FoodSpotting.com by falsely posing and logging-in as community users and flagging the objectionable photo or post. FoodSpotting is supposed to be community moderated only. More passwords sitting out in the open gives new meaning to the word OpenTable:
  • The training document includes techniques for creating Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt when selling OpenTable to restaurants. Worth a read before you talk to your OT sales/account rep.

There are also a host of potentially more serious security issues which I will not post here.

I was shocked not only that these documents and logins are freely available from multiple public websites and can be downloaded even now, but also with the cavalier attitude of systematizing the way in which restaurants are, by default, charged in the case of any dispute with diners.

Through these actions it is clear that OpenTable is both fearful of the No Show Problem, and has done nothing to meaningfully empower restaurants to solve it in a diner-friendly way.

Dinosaurs indeed.

We built Tock to empower restaurants to sell amazing culinary experiences, better manage hospitality, integrate with Search and Social Media, and be a pleasure to use. All while massively reducing no-shows during high-demand times.

Diners will find amazing culinary experiences at: www.ExploreTock.com — with more restaurants, wineries, and culinary events added daily, around the world.

If you are a restaurant, pop-up, winery, or have any amazing and unique culinary experience Tock wants to work with you! We invite you to learn more about Tock: https://www.tockhq.com/get-started/

Tock feels so strongly about reducing no-shows and improving hospitality that we will PAY FOR the remainder of your OpenTable, Reserve or other look-alike system contract when you embrace the future and move to Tock. We will import your data, but not your pain.

Note: As of 3:20 PM EST 3/5/2018 the pdf files at the links below were removed. Documentation of them can be provided to the press by emailing directly to me at the bottom of this post.

Partial Documentation:

In SlideShare on LinkedIn search: “Tier i support_intro_day1 opentable” and a series of training documents will be listed. These also appear on several other sites around the web.

  1. https://www.slideshare.net/learndotsrp/tier-i-supportintroday11?qid=0a08ec26-bfed-4eaf-961f-16dbb839f848&v=&b=&from_search=1
  2. https://www.slideshare.net/learndotsrp/tier-i-supportday21?qid=85c1aae9-a6d9-4198-a52a-c39e81d47248&v=&b=&from_search=4
  3. https://www.slideshare.net/learndotsrp/tier-i-supportday32-34928833?qid=e595797c-d136-4ce6-83b9-ce8bd7f59e7f&v=&b=&from_search=2
  4. https://www.slideshare.net/learndotsrp/dining-community-training?qid=be4d4f85-d8dc-4222-a62f-1a801cc62068&v=&b=&from_search=11
  5. https://www.slideshare.net/learndotsrp/tier-i-supportday51?qid=4153b359-4697-4da6-b7c2-e96987097c1a&v=&b=&from_search=3

There are more OT documents available online at multiple sites through similar key-word searches. Docslide.us had these and others available in MS Word, complete with author, edits, and comments intact.

Press and other inquiries about this post: nick@tockhq.com

nick kokonas

Written by

I am not unemployed. I'm NSFW. Co-Owner: Alinea / Next / The Aviary / Roister / The Aviary NYC / Founder & CEO: Tock, Inc. http://www.exploretock.com