“Seating Options” allows diners to select tables or not-tables outside of the traditional restaurant “floor.” Open Table says that: “The new app feature increases restaurant availability during peak dining times, and also benefits restaurants by opening up more seats, increasing the number of reservations available and ultimately boosting profit.”
The counter-argument would be: only if those reservations are booked, and only if those reservations are honoured. That is: only reservations that diners make, and use are going to boost profit; restaurant availability being increased would be subject to either a no-walk in policy or just a quiet or average night. Discussion around no-shows in London restaurants has been heightened of late; it’s worth considering that these booking platforms — encouraging disintermediation between the restaurant and the diner, loosening the sense of obligation between the latter and the former — are in some way to blame. Of course, these booking engines allow restaurants and diners to get more bookings, more easily, without recourse to a phone.
Many of London’s essential, newly humming and just very good restaurants also actively differentiate the diner’s experience. Whether it’s the atmosphere of a slightly separate area, a dedicated menu, or a combination of the two, distinctions between bars, counters and tables make for distinct eating, and it’s refreshing to see such a large (25 million diners per month via online reservations across more than 46,000 restaurants) platform in some way acknowledging that. Or, at least, allowing those restaurants to present a truer version of what they do. This cuts both ways: diners reserving what they assume to be A Table and arriving to a counter stool may be left feeling short-changed if the choice wasn’t clear in the first place. Rambla’s Victor Garvey told Eater that, “To be honest, we were getting a lot of complaints from people at the beginning when people showed up for their reservations and sat at the bar. Most people think of reserving as reserving an actual table, so we felt we needed to differentiate. People are much happier now.”
Of course, some restaurants already do this: Nieves Barragán Mohacho’s Sabor offers three distinct sections, approaching restaurants-within-restaurants, with variable booking policies. Restaurant writer Tim Hayward suggests that “if it’s a place where there are obviously hot and cold spots in the room, it’s just going to mean you wait three months for a hot table instead of three weeks for the ’next’ table.”
Eater asked Open Table for further comment on the reasons behind the decision. More soon.