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New Data Reveals OpenTable’s Inflated Prices Don’t Benefit Restaurants Like They Claim

By Jay O'Sullivan

OpenTable has been under fire the last few weeks. Restaurants are furious about the platform further restricting access to customer data unless you agree to pay an additional monthly fee. It’s a data hostage situation—and restaurants are paying the price (literally).

But this data pricing model isn’t just a clever money grab. It’s part of a systematic approach to dominating the market in a way that’s difficult to fight.

OpenTable’s model is fixed against restaurants so that you can’t even measure if the platform generates a positive ROI.

We’ve known about these authoritarian practices behind OpenTable for years, but now we’ve finally collected data that illuminates the question of ROI. In this overview of that data, we’ll discover:

  • How OpenTable keeps ROI data to itself to secure your subscription
  • The way OpenTable inflates its numbers by gaming the system
  • Whether customers are really finding you through OpenTable

Is OpenTable helping you thrive or a detrimental expense? Let’s see what the data says.

OpenTable Keeps You In The Dark On Your Customers

Restaurants have used the limited customer data that OpenTable provides to enhance their hospitality for years, but a new privacy policy from the platform recently cut off that flow of customer data to rival apps used by restaurants.

This is only one controversy in a long string of attempts by OpenTable to tighten their grip on customer data.

After much criticism, OpenTable reopened the flow of customer data to SevenRooms, one of their largest rivals… for $250 to $1,000 extra each month per restaurant location.

This is only one controversy in a long string of attempts by OpenTable to tighten their grip on customer data, but it’s perhaps the most dramatic.

Here’s why.

OpenTable doesn’t want you to be able to measure ROI. They want you to see people reserving tables using their platform, feel good about having business, and pay their bill without question.

But here’s why you can’t trust the numbers OpenTable allows you to see.

3 Ways OpenTable Competes With You (And Charges You For It)

The scandal goes beyond hoarding data—it’s embedded in OpenTable’s foundational business practices. Using these three methods, OpenTable can make it appear like they’re capturing tons of business for you, when in reality, they’re merely siphoning it to their platform.

1. OT Beats You In Search Engines

Nearly 50% of people say they use a search engine (Google, Bing) to discover new restaurants. But even if your restaurant ranks well for your area and customers can easily find you, you may still be paying OpenTable for those customers.

OT often creates Google and Bing ads that show up in the #1 position above your own website.

So even if someone searches specifically for your restaurant, they may be funneled into OpenTable’s reservation system, which means you’ll pay $1 per person for OT’s “network cover”, even though OT had nothing to do with the discovery of your restaurant.

Takeaway: OT may steal your search traffic and make you pay for it.

2. OT Charges You For People Who Find You On Google

Even if OpenTable doesn’t beat you with an ad, they’re still charging you for reservations made directly in Google Search and Google Maps.

Once again, even if someone is already planning on coming to your restaurant, OpenTable captures that traffic and charges you for it.

Takeaway: OT charges you for repeat business, even when customers find you organically.

3. OT Charges You For Reservations From Your Own Website

The above two strategies are trying to keep you paying $1 per customer, but in the event your customers actually make it to your own website for reservations, OpenTable still charges you $0.25 per person.

Takeaway: OT will charge you for your own customers that use your own website.

New Data: Are People Really Finding You On OpenTable?

We conducted a deep-dive with 12 restaurant partners and discovered some interesting insights that shed light on the issue of ROI with OpenTable.

Here’s what we found.

79% of customers still just walk in. Most of your customers don’t even attempt to make reservations.

11.3% of customers call for a reservation. This means 90% of your customers don’t go online at all to make a reservation.

5.5% use a website to make a reservation. Only a small portion of customers are going to a website to book a table (your own, OpenTable, Yelp, ect).

4.1% use Google to make a reservation. As long as you have a reservation system that integrates with Google, you’ll still get these customers (it has nothing to do with OpenTable—but they’ll still charge you for those customers).

Myth: restaurants gain tons of new customers using OpenTable.
Truth: OpenTable is responsible for no more than 5.5% of business for the average restaurant.

But is this extra business worth the cost? Does the ROI justify the investment in OpenTable’s platform? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Cost-Analysis: Is OpenTable Worth it?

Here’s what OpenTable charges you to use their service:

  • $250 monthly fee
  • $.25 – $2.50 per customer

Let’s say you have 500 reservations per month. That’s $750/mo to OpenTable (assuming you don’t want to pay extra for any of that customer data).

Remember, 4.1% of customers find you on Google, which means 42% (210) of all your digital reservations are not from OT. You’re essentially paying $210/mo for zero added value, so those 290 customers that came from OT actually cost you $500.

You’ll never know for sure whether OT really helped you find those 290 customers.

But here’s the catch: we can’t know for sure whether OT really helped you find those 290 customers.

Realistically, only a small portion of those customers are using OpenTable’s platform to find you. The others are being funneled to OT by ads that out-rank your website, are coming from other platforms like TripAdvisor, or are from customers going to your website and then to OT to make their reservation for reward points (OT doesn’t offer rewards for reservations booked through restaurant websites).

You’re almost certainly paying way more per customer than OpenTable claims, and once you look at other ways of booking reservations, it’s almost impossible to justify paying OT’s prices.

How To Enable Online Reservations At 12% The Cost

Restaurants are leaving OpenTable in droves because of the high costs, and they’re finding the grass is thousands of dollars greener on the other side.

Imagine what you could do with an overnight $1,000+ revenue boost.

A Sacramento restaurant is one of these success stories. The chain recently left OpenTable and began using Reserve by Google to drive online reservations using Google Search and Maps… 2,700 of them in a single month!

With OT, that would have cost $2,700. With Seatninja, it cost only $149. And we let our clients have all their customer data for free.

Seatninja OpenTable
Monthly Cost $149 $250
Cost per Customer $0 $.25 – $2.50
Avg Cost per 2,700 Customers $0 $2700
(Based on $1 average)
Data Included? Yes – $0 No – $250 – $1000
Total Cost $149 $3200-$3950

But don’t you lose those real OpenTable users by switching platforms?

Maybe.

But, is it worth it to pay $3,200 – $3,950 for potentially only a few dozen new customers from OT?

We can’t answer that for you, but we can offer you a way to capture reservations that won’t cost you thousands of dollars each month.

Try Reserve by Google today!

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