Tuesday, February 26, 2013


As a tech guy (I spent nearly 20 years in the computer industry before switching horses), I have always valued automation and using software to assist me in running my business. In the best of all worlds, software applications help me leverage myself to do more with my precious hours at a lower cost. As an example, using QuickBooks saves me the cost of a part-time person to keep the daily books. So it is not surprising that I have always seen the need for electronic reservations and my restaurant was one of the first to go to on-line reservations a decade ago.

When OpenTable arrived on the scene some years later, I decided to have a look at the technology and consider scrapping my homegrown (and still to this day functional) reservation system. Alas, the technology four years ago was not at the point where it needed to be to support my restaurant.

All our hardware infrastructure is in the back office of our old building, as far as physically possible from the dining room. The OpenTable system relies on a terminal in the front of the house. And they required that the terminal be hardwired to the server in the back office. Not only would it have been very difficult to retrofit new wiring in our old building, we simply don't have any reasonable place in the dining room to put a terminal. And so, we took a pass on OpenTable.

With the advent of wireless technology came the hope that OpenTable would move with the times. And so we took another look at them last summer. The new system comprises an iPad in the front of the house talking over the wireless network to the server in the back office. It seems like a perfect and obvious solution. We took the plunge and discovered that it is not a good solution. Far from it, alas.

The technology on the iPad was bleeding edge and largely untested. From the moment we put it in production, it was crashing constantly. What OpenTable didn't tell us was that we were guinea pigs. What they didn't tell their sales rep was a lot. They let him promise us things that never worked and had never been tested.

For example, the iPad was pretty useful for seeing the dining room and telling when tables would turn, but it couldn't take reservations. What? That's right; the iPad app was incapable of taking reservations: it would crash or the performance would be so bad that we couldn't take the reservation in real time. When the phone would ring and we needed to take a reservation, someone had to go from the front of the house all the way to the back office and record the reservation on the server. And for this OpenTable wanted a fee?

Worse still is that we were on the phone and email with OpenTable customer support almost from the moment we deployed the system and nobody could or would take responsibility for our account and help us make the system work for us. After nearly three weeks of non-responsiveness despite nearly daily communication with OpenTable, I finally asked the sales rep to take his system back. I thought I was going to get a standing ovation from the front of the house staff, who hated every second of the experience.

Nearly a week after the hardware went back and our account was closed, a product manager finally emailed to find out what maybe they could do to help us in a future product. This is the old barn door getting shut long after the horses left for greener pastures, but very symptomatic of a corporate culture gone wrong. Another telling symptom: OpenTable doesn't have a published phone number for their corporate offices. A customer needing management intervention does not have the option of trying to call one of the executives at OpenTable for some assistance in resolving a problem. Is this arrogance or ignorance? Does it matter?

The story does not end here. The final insult was that despite our returning all their hardware and closing our account with clear documentation that the product delivered was not the product sold, OpenTable hit me with $2600 of early termination fees. Fortunately, I had the foresight to put these on my Amex card and so it was easy enough to dispute the charges. But this seems symptomatic of a company that does not know what it is doing.

And so now those of you who have been asking why we are not on OpenTable and have no plans to ever be, now you know why. Arrogance, incompetence, and worse, a total disregard for the customer who pays their very large fees. Sound like a company you want to do business with? I thought not.

No comments:

Post a Comment