OpenTable Expands Mobile Pay With Gift Card Options

After 17 years in the booking business, the dining on-demand platform sees the day where it becomes as known for mobile payments as it is for online reservations.

OpenTable: just slide and pay.
OpenTable: just slide and pay.

OpenTable is phasing out the process of mailing checks to its users who cash in dining rewards points in favor of adding a virtual gift cards that can be redeemed either via its app or through outside merchants.

As of the end of August, OpenTable, which was founded in 1998 and acquired last year by Priceline for $2.6 billion, will no longer be offering paper dining checks in exchange for their points, the company said in an email sent to users on Wednesday. In a preview of the expanding ways users will be able to use their rewards, OpenTable has struck a deal with Amazon, which will honor diners’ points on its Gift Card for purchases made online.

The focus on broadening its rewards program follows a series of other moves designed to position OpenTable as more than an online reservations site, especially as more interactive companies move into that booking space, such as Reserve and Yelp. OpenTable’s shift began last year when it started accepting Apple Pay, allowing diners to deal with their bill and tip their servers without waiting.

In May, in conjunction with a major overhaul of its app and website, OpenTable teamed up with NCR Corporation, the point-of-sale systems provider, to add to the number of its clients who could accept mobile pay.

Leela Srinivasan, OpenTable’s VP of Marketing, noted that CEO Matt Roberts has said that the day is fast approaching when the company is known as much for its payment system as it is for reservations. Those new functions are meant to position OpenTable as a provider of discovery and promotion for its restaurant clients and as a regular point of “on-demand” local services for consumers who have embraced the idea of the “‘uberfication’ of everything.

GeoMarketing: How was this spring’s redesign important to the evolution of OpenTable?

Leela Srinivasan: The redesign of the app and website was something of a nod to changes that have been going on at OpenTable for some time. We launched many years ago as a transactional service and we remained that way throughout much of our history.

But really, when we think about what OpenTable is about and what our potential is, it’s about powering great dining experiences from end-to-end. Instead of about just making a dinner reservation, which is at our core, we’ve been focusing more on enhancing the dining experience before, during, and after the service.

OpenTable's Leela Srinivasan
OpenTable’s Leela Srinivasan

What are the ways that OpenTable’s role during that experience has grown?

Our payments function is one example of where we are starting to see some great traction in our target cities and our broader mission. Pay comes into play because consumers don’t want to sit around and wait for the bill. With Open Table, being an app that they already have on their phone, is a great way for us to just kind of provide extra value to them in getting on with their lives.

Helping restaurants market themselves to our users is another aspect of the expanding focus of what we can mean to both users and our own clients.

How does OpenTable help restaurants promote themselves on the platform?

We have over 30,000 amazing restaurants in our network around the world. That puts us in a really privileged position. We’re in dialogue with a lot of these restaurants. We can offer insights and best practices in a way that helps other restaurateurs out there.

That was the basis for our launch at the beginning of the year of “Open for Business.” It’s our restaurant blog. It features some tremendous content on it, ranging from profiles of great restaurateurs to observations on the big trends in the industry, such as the debates around tipping.

A lot of bars and restaurants complain about the advent of online reviews. How do you balance the views of users and the needs of OpenTable’s clients to promote their businesses?

One of the best kept secrets in our arsenal would be our reviews. This is probably a little known fact but we have over 30 million reviews on OpenTable. We gather about over 450,000-plus user posts on a monthly basis. That’s more than most reviews sites.

Of course, there’s a certain level of danger involved in crowd-sourced reviews, but we also know that those are very powerful. The research that we’ve just been running shows that about 60 percent of our diners turn to reviews written by other diners frequently. Also, our reviews are compared by our users to critic-written reviews about 48 percent of the time. There’s no dismissing the power of the diner-written reviews. But what distinguishes ours is just the fact that they are written by diners we know for a fact have dined at the restaurant.

Plus, it’s very gratifying when we hear the likes of a star chef like Tom Colicchio talking about how he monitors us like a hawk, and he looks for patterns in that data. If he sees one review saying something that was salty, that’s one thing. But when you start to see two or three saying something is too salty or that the fish was overcooked, then he knows he may have a problem in the kitchen. And he uses that to monitor the way that his restaurants operate. That’s pretty cool, right? So in terms of how we’re different from other reviews sites, I think that’s how we’re covered.

Making reservations
Making reservations

How do you define OpenTable’s value to restaurants and diners as a “discovery engine?”

We consider OpenTable to be a great source of discovery for other diners. We actually just completed some research on what consumers want from technology before, during, and after the dining experience. About 7 out of every 8 diners either always or frequently turn to technology to find a restaurant or make a reservation.

Helping to guide diners through the discovery phase is a perfect role for us, especially as we start to bring our data scientists into the loop to look at the insights around reviews. We’re going to be able to share a lot more about trends in the industry.

Aside from the searchable listings and reviews based on area and proximity, how else can OpenTable promote discovery of restaurants in its system?

We are doing a lot more to highlight special occasions and different occasions diners might want to go a particular set of places. One of the features that we offer for restaurants is we pull together promo pages, such as around the holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day, which has historically been our biggest day every year.

We’re starting to expand the kind of things that we consider for promotion. Recently we’ve been launching promotion pages for The Montreal Grand Prix, which is a huge occasion in Canada. It draws in travelers from all over the world. So, it’s really helping restaurants to capitalize on traffic just sort of showing up in their metro area.

Is there a connection between OpenTable Pay and discovery?

I think so. With our payments product, we’ve been getting quite creative at trying to provide diners with an incentive to go out.

For example, earlier in the second quarter, we ran a date night promotion. We gave diners a credit for paying with OpenTable if they wanted to go out for a date night. We saw a great uptake from that. We also have a business lunch promotion that rolled out recently as well. It’s all about providing diners with a bit of excitement but helping them think creatively about when they might want to pay with our solution.

OpenTable's Apple Watch app.
OpenTable’s Apple Watch app.

All of these promotions and features reflect this idea of online-and-offline convergence via on-demand, app-based mobile functions. In other words, “the Uberfication of everything.” Is OpenTable feeding that trend — no pun intended — or is it capitalizing on it?

It’s both, I suppose. We are partnered with Uber and you can actually order an Uber from inside the Open Table app, of course. I think we all look forward to the day when everything is just as easy as tapping a button on your phone to make complete a task and get you closer to the things you want and want to do, whether it’s food shopping, sharing a ride, or dining without friction. Consumers are definitely more and more excited about the Uber-ization of the world and we are definitely right in the mix there.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.